Trinity Sunday – a preacher’s nightmare really. Preaching on the Trinity can be about as exciting as have your teeth fixed which I did this week so I speak as one having some authority! At least the readings are good ones this morning. Good old Nicodemus greets us like an old friend.
His encounter with Jesus, however, can be as perplexing as the doctrine of the Trinity. “You must be born from above,” “ Born Again” and right from there we all know where the sermon might go. But lets just hang on for a second. Jesus’ is saying to Nicodemus that there is something missing or something not yet in his relationship with God. And here is a place from which we can start – after all who among us hasn’t felt that before – that something was missing in our lives ?
The Lion King was a pretty big deal in Toronto and I’m sure most of you saw the movie. Towards the end there is a scene where the spirit of the dead King says to his prodigal son, “ You have become less than you are.” And that’s us. Those words, and the tension they express between the “already” and the “not yet,” are as clear an indication of the Christian life as there is to be had.
To often we forget that we’ve been created in the image of God. That at least in part is what Genesis is all about. God said, “ Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. . . So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” The early church seized this passage and it’s apparent parallelism of image and likeness. The image they said, is our permanent potential for communion with God; the likeness is the actual communion, the result of a faithful life. Far from being worthless sinners we are, in the minds of the early church writers, always and already in the image of God, yet this will not be fully realized until we grow into God’s likeness. In the meantime, we have become less than we are.
You see our faith isn’t so much about being saved from something. You know how that goes…Salvation is escaping the judgment and proper punishment for that whole bag of sins we carry around with us and because we’re so awful God had to sacrifice Jesus on a cross in yours and my place. It’s a nice, neat and tidy formula. But there’s no life in it.
And there is a better option. Salvation can mean being raised by grace into the likeness of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – into a common life for which we have been destined since before the foundation of the world. Being born from above isn’t about escaping punishment – it’s about being welcomed home. Being as Paul writes to the Romans, adopted into a new relationship.
Growing up I had a childhood friend who had been adopted in to his family. He had spent the first few years of his life in a pretty awful situation in Northern Ontario. His adoptive parents did a wonderful thing for him by making him a part of their family, but it created a lot of work for Adrian.
Adrian you see had spent the first seven years of his life doing pretty much what ever he wanted. His real parents were too consumed with their own demons to pay much attention. In his new environment he had to learn about sharing things, good manners, and family chores.
Adrian wasn’t always successful in this new situation. But he never ceased to enjoy the love of his adoptive parents – he always remained part of this new family. Sure there were changes to be made. But the only thing that made those changes possible was the love he now found himself surrounded by. Soaked in the love of a family Adrian finally had a chance.
Many of Adrian’s lessons were learned at the family table. Time and time his parents taught him about passing food, eating slowly, speaking politely, and how to clean up afterwards. Through it all they were teaching him his identity as a cherished and much loved son. And if we’re paying attention, the same thing is on offer for us this morning.
We come to this table as adopted sons and daughters. And no matter what our leanings regarding what happens here we all believe that something important goes on at Christ’s table. The reformers of the 16th century believed with great passion that the real miracle of “conversion” at the table was not that the elements changed but that those who take part change. We’re given a place here at the table of Father Son and Holy Spirit. We participate in their common life and for this moment at least we have come home.
The Holy Trinity that we celebrate today is not some dusty piece of church doctrine for a time far away and long past. What is on offer today is a relationship by which we come home to ourselves. The task of our lives as Christians is to cooperate with the grace of God – made present in our lives by the Holy Spirit and the grace of Baptism – in order for us to become who we already are.
But that’s no easy thing. We like my friend Adrian have much to overcome; the desire for instant gratification and easy solutions; the hardness of heart that has crept into our view of the universe, nature, and one another; and the measure of time as our enemy.
And yet at the very same time you and I have been adopted into a fellowship of Father, Son and Spirit in which everything and everyone is sacred, creation is a mystery to be learned, and time is infused with opportunity for communion.
One of the many management ‘guru’s’ in the United States, tells his audiences that they simply must build into their days “ time sanctuaries,” periods when they are free from all other demands and have opportunity to pause, reflect, and rest.” We call that prayer; our participation with the divine in our midst.
And even a small amount of prayer over a long period of time can make a vast difference in our lives. Esther Quinlan, an American Muslim offers this great metaphor for prayer: “ If we set sail from New York, a tack of only five degrees can make the difference between landing in England or Africa ! So it is with prayer: the smallest effort acts as a tack on the shape of our lives, and gradually over a long period of time, we are brought to our intended destination.”
We do have the time to pray, the spirit that dwells within us yearns for the community of prayer that we experience at the Table….Creator, Redeemer, Spirit…..and you and I. We pray at the table here – our own prayers are in a real way simply the extension of this fellowship into our daily lives.
And yet to pray is a profound challenge to the spirit of our times. To pray is to pay attention to the realities of life that are only slowly revealed. In prayer we’re often summoned to wait for meaning to emerge and unfold. Prayer focuses us on the mystery of life. And perhaps most challenging of all prayer often shows no immediate benefits. So accustomed are we to jumping from task to task, sound bite to sound bite that to give our single-minded attention to the ways of God with what appears to be no obvious and quick benefit is about as counter cultural an activity as you can come up with. And yet, that is precisely the life we’re called to live.
And yet, there are some pretty obvious benefits to prayer. One writer put it this way, It’s truly a wonder to realize how much perspective you suddenly get from thinking, ‘ My God, I just stopped to talk with the Creator of the universe everything seen and unseen, what a pile of foolishness the rest of my day looks like.’ With that kind of attitude towards prayer, the world you come back to after 10 or 15 minutes can be a vastly different place than the hysteria and chaos you left.” God knows we all need that kind of balance. And we know that it’s possible because we’ve experienced it here – at this table – in communion with one another and our Triune God.
Stanley Hauerwas, my favourite writer, ends his book, “ With the Grain of the Universe” with these words. “ God has given us all the time we need to address one challenge, one argument at a time. We can take our time to make our arguments because we know that our lives are not our own; thus it is possible for us to live without our living being no more than a hedge against death, that is, it is possible for us to live as witnesses . . . .for what could be more powerful than the discovery that human beings have been made part of God’s care of creation through the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.”
This is the truth of our lives, who we are. People who have discovered our true nature and selves through a relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. A relationship made possible through the mystery that is the Trinity. By the workings of the Spirit we have been adopted as sons and daughters of a great love and communion – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In their perfect relationship we are invited to find our most true selves – we find our rightful home. Amen.