Born Again Into Mystery
The Rev. Jennifer Adams – May 27, 2018 – Trinity Sunday: John 3:1-17
Now 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.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “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. (John 3:1-17)
Before I dive into the Trinity….and that’s sort of how I imagine the Trinity, as something into which we dive, in whose heart and arms we live. Trinity as Father, Son, Holy Spirit; Mother Child, Sophia; Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Before we go there, I want first to say that it’s good to be here. And I want us to catch up a little bit. I’ve been away for two weeks in South Africa, and in some ways it felt like a very long time.
A brief run through what we did those weeks, because you’ve been asking, and because I want you to know. I was on a tour with the Hope College Chapel Choir. Beth taught a senior seminar that was a part of the trip, David Cunningham taught a class in theology, Jen Wolfe accompanied as she does in remarkable ways and Brad Richmond directed and led the group. And they all let me and Marlies tag along.
On this tour, we visited Johannesburg, Durbin, Port Elizabeth, the western coast, and the outskirts of Cape Town. We were in Anglican churches, a Catholic church, and an African Methodist Episcopal Church in the heart of Soweto which alone preached many sermons and gave us many gifts. We visited two schools, a national park, a wild life refuge, an amazing community outreach and social justice Center. We spent time at the the Apartheid museum and in townships of Johannesburg. We listened to real people talk about the history, the struggle, the dreams, the discrepancies and divisions, and the still profoundly beautiful vision that exists among the peoples of that country.
And in these settings we shared music, and stories, and the amazing beauty of God’s creation –coast, and sky, mountains, sea, elephants, giraffes, hippos. There were co-existing diversities of many kinds. I will forever have the soundtrack of this tour in my heart. The music of the Chapel Choir and the music and dance of the many congregations and groups with whom these students sang are with me, in me. The trip was very, very good. It was also very hard in important ways.
This trip took us completely away. And it was also revelatory of things we need to see more clearly here. Because that’s how these kinds of experiences work. You’ll hear more, don’t worry. Or do worry. You can decide which.
In other news these past couple of weeks, to touch on things that we all felt, there was another mass shooting in our country. Our hearts broke again as we witnessed young people fearing for their lives in a setting in which they should at the very least be physically safe. Through them we again felt the pain of a very broken humanity.
And on a completely other note, our hearts were opened as Prince Harry and Meghan Markel were married in a ceremony that bridged worlds that need bridging, and that offered an image of a diverse and royally-lively people at prayer. Apparently “royally lively” can happen! Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry took to the pulpit in that service and he proclaimed a rousing message of the power of Love, the power of God. It was and is a much needed message. And it was heard and is still being heard around the world.
And here among the people of Grace, in not exactly world-changing but definitely celebration-worthy news, our parking lot was finally completed! This years-long project is finished. There will of course be some fine-tuning with landscaping and lighting, but the final layer was poured and we are good to go! Thank you to everyone who has helped that project happen.
Also, Marketplaatz 2018 is now history. The friers, Dutch costumes, olliebolen buckets have been put into storage for another year. Thank you to leaders and to all of Grace for pulling off that youth ministry fundraiser once again.
Over the past two weeks, the planning continued for Grace’s Sesquicentennial celebration which begins on June 10th. Several of you participated in the local Summit on Race and Inclusion, helping us tend to the gaps and inequalities that exist among us here in this community. Over the past two weeks a few of you graduated, and others are a mere few days away from graduating.
And pastorally, among other things a few of you lost a friend, a student in Zeeland, and Brian Paff’s mother died suddenly just two days ago. And so we continue to keep these families in our prayers as we reach out with our own love and support to this little corner of God’s world.
Over the past two weeks vergers have been studying, Altar Guild has been setting, Stephen Ministers have been companioning, buildings and grounds people have been buildings and groundings. And in the midst of all of that, summer came. After a Spring of about three days. And so we welcome warm. Which is very soon to be hot.
Over the past two weeks many various phases of life and new life have continued, some ended and others begun.
And here’s how God has been these past two weeks: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Mother, Child, Sophia. Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. For more than two weeks, actually. And tomorrow too.
And no matter which two weeks we chose to review, God would have the very same answer to “So, what’s been going on with you?” “Well, I’ve been creating, redeeming, and sanctifying, thank you very much,” replies God. “So listen to me prophets. Speak out! Listen to me leaders, proclaim! Work with me people. I’m with you and beyond you too.”
Now I can’t explain the Trinity to you given the mystery at its heart. But I will say (as if it’s mine to say,) that the Council of Nicea did a pretty good job in the year 325, considering the challenge they faced. They had to find words that their people could hear, words that would lead to deeper understanding, words that could help unite Christians in some very basic and fundamental proclamation of the holy One. A holy One who was, due to the breadth and depth of almighty beauty, hard to proclaim.
And so the bishops at that Council looked to Scripture and they looked to their own contemporary philosophy and theology, they looked to their traditions and their own experiences, beliefs, and hopes in order to put words on the divine.
And that work that was not without division, there were bitter battles fought of this language. But in all of that, they managed to come up with the Nicene Creed which Christians around the world proclaim to this day. Now I don’t think they perfected this description, this proclamation of God, because such a proclamation, is by it’s very nature, unperfectable. There’s too much God for our words. Too much God for any one group of people’s experiences to capture. This God goes beyond human understanding no matter how much creativity, or brains, or ecclesial authority any one group of humans has been given. And so I don’t think that Council captured God, nor do I believe they gave this world the only faithful description that exists of the divine.
But over the past two weeks I heard this Creed sung and I heard it prayed in several languages. I heard it sung and I heard it prayed by people of many colors, and ages, and backgrounds, all of whom are still dreaming and who as they do that are being embraced by this God. And so I’m profoundly grateful and respectful that this concept and presence of Trinity is here for us to explore and to be held by.
And it is this Trinitarian proclamation that we celebrate today as we hold the joys and pains of our own lives, the joys and pains of this world in our hearts and minds and souls. Today we proclaim together that in the midst of it all, God is creating, redeeming and sanctifying before us, among us, beyond us. As we experience heart breaks and hearts opening, as we work toward visions as practical as more parking, as redemptive as racial and other forms of reconciliation, and as spirit-filled as 150 years and more of Grace, we offer our thanks and our praise to something, to some holy One greater than ourselves.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Mother, Child, Sophia. Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. In whom with Nicodemus, about whom we just heard from the gospel of John, we are born and reborn over and over again. It is with the Bishops of Nicea, the people of Texas, and Soweto…it is with our at-home-neighbors-right here in Holland, Michigan that we celebrate the power of God’s mysterious, wide embrace.