This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached on Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2021.
A new preacher in town was trying to find his way around. Finally, he asked a young girl for directions. “How do you get to the Town Hall?”
The girl gave him directions, then asked, “Why do you want to go to the Town Hall?”
“Because I’m to give a speech there.”
“What will the speech be about?” the girl asked.
“How to get to heaven.”
“How to get to heaven? And you can’t even find your way to the Town Hall?!”
I feel a bit like that today in addressing the concept of the Trinity. I don’t even pretend to fully know my way around this God who is 1 in 3 and 3 in 1, so let’s not even try to define the Trinity, but more see what we can glean from the readings and from our own experiences about our Trinitarian God.
I visited with Linda Taylor last week about the Trinity. This is how she described her experience: I am “filled with wonder for the beauty of this world and by the presence of the CREATOR who is always with us, always creating, always bringing new life into being. In times of sorrow and distress, I have been comforted by the compassion of the CHRIST who lives with us in suffering and brings us through the difficult times into new life. And I remember all the times when the power of the SPIRIT has brought goose bumps to my arms and filled me with new life and energy.
Energy and creativity are part of my experience of the Trinity. I think that is why the image of dance resonates with me in relationship to the TRINITY. The Divine Dance, the dance of our faith, that pulls us inside the circle of love that is our Triune God.
Richard Rohr writes, “In our attempts to explain the Trinitarian Mystery we overemphasize the individual qualities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but not so much the relationships between them. That is where all the power is! That is where all the meaning is!”
You have seen the traditional folk dances of the Middle East— where people are holding hands or locking arms and moving about together in a circle, swaying together - side to side and in and out - but together in one connected circle. I believe that is what the Divine Dance is like - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit -- the Creator, the Christ and the Spirit - united in love, purpose, energy.
My favorite image of the Trinity is Rublev’s icon. The three figures are present to each other and invite us to join with them at the table. It is thought that on the original icon, there was a mirror at the table where the viewers would see themselves at the table with the Trinity.
We are invited to participate in the Trinity dance, to be part of the interaction that brings continuous renewal and fresh new life…. The dance where we are invited. God in three persons invites us to experience the Holy in whatever way is most accessible to us. The great good news is that God continues to seek us out. God continues to woo us into ever-deepening relationship. That is why the icon, simplified on the cover of your leaflet, is my favorite depiction of the Trinity. Being circled up, creating together… connected and related… welcoming.
Theology Professor Ginger Barfield says, knowing where to start with the Trinity is key. It is difficult to grasp and difficult to explain, but the best starting place seems to be with "the reality of God’s activity in Jesus."
So, what is God’s activity in Jesus' interaction with Nicodemus and what might it teach us about the Trinity?
Nicodemus comes to meet with Jesus at night. We don’t know why he chose that time. It has been said that he was concerned that he would be seen in Jesus’ company, but it may be that he was simply a very busy man who came when his workday had ended. Nicodemus was a leader of the Pharisees, highly educated and who well grounded in the teaching of his religion. He knows a lot of stuff. This learned man recognizes that Jesus is a holy man, and he begins the conversation by acknowledging that God must certainly have sent him. Jesus responds by telling him that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they have been given new birth by the Spirit, then goes on to tell Nicodemus that he has knowledge without understanding. It is the action of the Spirit that brings us understanding, and we can easily imagine that it was the action of the Spirit that called Nicodemus into this encounter with Jesus.
It must have been quite unsettling for Nicodemus to approach Jesus, for Nicodemus is viewed as an expert on God so perhaps it was humbling or maybe even embarrassing, for him to ask Jesus anything about God; he may have even feared Jesus’ response to him -- a Pharisee, who Jesus regularly scolded for their self-righteousness and judgmental attitudes toward others. But it seems Nicodemus was so moved by the Spirit he could no longer resist talking to Jesus. The conversation is something of a riddle.... Jesus says one must be "born from above" and Nicodemus takes the "born" part literally, apparently not wondering what "from above" means. Jesus ignores his question and goes on with the explanation of "being born of water and Spirit." ... We might learn from this that Jesus does not answer all the questions we ask. "Jesus does more. He tells us what we need to know, not what we think we need to know." (Ron Lavin)
You see, we are called to know God, not simply to know about God. Our experience of God changes in every moment, with every change in our awareness of the world around us. We are called to be in relationship with God, just as the persons of the Trinity are in relationship - a relationship that is a never-ending, ever-changing dance. The Creator, the Christ and the Spirit are in continuous movement—always changing, yet always the same.
Jesus, the Christ, who did not lose patience with Nicodemus’ lack of understanding, also does not lose patience with us in our human struggles – whatever they may be. So as you move through this week, may you have moments of dance. May you be awed by something in the world of the Creator; comforted by the compassion of Christ; and inspired by the energy of the Spirit. May you grow not necessarily in knowledge, but in the experience of the Holy Trinity.
As you approach God’s table today, place yourself in Rublev’s icon -- imagine yourself in that Divine Dance with the Trinity, where there is always, always room for you.