Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday: 31 May 2015
The Rev. Carrie B. Smith
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
About a year ago, I fell prey to an online advertisement, a “limited time offer” from a genealogy website. For just $99, I could send a saliva sample to this company, and in return I would receive a DNA analysis telling me all about my ancestors—and therefore all about myself.
Now, normally I wouldn’t pay any attention to such things, but this particular ad flashed across my screen around the time I learned I’d be moving to Jerusalem, far from family and friends, to serve as pastor. Maybe that’s what gave me a longing to be connected to my roots—or maybe it was just a really good internet ad—because I signed up on the spot for not one, but two, $99 “limited time” offers. Soon, I was making my poor husband spit into a tiny vial so we could ship off our DNA samples and find out who we really are.
And you know what we found out? Not much. The unbearable whiteness of my being was confirmed (half English, half Scandinavian) which was pretty much the story my family had always told me. The only hint of mystery was a note at the bottom of the report which said that I, Carrie Smith, am a tiny bit “Middle Eastern” (whatever that means!). I think the phrase used was “a trace amount.” A trace amount! So sometime long ago, one of my relatives may have been right here in Jerusalem before I ever dreamed of being pastor of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.
My $99 and that little vial of spit revealed I am half English and half Scandinavian. I also have type O- blood and a family history of diabetes. But what does this really say about me? Are these the things that are important to my kids, to my friends, to my family, to the people who love me?
After all, if you asked me to talk about someone I love, I would never start with her DNA analysis. I would never begin by explaining her genes or her cholesterol level or her blood type. I probably wouldn’t hand you her family tree or her passport number, either.
Instead, if you ask me to talk about someone I love, I’m going to tell you about our relationship. I’m going to tell you about the trouble we got into and the adventures we had together. I’ll tell the story about how we met and another one about what makes her such a great friend. When we talk about people we love, we don’t explain them, we praise them.
So it’s a very peculiar thing that on Holy Trinity Sunday we preachers so often stand up and give a DNA analysis of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. On this one day a year we are invited to worship the God of love, specifically because She is one-in-three and three-in-one. This one day a year—even though our liturgy proclaims the Trinity in countless ways every single Sunday—we are invited to contemplate and celebrate our God who relates to us as three persons with one distinct essence. It is our duty and our joy to sing praises to the One whose love for the world is so great it must be expressed in at least three different ways.
But instead, with object lessons and parables, three-leaf clovers or apples or science experiments, we try to “church-splain” the unexplainable. As a friend said to me the other day, “The irony is how the preacher explains and explains and explains, and then the sermon always ends with, ‘But really, it’s a mystery, and we can’t understand it anyway. Amen.’”
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The Feast of the Holy Trinity doesn’t have to be an explanation, it can be a proclamation!
After all, at Christmas, we don’t explain the incarnation. We celebrate Christmas! We proclaim that Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem (just down the road) bringing the love of God near to all.
At Easter, we don’t explain the resurrection. We celebrate Easter! We proclaim that Jesus walked out of the tomb (just around the corner) and appeared to his disciples, saying “My peace I give to you!”
On Holy Trinity Sunday, we are likewise invited not to explain, but to celebrate and proclaim the love of God for the world—a love which we know through Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Given our inclination to explain the goodness and love of God (not only on Holy Trinity Sunday, but actually every day of the year), it’s very appropriate that we heard the story of Nicodemus this morning. It’s appropriate, not just because it’s one of the few places in Scripture which mentions all three persons of the Trinity in quick succession, but also because Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus is an experience to which we can easily relate.
Remember how when Nicodemus comes to Jesus (by the cover of night), he begins by explaining what he thinks he knows already:
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
In other words, Nicodemus approaches the Son of God and says: “You know, Jesus, I don’t care what my friends say, you’re a pretty good guy! In fact, I think you might be sent from God! I might even tell my people about it when I get home.”
Way to go, Nicodemus, explaining Jesus to Jesus!
But of course, just when Nicodemus was feeling so good about his theological framework, his worldview, and his understanding of his relationship to God, Jesus changes the game. Jesus reveals something completely new to Nicodemus, saying: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
To which Nicodemus replies: “Wait, what? How can anyone be born after having grown old?”
Again, slowly, shway shway, Jesus says a bit more -- about how what is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the spirit is Spirit…
But again, Nicodemus just cannot process. He’s so accustomed to understanding, so used to being able to explain, so comfortable with his paradigm, that this new teacher standing in front of him speaking of Spirit and being born again is just too much. So he asks again, “How can these things be?”
How can these things be? This is why the story of Nicodemus is perfect for Holy Trinity Sunday. We also want to understand. We also want to know. We would very much like a diagram and a flow chart and a DNA analysis of God.
In fact, in our desire to know how exactly God works, we even come from afar to see and smell and touch the holy sites here in the Holy land. We come for archaeological tours and historical facts and for proof. We spend a lot of money to travel here, in the hopes that we might better understand the history of God’s people, the life of Jesus, and the work of the Spirit today.
It may not be by the cover of night, but just like Nicodemus, we come as close as we can to the divine seeking knowledge and understanding and an explanation.
Meanwhile, God is loving us.
We are standing at a historical site, soaking in information,. And meanwhile, God the Father is loving us—providing the earth beneath our feet, the foundation of our lives, and the very ground of our being.
We are trying to make sense of the complex political situation here in the holy land—reading books and listening to lectures, hearing stories from what we think are “both sides of the issue.” And meanwhile, God the Son is loving us. While we seek fair and balanced solutions, Jesus, our brother, is walking children to school in Hebron at gunpoint. Jesus, Prince of Peace is accompanying our Palestinian neighbors through military checkpoints. Jesus, crucified and risen, and is having chemo alongside the cancer patients at Augusta Victoria Hospital.
And when we, like Nicodemus, feel certain we’ve seen it all, experienced it all, and we understand exactly how God works, then God the Holy Spirit is loving us. When we least expect it, in places we would never guess, and whether we like it or not, the Spirit of the Living God is surprising us, inspiring us, convicting us, and moving us from a place of certainty to a place of openness to the work of God in the world. The God of love—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is always revealing to us, in every way possible, the peace, justice, and reconciliation which is God’s design for the world.
“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.”
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, there is no explanation for God’s love for us. There is no explanation for the suffering of the cross. There is no explanation for the joy of the empty tomb. There is no explanation for the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is only love---the love of the Father for the Son, the love of the Son for the oppressed and the suffering, and the love of the Spirit, our Advocate, who never leaves us orphaned.
All praise and glory be to you, O God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—in whose honor we sing:
"Holy, holy, holy, Lord God all mighty, early in the morning our songs arise to Thee. Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty. God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity."