Reflections from The Hill – God and Maths – Trinity Sunday 2012
The Holy Trinity has been a significant part of my life’s journey: my mum and dad went to church at Holy Trinity, Kelso (NSW); the first Parish I served in as a Deacon was Holy Trinity, Dubbo (NSW); I was Ordained Priest in Holy Trinity, Mackay (QLD); I worked as the Rector of Holy Trinity, Woolloongabba, QLD); and now our Retirement Village address is Trinity Court. Neat, eh.
It’s a pity that the doctrine of the same Holy Trinity doesn’t match the neatness of this roll-out of my life, for you’d have to go on a long day’s hike to find any preacher anywhere for whom this day or subject is a favourite.
Part of the problem, as I’ve already hinted, is the mathematics: three-in-one; one-in-three. How does one figure that? What does it mean? I’ll be a wealthy man if my attempts at doing these sums were remunerated.
Of course, I’ve tried being erudite, especially after I’d read some theologian or other on the subject, but all that’s happened is that I’ve become too smart by far.
Which of you readers, for example, will recall the Trinity Day sermon I preached while wearing three hats: a Stetson: a Beanie and a safety helmet? There are some still alive, I’m told, but memorable? Only for the wrong reasons.
Not only could I not swap these titfers around quickly enough to make the point, the whole thing looked like a circus juggling trick for which I had no skills.
If we’re serious about trying to get our heads and hearts around this theological conundrum called The Trinity, the best and first thing to do is to ditch the maths. It’s simply not going to work.
Instead of trying to do sums that won’t work (that’s a bit like Sudoku in my opinion) maybe it’d be a good idea to turn our focus on The Big Fella himself, onto his character and his nature and see what makes him tick.
Behind all the Trinitarian controversies of the 3rd and 4th centuries, behind all the doctrines, philosophies and convoluted attempts at preaching it to our congregations is a God who disrupts our preconceptions. He came in weakness not power, in shame not glory, in what looked like defeat not victory.
The early Christians figured that if they could be wrong about the coming of the Messiah, there might be other things they could be wrong about, like what they thought about God himself. It’s just so confusing.
Part of the confusion, I think, is aided and abetted by The Night Visitor, dear Nicodemus. He’s a nice bloke but, man, is he mixed up. The fact that he’s a religious leader who came ‘at night’ (the time for confusion and doubt) is enough to set the alarm bells ringing.
Even though Nico recognises Jesus’ teaching authority yet doesn’t understand what that means, he also fails to comprehend what Jesus is on about when he talks about being born from above.
Even when Jesus talks plainly to him about the mystery and the power of the Holy Spirit, Nicodemus still asks the “Yes, but how?” question so loved by sermon tasters the world over.
Nicodemus’ confusion rests in two misunderstandings about God: first, he misunderstands what God’s freedom means. God, and those born of God, Jesus says, is more like the wind that blows where it will than like an immovable rock. He is a dynamic God, and his activity is not always as predictable as we would like it to be.
Drawing help and comfort from a capricious God can be a scary option, especially if we fail to recognise Nico’s second misunderstanding about God: that The Big Fella is, above all else, a God of Love.
This is the touchstone of John’s Gospel. We see its inherent power in the world’s most famous Bible verse: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16).
It’s staggering to think that, for John, all of Jesus’ work through the Spirit is to save us from our own stupidity and our own overweening penchant for self-destruction.
In fact, if we read to the end of verse 21 and don’t cut the
short, says David Lose, we may be horrified or surprised or even pleased to find that God doesn’t seem to have any plans at all for our punishment or rejection. Reading
Rather, the Big Fella desires only our health and salvation. He wants us to have life in all its fullness, both now and in the ages to come.
Surely this is the scandalous love that can be grasped only by the Spirit of God, the restless and dynamic spirit that blows where it will, who helps us to receive the unexpected Messiah and reveals the gracious and loving Father to us.