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John 3:1-8 (CEB)
Romans 8:12-17 (CEB)
It’s all the rage these days to have a DNA test and see where you came from, sometimes a far cry from the family stories about where you came from. Have you seen the ancestry commercial where the man talks about all the lederhosen he bought and the sauerkraut he ate only to find, thanks to ancestry.com, that he’s actually Scottish? So, now he’s got kilts and eats, I don’t know…boiled sheep stomachs?
Our identity is tied up quite a bit in who our family is, or who we thinkthey are, or who we decide they are. After all, the whole business of “family” has undergone some major renovations. Sure, we have biological family, but my own family isn’t limited to that. I have siblings who are not blood relations to me, people who aren’t even in my genealogy who I call family and so do many of you. Even Jesus on the cross creates a new family with his dying breaths, connecting his mother Mary to the disciple known only as the beloved one. Family just happens.
This is the theme that Paul uses, affirming for his church members their place in God’s family. See, Paul was living at a time in which everything as tribal, including your relationship with God, or with gods. In order to accept a particular version of God, you had to become part of that family. And for Judaism, this meant a lengthy and pretty invasive process. So, Paul’s assertion is that we are adopted…Jesus’s faithfulness means weget adopted, too. Good news, that big estate of your hairdresser’s second cousin’s great nephew’s uncle left? You are an heir now, too. Paul uses the language of his time, language of inheritance and family position, to explain that Jesus has granted us an access to God that was there all the time. It is Jesus’ faithfulness, his dedication to compassion and loving kindness and relationship – across all the boundaries we set between one another – that opens up the path to God. That is, in part, what I think Jesus means when he says the kin-dom is all around us. That’s our inheritance, a world of hope and compassion that exists already, though we are too blinded by so many things to see it.
Paul also tells his readers how difficult this is for us to grasp, even to accept. Jesus says much the same to Nicodemus, inviting him to imagine that this life “in the Spirit” is like being born again, born from above, Jesus says, as God’s children, precious and beloved by God. And Nicodemus says, “Huh?” That’s a paraphrase from the Greek. It’s like we all want to be in the family, but we refuse to be in the family. I’ve had so many encounters over the past week, whether at the wonderful event at B’Nai Emunah reading the Book of Ruth for Shavu’ot, or preaching to new faces in Oklahoma City at Pentecost or hearing from friends in a variety of places where our “unity” feels as thin as tissue paper, and our family circles feel smaller. All of these encounters helped those involved to feel more connected, to see that in relationship, true compassionate, seek-to-understand relationship, we find the presence of God.
Naturally this brings me to talking about the doctrine of the Trinity. And now you’re all having your own Nicodemus moment – “Huh?” Allow me to elaborate, please. Today is Trinity Sunday or, if you are from a higher church tradition, the Feast of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Mention of the trinity, perhaps ironic from our bible-centric point of view, is not found in the Bible. Instead it is a doctrine which some say can be found as early as the first century, but most consider a development of later Christianity – say 3rdto 5thcenturies – and was the cause, as doctrines often are, of many church battles, some quite literal, and innumerable declarations of heresy. The doctrine is claimed as one of our great mysteries of faith, namely that God is one but three coeternal consubstantial persons or hypostases —the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—as “one God in three Divine Persons”, or 1+1+1=1. Now if all of that is confusing to you, welcome to the club. I don’t understand the Trinity as a doctrine, even St. Augustine said it was beyond him. Yet it was a way to try and explain the unexplainable reality that God is elusive to our definitions and resistant to our rationality…and the invisible God is most clearly seen in relationships.
It has been the Celts, often labeled as heretics by the Church Catholic, who have most readily and fully illuminated any sense of trinity for me. They help because the Celts don’t feel the need to make things work out intellectually. And that’s good, because the trinity (and family for that matter) aren’t really rational things, they are experiential things. So the Celts celebrate the analogies for the trinity, like the famous three-leaf clover of St. Patrick, or the idea of water, which can be ice, vapor and liquid, though all are still water. Of course, that’s also a heresy known as modalism. But I digress…
Where the connection exists for me is the idea that God is relationship. Not God has relationship, but God IS relationship. Commentator David Lose says it this way – what the doctrine of the Trinity tries to get to is that from the very beginning of time the dynamic power of love that is at the heart of God’s identity and character can onlybe captured – and that, Paul said, in a glass, but dimly – by thinking of the love that is shared. And so God’s essential and core being has always been a giving and receiving and sharing of love that finally spills out into the whole of the universe and invites all of us into it. First through creation and God’s series of covenants, then and pre-eminently in the sending of God’s Son to demonstrate in word and deed just how much God loves us, and now as the Spirit bears witness to God’s ongoing love for us and all creation.
And that love is so large that it MUST continue, so the analogy is that God is three-in-one, and also three-in-one PLUS one, that is you and me. God’s love works by growing, a love made complete in relationship in and through ALL of God’s children. And all it takes is one quick foray into the world beyond these doors, a glance at social media comments, a single awkward family gathering at cousin Susie’s wedding, some refusing to come at all, as she marries her longtime girlfriend, news accounts of our own government not only separating families at the border, but giving kids over to human traffickers because they didn’t do the work necessary to know exactly who it was they were handing these children over to…it is easy to see that living as if God’s love is made complete in our relationships to one another is NOT where we are.
But the Good News is that it IS where God is, and the God who we honor this morning, the God who we give thanks to for another day – even the really hot ones – is the God who is Creator and creating still, the God of our ancestors, wherever they came from, and the God who knits together our wonderful and broken, dysfunctional and sometimes even dangerous families – always offering a chance to be found in our relationships to one another.
Sometimes I think that the reason people have a hard time seeing the action of God in their lives is that they don’t take God’s promises seriously enough. What if you heard a story this morning of God’s expansive love, so large that all of humanityis wrapped up in it, made heirs to the kin-dom, part of the beloved community as if it were part of our DNA. If only those tests could reveal that you are Scottish or Spanish, Indian or Indonesian, Nigerian or Nicaraguan…AND…you are also human. Part of the family of God, created by and in love, filled with the Spirit and infused with God’s undiminishable Love without exceptions. How might we see the world if we believed that? What might we do? Who might we seek to include in the family? What would it even feel like to have that kind of awakening? Would it feel like being born again?