Texts: John 3:1-17;
THE HOLY TRINITY: BEING SWEPT UP IN
GOD'S LOVE STORY
I am truly an honored and privileged and humbled to be here this
morning as a candidate to be
your Pastor at Prince of Peace. The Call Committee and leadership
have been incredibly gracious
to our family. And in our many conversations I've become very
excited about helping to lead this
congregation. There's mission to be done in Christ's name!
I must admit, though, that I was a bit hesitant about the timing
of coming here today. When Sue
Stapleton and I arranged to come here and preach today, I quickly
checked my church calendar.
"Oh great," I thought, "Trinity Sunday. That's a topic sure to leave
them in the aisles, snoozing.
Or perhaps cross-eyed from thinking so hard." But I recovered rather
quickly from these feeling
of dread, because in recent years I have had a renewed experience of
the Trinity -- one I'd like to
share with you this morning that moves away from that doctrinal
stuff that either puts us to sleep
or makes our brains short-circuit.
Here it is in a nutshell: The Trinity is not a logical puzzle for us
to solve. The Trinity is God's
Love Story for us to be swept up in. In the past I've done
children's sermons on Trinity Sunday
to try to help them understand the puzzle of three persons in one
God. I've used an apple
[holding one up], for example, cut in half and showed them the
seeds, the fruit, and the skin --
three parts to one apple. Or better is to talk about water. We know
water in its liquid form, but
also as a solid, as ice, or a gas, as steam. It's all water, but we
know it in three ways. The problem
is that, while the kids may learn a bit more about apples and water,
does it really help them
understand who God is?
Perhaps the best example of what I mean by the "logical puzzle"
approach to the Trinity is the
Athanasian Creed. It's actually in our green hymnals,
(1) and I'd like to ask you to take a quick look
at it. Turn to page 54 and begin to scan it. As you glance down the
page, the element of story is
almost completely lost. Think about Apostle's Creed, by contrast,
which we read for Carly's
baptism. It at least sketches of the Christian story: "I believe in
Jesus Christ.... He was conceived
by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried." I emphasize
crucified, because look at the top of the second
column on page 55. After all these statements of logical puzzle, we
finally get to the barest bones
story of Jesus: "He suffered death for our salvation." Do
you see? It even leaves out the fact that
he was crucified. Killed at the hands of fellow human beings.
"Suffered death" could mean that
he died of cancer at age eighty-eight.
The Trinity is not a logical puzzle for us to solve. The Trinity is
God's Love Story for us to be
swept up in. And I want to get to the love story part, but there's
one more thing to do first: to
glimpse where the human story went off course from God's love story.
If we take that quick
detour, I think it helps to get to a place of letting ourselves be
swept up in that love through Jesus
Christ that sets us back on course.
The opening chapters of the Bible, in Genesis, are still the best
place to glimpse the story of our
human sidetrack into sin. It begins with God's love story of
creating this world "good." It's
followed by the familiar story of the first man and woman in the
garden. Since they are creatures
and not the Creator, it is reasonable for them to have some limits,
represented by a piece of fruit
like this one [holding up apple once more]. Genesis three says that
the woman saw that this fruit
was desirable, and we know the rest of the story. Or do we? Do we
understand how the shape
human desire is the key?
Desire was not somehow in the fruit. The woman didn't just look at
the apple and feel compelled
by its desirability. And the desire didn't just suddenly pop up
within the woman one day, either.
Even if she was hungry, there were plenty of other fruit trees to
choose from. No, here's the key:
a trinity of relationships existed: enter the serpent into
the triangle with the woman and the
forbidden fruit. The woman found the apple desirable because the
serpent suggested it to her.
Even though God had suggested to her not to find the apple
desirable, the serpent convinced the
woman that God was her rival for the knowledge that the apple would
bring her. She fell for it,
and then she convinced her husband, too. She triangled her husband
into that same desire that
brought them into rivalry with God's desire. And then the rest was
history. We were created to be
of one desire, of one mind and one heart with God's love for the
good creation. But we triangle
with each other's desires instead of with God's desire, and so we
trip up and fall into all kinds of
petty rivalries and broken relationships.
