Hearers of God’s Word, grace and peace to you from God the Creator, Jesus Christ our Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit, active here in our midst this morning. Amen.
One of the names you’ll hear a lot from me over the next few years is Larry Meyer. Larry was my campus pastor, mentor and friend. He died after a long battle with esophageal cancer in 2005. I graduated from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in 1998, but instead of enrolling in seminary straightaway, I decided to take a year off and work. Larry knew my plans and made some of his own – when the seminary which had supplied our campus ministry with interns came up short for the coming year, Larry asked me to come on staff and work full time for campus ministry until I enrolled in seminary.
One of the first things Larry asked me to do was write a fundraising letter to parents, friends, alumni and other supporters. I don’t remember much of what I wrote, except for one sentence. Originally it was something to the tune of “you are helping us bring Jesus to campus.” When Larry and I sat down to go over it, he said, “We aren’t bringing Jesus to campus. God is already here. Our work is to find where God is already at work.”
Today is Trinity Sunday. It is, according to theologian Mary Anderson, “the only Sunday that asks us to ponder a teaching of the church instead of a teaching of Jesus.” You won’t find an explicit reference to the Trinity in the Bible, at least not in any way that establishes Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a doctrinal, dogmatic way. Trinity is not God’s thing for us – it’s our thing for God. In other words, just like Larry said, God is already here. Trinity is just the way we try to wrap our heads around who God is and how God is already at work.
Trinity Sunday is not something God needs. God does not descend from on high with an order: “Every year thou shalt devote one Sunday to the pondering of trinitarian theology.” Honestly, I think God couldn’t care less about whether or not we have an intellectual grasp of what “the Trinity” means, because claiming you’ve got God figured out if you can wrap your head around the Trinity is like claiming you’ve seen the whole ocean once you’ve scooped up some seawater in a glass. It might seem like a silly distinction, but it’s important: God is beyond our comprehension. God is bigger than anything we can conceptualize. In an age where instant communication across the globe is possible, where we’ve split the atom and sequenced DNA, we tend to think of God as just one more piece of information to be processed, understood and tucked away for when we need it. If we’re not careful, we can turn God into just another being, just one more person we have to keep satisfied as we go our way through this life. This will not do at all. The great 20th century theologian Paul Tillich said,
“God does not exist. [God] is being itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny [God]…We can no longer speak of God easily to anybody, because he will immediately question: “Does God exist?” Now the very asking of that question signifies that the symbols of God have become meaningless. For God, in the question, has become one of the innumerable objects in time and space which may or may not exist. And this is not the meaning of God at all.”
Spend too much time thinking intellectually about theology, about the Trinity, about the concept of God, and you wind up losing the wonder of the experience of God. It gets banal. Ritual for its own sake. It might look something like this:
Compare this ‘prayer’ with what Dr. Rolf Jacobson has to say about the Isaiah. How many of you have always thought of the angels song as heavenly, a beautiful hymn to a God they love? Not Dr. Jacobson. He reads it far differently. He says the angels are crying out in agony and ecstasy, delirious and terrified at being so close to God’s unmediated holiness. The hem of God’s robe fills the temple. The great doors shudder at the thunder of God’s voice. Smoke and fire fill the air. The Source of all that is, was, and ever will be is here, the Being who knows you down to the very first sub-atomic particle – you stand exposed before Being itself. Would you not also cry out, “Woe is me!”
So, in the face of this, our insistence on a Trinity Sunday seems trite at best, utterly banal at worst. Except that it isn’t trite at all. Trinity matters because that same Being in the throne room has revealed itself to us through a Trinitarian means. Two thousand years ago, the Being whose robe filled the temple took on flesh and bone and came to dwell among us in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus walked into the darkness where we hide from the holiness of God the Creator, bearing His holy light in humility and love. Jesus of Nazareth is Emmanu-el, “God-with-us,” and in this way God loves the world and reveals himself to us. And not only this, but our very belief in this same Jesus of Nazareth comes through the work of God the Holy Spirit, the one under whose power we can actually call ourselves children of God. We Lutherans have a particular love for the Trinity because without the work of the Holy Spirit, we cannot come to faith at all:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with [Its] gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as [It} calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church [the Spirit] forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.
You are not here by coincidence. God has been at work all along; calling, gathering, enlightening and sanctifying here, now, in this place, for this time. The Trinity matters here and now – not as some doctrinal proposition or theological checklist to be marked off so you can go to heaven when you die, but for this day and life that you’ve been given. The gospel reading for this morning tells us that God is already at work here:
Nicodemus said, "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." 3Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."
Nicodemus saw it, even though he didn’t understand it. He knew God was working through Jesus, and Jesus confirmed what Nicodemus saw – “You wouldn’t have seen the kingdom of God at work in me without God showing it to you, Nicodemus.” The Spirit shines the spotlight on Jesus, “God-with-us” who bears all the holiness of Existence itself in his human flesh and bone. Trinity is how we understand that God is already here. Our work is to reveal what God is doing in our world.
My prayer as we start this journey together is that we might always be looking for ways God is already at work. It will mean seeing things in a new way, breaking free of what we think God ought to be doing so we can see if that’s really what God is doing. God is already here. The Creator continues to make all things new. Jesus our Redeemer fills the world with his love and mercy. The Spirit moves and blows the Breath of Life within us, creating faith where there was none before. God is already here. Let’s begin by looking for what God is doing in our world, together, and may the peace of God, which truly surpasses all our human understanding, keep our hearts and minds, this day and always. Amen.