Trinity Sunday (June 11, 2017)
When we read all that Jesus is quoted as saying, we conclude that god is surely one -- as the Jews believe. But, god is also, somehow, three. All Christian faiths accept this truth. It is absolutely the deepest mystery, for it concerns the very nature of God. For us to discuss it is like a colony of ants trying to put a human person under a microscope and then determine what human nature really is. As ants are to us, we are to God . . . With an even greater, an infinite gap between God and us.
Our god is 3 persons so in love with one another that they are one and so in love with us that they do everything possible to share the joy of our life and love and make us one with themselves -- closing the gap to some degree.
That said, let us turn our attention to today’s Gospel. No verse of the Bible is better known than the first verse of today’s Gospel, designated as Jn 3:16. We see “Jn 3:16” on TV. --- Hanging on banners on stadium walls at sports events. It has become a sort of Magna Carta of the Christian faith. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”
Everything that the church at its best believes and teaches and does --grows out of that. It is a summary statement of Christian theology, the inspiration of Christian service, the basis of Christian ethics.
To understand Jn 3:16, the context of the verse needs to be understood. The context is the relationship between Jesus and a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus. Nicodemus appears only in John’s Gospel; he appears three times.
Nicodemus first came to see Jesus at night. In John’s Gospel the author uses darkness to indicate unbelief. Night indicates that he was “still in the dark” about who Jesus really was. Perhaps it also indicates that he did not want to be seen by his fellow Pharisees. Perhaps, both.
We see him a second time after he saw the worth of Jesus’ words. He steps up to defend Jesus among his fellow Pharisees. He comes closer to the light.
Finally, when Nicodemus witnessed the death Jesus bravely died without recanting his words of love, Nicodemus steps boldly into the light as a Jesus-man. He brings the myrrh and aloes for Jesus’ burial. Nicodemus comes to belief slowly, but he comes. He comes out of the darkness into the light, just as you and I come in stages into deepening our belief in Jesus.
Jesus spoke today’s words to Nicodemus about God’s love the first time they met. I’d like to briefly talk about 3 words in this Magna Carta of Christianity. The material universe, in terms of magnitude, is measured in a phrase that had to be invented: light years . The spiritual magnitude of God’s love for you and me is even greater, but it is expressed here in one, puny word: “so.”
God so loved the world, not God the father was so . . . angry . . .with the world that Jesus obediently had to come to come and suffer and die to appease the father - as an older theology tries to teach us. We need to remind ourselves of the depth of god’s love from time to time because we see so much of the lack of love in our world.
The second and third words are eternal life. Eternal life in the New Testament does not simply mean perpetual existence. Eternal life is not about quantity of existence, but a new and better quality of life.
To try, albeit poorly, to illustrate, imagine that you invited three extremely talented athletic worshipers to perform a demonstration of the trinity with arms tightly linked around each other’s waists. They begin to whirl around so fast that they become an indistinguishable blur. They appear as one though they remain three distinct persons. That is the dance into which we are swept at our death. Something like that is “eternal life.”
This is not about a statement of creedal faith, which we recite. This is about biblical faith, by which we are saved. Eternal life does not come from believing that “things” are true, but from being “born from above,” believing in Jesus, throwing in our lot with Jesus, entering a sphere of existence where Jesus is number one in our lives.
We recall the holy picture of the gentle Jesus, standing outside a door with no doorknob on his side and recall those words described in the Book of Revelation [3:20]: “Here I stand, knocking at the door. If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him, and he with me.” A dinner dance!
When we open the door to our hearts to the lord, things are never the same. It is as though we are given new eyes. We have a new perception of reality, a new awareness of how things really are. We hear an echo of Jn 3:16.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”