There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”…
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Read the whole passage)
We last heard the story of Nicodemus back in January. As part of our trial through the Narrative Lectionary we heard his story in the lead up Lent, and his confusion was one we resonated with. Jesus is being especially confusing in his conversation with Nicodemus. And today is no different, but we hear this story again for a different reason. We hear it for its connection to the feast day that we celebrate today, and the way this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus speaks about God.
Holy Trinity Sunday is a celebration a thousand years old… as the church tried to reign in the heresies taught by earlier missionaries to newly conquered peoples in Northern Europe, bishops of these northern kingdoms ordered the celebration of Trinity Sunday in order spread right belief.
And since then, the practice has stuck. So once a year, on the Sunday after Pentecost, just before we begin six months of green Sundays in order to hear the teachings and parables of Jesus, we remind ourselves what good and proper Christians believe.
And we believe in the Trinity – God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Co-equal, co-eternal, all of one being, yet distinct persons. But not divided by identity or purpose, instead all of the same essence, all of the same God. Three in one, one in three – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Now you can all explain the proper, orthodox understanding of the Trinity?
Maybe you aren’t ready to teach a Sunday School class on the Trinity just yet? Well in fact, most of the things we teach about the Trinity are wrong, especially those children’s sermons where the pastor pulls out water in 3 states, or a pie or an apple in order to explain how God is one yet three. Usually what ends up being taught it one of the many heresies of the early church.
In fact, the only thing that might be completely reliable about Trinitarian doctrine is as soon as you try to teach it, you are likely to become a heretic.
And so you might wonder, why does the church set aside one Sunday each year to talk about this doctrine describing God rather than tell the stories of God and God’s people and God in Christ like we do all the other Sundays. Why do we have a day that is supposed to be for making us believe the right things, where we so often we end up teaching the wrong things? Why observe this Sunday at all and not stick to the regular program that we know and trust?
Trinity Sunday feels like it leaves us with this murky, mysterious, hard to explain doctrine of the church. The one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And yet, some of the haziness and fogginess of our understanding of the Trinity just maybe says more about what it means to live out this Trinitarian faith – this Christian Faith, than a solid definition of the Trinity. Because the challenge in understanding Trinity feels a lot like the challenge of trying to make sense of what it means to be a part of this mysterious and confusing family we call the Church. Just like we know that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all of the same God, we might not be very clear on just how it is that these three pieces come together into one God. And in the same way we know that we are are brothers and sisters in faith, and that our little community at Good Shepherd is just one part of a larger Body of Christ, we might not be clear on just how it is that we all come together into one Church.
In fact, most days we probably wonder just what is God doing with us… and why is the business of faith so rife with uncertainty.
Perhaps it is fitting here (at Good Shepherd), one part of the Interlake Regional Shared Ministry, that we observe and celebrate Trinity Sunday today. Perhaps our understating and clarity around Trinity feels pretty similar to our understanding and clarity about our future… in particular about the announcement (your pastor) made last week regarding the call to serve the shared ministry. Already we have been journeying towards something we that we do not fully understand and that we are not sure of. Coming together with 4 other congregations to share pastors and how all of that is going to work between 5 points, one full time pastor, one half time pastor and one supply pastor for the time being.
As if that wasn’t enough, my announcement that I am not taking the call to serve the shared ministry and rather beginning a search for another call actually means that I am going to technically remain the pastor of Good Shepherd a little longer than we thought. Yet… I am still in the end going to be serving as the regional pastor… but in an interim capacity. And all of that is compounded by a new search for a candidate whom God is calling to this new ministry, while I search for what God is calling me to next.
If we thought Trinity was confusing… just try understanding the Interlake Regional Shared Ministry for a few minutes.
So maybe struggling to understand Trinity for 2000 years has really just been practice for trying to understand just what God is up to with us at any given moment.
Or maybe… just maybe, understanding isn’t what this is all about. Nicodemus didn’t leave the conversation with Jesus today seeming to understand any more than when he first showed up.
Yet, Jesus reminded him of something important… and in the midst of all the confusion of Trinity and the Interlake Regional Shared Ministry, the reminder is the same for us.
Here in this place, the things that we do understand and know and trust will remain the same.
God still continues to gather us as the Body of Christ – the Church.
God continues to hear our confessions while offering us mercy and forgiveness.
God continues to open our hearts and minds to hear the word, the Good News of Jesus Christ.
God continues to stir our hearts to faith because of that same good news.
God continues to bind us together in prayer and peace.
God continues to welcome us to the table of the Lord – the communion of the saints where we share in the feast of heaven.
God continues to offer us Christ’s very Body in order that we might become that which we eat – bread for the life of the world.
And God continues to send us out transformed and renewed to be workers in the Kingdom.
And all of that happens because of the God who has named and claimed us in Baptism, the risen Christ who has shown us the way to new life, Jesus who meets us here week after week.
Whether or not we understand the Trinity and whether or not we know just what is going to happen to us as a congregation and fledgling new ministry in the Interlake, God’s promise to us remains… ‘how’ it all works is not really for us to worry about. God is assuring us that here, among this community and family of faith, that the things we need are still given – that Jesus continues to meet us here in Word and Sacrament.
As Martin Luther’s right hand, Philip Melanchthon wrote about the Trinity,
“We adore the mysteries of the Godhead. That is better than to investigate them.”
Or in other words, better than understanding the Trinity and how it all works, is to gather together in worship and communion as the Body of Christ.
And the Mysterious Triune God who calls and gathers us together will do there rest. The Trinity will continue to bring us into New Life, found in Christ.