Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
It’s that time of year again, when our weekends from now until the end of July are suddenly booked with graduations and graduation celebrations. Cake, and cards, and cake, and poster boards full of pictures and awards, and cake, and signing yearbooks, and…. Cake. Last year at this time I was among the vast number of graduates across the country receiving one sort of diploma or another. I and my seminary classmates, however, had the onerous distinction of receiving our master’s degrees. But not just ANY kind of Master’s degree. Upon receiving our hoods and diplomas, we became…. Masters of Divinity…. Oooooooh!
(Head shake) After four years of study, I now know everything about God, including by not limited to: how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, whether or not our pets go to heaven, why bad things happen to good people, why GOOD things happen to BAD people, and most importantly, what WAS God thinking when he created the mosquito?
Seriously though, there are just some aspects of our Christians faith that seem to allude easy answers, And it just so happens that today, on Holy Trinity Sunday, we celebrate one of the most perplexing parts of our Christian faith. More books and papers than could ever be read in one lifetime have been written about the Trinity. Scholars and theologians have dedicated their lives to parsing out and trying to pin down exactly what it means that we believe in a three-in-one, one-in-three kind of God. To be honest, it is also the kind of thing that makes your head hurt if you think about it for too long.
I think this is why I feel such a kinship with Nicodemus from our Gospel reading; because our friend Nick here doesn’t always “get it” either. Nicodemus is a learned man, a prominent and respected leader in his community, probably with a very deep and mature faith. This guy knows his Torah. And he STILL has a hard time grasping what Jesus had to say about the kingdom of God. Poor confused Nick can only blurt out, “How can these things be?” Had I been there, I think I would have done the same thing.
With every fiber of our being, we want our mysteries to be defined. We seek know the unknowable and to measure the un-measureable. We are driven to explore the height and depths of the earth because we don’t like seeing blank spots on the map. Similarly we persist in plumbing the depths of our faith – because if we can get a handle on God, then the confusing world that we live in might actually make sense.
All these strange ideas we’ve come up with, like this three-in-one business, are a way to answer the important questions that have plagued humankind for centuries: Who is God? And how do we see God at work in the world?
The many writers of the scriptures have spent their lives wrestling with those very questions. For the prophet Isaiah, he experienced God as a larger-than-life being on a throne, who cleanses and calls Isaiah to a holy task. For the Apostle Paul, who wrote letters, including this one to the Roman Christians, his experience of the power of God literally blinded him while on his way to persecute followers of Jesus. And Nicodemus is seeing but not comprehending as he stares the true answer to “who is God?” right in the face.
Though their experiences are very different, they have one thing in common. To them God was not an idea or a construct. God was a Someone whom they encountered, who met them face to face and wanted a relationship with them. And these people are never quite the same.
Who is God for you? If you were to think about this question, I would bet that your answer would be connected to an experience you had. Perhaps to you God is Love because of the love you have found after many years of marriage. Perhaps God is Peace because of the comfort and peace you have received after the death of a loved one. Perhaps to you God looks like your grandma because she embodies generosity and kindness. I once heard a poem where the poet was convinced that GOD, G-O-D, must look like his DOG, D-O-G, because of the unwavering faithfulness and devotion of his pet.
Who is God for you? I bet very few of you would think first of “the Trinity.”
While imagining God in Trinitarian form may be helpful for some, you can’t have a relationship with a doctrine or set of beliefs. God does not desire to remain an idea or belief or theological construct in the mind of us, his children. How can we know this? Because God so loved the world – so loved us – that he gave to us a way by which we can know him, deeply and directly. For God so loved the world that God gave us Jesus.
In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God swept away the curtain of mystery once and for all. No longer do we have to grope around in the dark for bits and fragments of the divine. In Jesus, the light of God has shown out in the darkness. In Jesus, God came to us in a way we can understand. In Jesus we all have become “Masters” of divinity because Jesus reveals to everyone the very essence of “who God is.”
And just what kind of God does Jesus reveal to us? A loving and forgiving God who wants to be in a relationship with us. This is what we know: Jesus came to us in a way that we would find most relatable – in a body that could laugh and cry, teach and embrace, heal and feel pain. Jesus is our brother, because we both share the same loving Father. Jesus is our Lord because he calls us to emulate the life that he lived here on earth – an existence of love and sacrifice. And Jesus is our savior because of his final victory over the forces of sin and death through his death and resurrection.
But we can know all we think there is to know about God and still completely miss the boat. Like Nicodemus. But Jesus didn’t not throw his hands up in frustration and end the conversation at the first sign of confusion. No – Jesus patiently teaches on, determined to get his message across.
I suppose we should give poor Nick some credit, because he had enough wisdom to know that there was something different about this Jesus, something holy and powerful. So Nick took a chance and arranged this secret meeting that would forever change him.
Our friend Nick may not have fully absorbed the significance of his encounter with Jesus, even when confronted by “John’s greatest hit” John 3:16. But we do know that he WAS changed by his experience with Jesus that night. Because Nick pops up again at the end of the Gospel of John, at Jesus’ trial before the Jewish council. In fact, Nicodemus was the only naysayer in their otherwise unanimous “guilty” verdict. And later on, John writes that Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea give Jesus a respectful burial when his body had been taken down from the cross. He is not quite the man that he used to be. And we too, when we encounter the Risen Jesus, are never quite the same afterwards.
Jesus didn’t walk this earth to answer every question we’ve ever had about God. God is still at work in the world in ways we cannot yet understand. But we can’t go wrong with Jesus as our trailblazer and navigator. Are you ready for THE Master of Divinity to take your hand and guide you down the paths of your life? I hope you are, because it’s going to be one exciting ride. Oh, the places you’ll go! AMEN.