And that isn't all. The first man and woman aren't one flesh, one
desire; and their brokenness
with God and each other gets passed on to their children. Cain and
Abel become rivals and
brother kills brother. But that's not even quite the end of it.
Cain's immediate remorse with God
includes anxiety that others will seek vengeance. God puts his mark
on Cain to stem the violence.
The human story is one of catching desires from one another such
that we become rivals, which
so often leads to a downward spiral of violence and vengeance.
But into that story steps the Son of God. God so loves that world
that he sent the Son to save it
-- by having the Spirit sweep us up into the love story between the
Son and the Father, who are
of one desire of saving the world and bringing creation to
fulfillment. And it meets us
particularly at the bottom of the spiral, meeting vengeance with
Author Rachel Naomi Remen tells the story of being invited to hear a
well-known rabbi speak
about forgiveness at a Yom Kippur service. Yom Kippur is the Day of
Atonement, when Jews
everywhere reflect on the year just past, repent their shortcomings
and unkindness, and hope for
the forgiveness of God. But the rabbi did not speak directly about
Instead, he walked out into the congregation, took his
infant daughter from his
wife, and, carrying her in his arms, stepped up to the ... podium.
The little girl was
perhaps a year old and she was adorable. From her father's arms
she smiled at the
congregation. Every heart melted. Turning toward her daddy, she
patted him on
the cheek with her tiny hands. He smiled fondly at her and with
dignity began a rather traditional Yom Kippur sermon, talking
about the meaning
of the holiday.
Jesus tells Nicodemus, and us, that we need to be born from above.
What does that mean other
than being able to answer that rabbi's question, that, "Yes, being
adopted as God's child, being
born from above, means that every person on this earth is our
brother and sister."
The baby girl, feeling his attention shift away from her, reached
grabbed his nose. Gently he freed himself and continued the
sermon. After a few
minutes, she took his tie and put it in her mouth. Everyone
chuckled. The rabbi
rescued his tie and smiled at his child. ... Looking at us over
the top of her head,
he said, "Think about it. Is there anything she can do that you
could not forgive
her for?" ... Just then, she reached up and grabbed his
laughed out loud.
Retrieving his eyeglasses and settling them on his nose, the rabbi
laughed as well.
Still smiling, he waited for silence. When it came, he asked, "And
when does that
stop? When does it get hard to forgive? At three? At seven? At
thirty-five? How old does someone have to be before you forget
that everyone is a
child of God?" (2)
Little Carly was born from above this morning in her baptism. I dare
say each of us here this
morning has been born from above in our baptisms. That means we
are family. But it's even
much bigger than that, don't you see?! This baptism thing means for
us to get swept up into the
story of God's love for the whole world, a love which came
to earth in the Son, and now offers us
the Spirit, whose wind and fire gets us caught up in the current of
that same love which gives
itself away for the sake of others, for the sake of the earth. And
this love is able to do so, to
constantly give itself away, because God the creator is also the
endless source of the power of
life. You and I, in the Spirit, are able to daily tap into the
source of eternal life, that we might
bring God's healing, forgiving, self-giving love to the world.
Baptism, in short, daily re-births
our whole sense of family, so that each person we meet -- whether it
is in the workplace, in our
homes, in our neighborhoods, or in this global village we now live
in -- each and every person is
met as a child of God along with us. And so we daily learn how to
treat others not just as our
family, but as members of God's family. We are, all of us,
children of the same Father who sent
the Son and who sends the Spirit.
The Trinity is God's love story for us to be swept up in. Let
yourself go! Take the plunge into
those daily waters of baptism. Get swept away in the buoyant,
joyful, healing flow of God's love.
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, June 11, 2006
1. Lutheran Book of Worship,
[Augsburg Fortress, 1978]. This was the primary hymnal resource
for the ELCA (and
its predecessor church bodies that formed the merger in 1989). The
Athanasian Creed is pages 54-55. It is interesting
that the next primary hymnal resource for the ELCA, Evangelical
Lutheran Worship -- copyrighted in 2006 and
coming out shortly after this sermon -- does not contain the
2. Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., My
Grandfather's Blessings [New York: Riverhead Books, 2000],
"All in the
Family," pages 99-100.