John 3:1-17/ Romans 8:12-17
Today is indeed Trinity Sunday for us here at St Oswald’s. This Sunday we explore the liturgical festival of the trinity while reflecting on the task of reconciliation, still a work under construction for our country, and finally, we are thinking about our parish stewardship responsibilities. How do these come together or are they in fact three very different ideas we actually need more time to investigate? Are they an improbable puzzle not unlike the one Nicodemus was faced with when he came to Jesus under the cover of the darkness? I suspect so.
You see Nicodemus nearly got the profound insight Jesus had to offer yet he was unable to leave his rational mind out of the conversation. His rational mind, schooled in the ‘theological’ superstructure of the synagogue found no place for the mystical experience Jesus was introducing him to. Being born again, being born of the spirit and not of the flesh, the coming and goings from heaven to earth and back again, simply over-rode the rational understanding Nicodemus was equipped with. And he went away, still in the dark.
In Romans 8 Paul speaks eloquently about the Godhead, interspersing the three personalities without actually trying to explain how it actually goes together. In this passage he speaks of God as father, of Christ in relationship to both God and us, and the Spirit as the enlivening source of relationship which ties it all together. Yet Paul does not explain the Trinity — how God is three-in-one and one-in-three — and no systematic explanation is to be found in the other biblical writers, either.
Perhaps it can be understood as ‘unity in being, diversity in way of being’. The oneness is the Who and the diversity is the role or the what. Rublev’s famous icon shows the three personalities together at a table, in hospitable fellowship with one another surrounded by the symbols which identify, all are together but noticeably separate in their body language; a turning out here, a looking a way there and the use of space to signify that separation.
They are united in their divine being, but very diverse in their roles and their actions. Although all maybe present at the one time, they are busy about different things, tasks and operations. The creation, salvation and imbuing of the world are done together but separately. A wonderful image of this unity and diversity is found in the description of the baptism of Jesus in Mark 1:9-11:
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”
An interesting observation to make about Rublev’s icon is that there is no competition for space or for recognition amongst those he depicts. In fact the generosity of the Trinity is such that it always leaves room for more. If you look closely at the icon, space is made at the front of the table for another, or others. It has been suggested that we are being made room for, invited into that intimate relationship, not as observers, spectators or as lesser beings. but as co-equals.
Jesus says that God so loved the world that he sent the second person of the trinity so that he could save it from itself, from it’s ego violence and gratification. We are saved to share in eternal life which is a now and future realm, to be experienced in relationship with the three personalities active in the divine.
Paul says ‘you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.’ We have been adopted into that intimate relationship which is unity of being but diversity and how, the way, of being.
In the last few days we have witnessed the recognition of gay marriage in Ireland, an almost unthinkable outcome if the referendum had occurred a decade ago. What is primarily a Catholic country has embraced change and the church faces some interesting time redefining it’s place in what was essentially it’s country. It is a challenge for the Church of Ireland which, within a day or so, had produced a press release saying that there would be no marriages for same sex couples carried out by it’s clergy as they are still reviewing their position through Synod. Yet over the road in Scotland, the Church of Scotland has voted to accept gay clergy in same sex civil partnerships, although note civil not church sanctioned marriage. The world is a rapidly changing place, full of diversity and, seemingly, collapsing unity.
On this Trinity Sunday we are also asked to think about reconciliation between the first occupiers of this country and those of us who came later. Reconciliation as a task has had a rocky road and, I would suggest, has almost stalled. Governments, institutions and landowners have been hesitant to take the steps to apologize and set about a clear path of repentance for invasions, massacres, land grabs, stolen children, child abuse, and more. We remain silent about the 140-year civil war which took place in this country, only coming to an end, possibly, in 1928. We do not recognise the casualties of that war, on both sides, and fail to accept that the injustices committed then set the groundwork for the injustices which continue, such as the closing down of remote communities today.
The table of hospitality we sit around is similar but different to that of Rublev’s icon. Yes there is a space at the table but those who are different are not free to join those who maintain the social geography of our country. Not only have we not given free access to the first people, we continue to prevent those seeking a new start in life access either, even when we know the alternative option is likely death, we continue to say ‘Nope, Nope, Nope.’
The way forward will be chaotic and marred by many sidesteps and back-downs but we are being challenged to engage with the diversity of being from the point of view of what holds us together at the core. The trinity speaks of unity in relationship, of being essentially connected at the centre of our being although we are acting out our being, our lives, in very different and diverse ways.
We have a choice, to hold onto what divides us, to our diversity, not as something to be celebrated but something to be destroyed, or at best, ignored. To harken back to a day when we did not have to deal with these things because we agreed not to recognise them will consign us the way of the dodo. We no longer have that option.
Or we can choose to find ways to engage, dialogue and discover our place, with others, at the table of fellowship alongside the three distinct personalities of the Trinity. It asks of us deep self-reflection on why we believe as we do, why we find it difficult to even dialogue on these things, let alone find a place of unity, and why we are uncomfortable about difference and diversity?
On this thanksgiving or stewardship Sunday we are also being asked what can we do, what can we give, to expand God’s presence in this community? What do we bring with us and make available to this parish under God to engage, dialogue and discover ours and others place at the table with the Trinity? In the 80 or so years since St Oswald’s was founded, the world has changed in remarkable ways and this church has always been willing to engage, belong, support, guide, represent and feed this community. Why? Because there have been people willing to sit at the table with the Divine and co-create a representational Holy presence here.
Nicodemus was asked what did he bring and what could he give? He found that he could not give up his rational and conditioned mind. He could not step out of the darkness of difference into the glory of diversity. He was unable to remain engaged in dialogue and fellowship long enough for the truth to appear. He was lost in the darkness.
As we close let us reflect on the wisdom of Paul who writes:
“22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Amen