Sermon May 31: The Chicken or The Egg

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Faith United Methodist Church

May 31, 2015

Trinity Sunday

Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood

Scripture: John 3:1-17

Prayer of Illumination:

As we reflect on your word, O God, may your Spirit of Truth bring us wisdom to carry the message of the Gospel in our hearts. May we live according to your word that we might reflect your glory. Amen.

Sermon:  The Chicken or The Egg?

We’ve all heard the saying, Two’s company; Three’s a crowd! The same thing is said in a different way when someone comments, “Oh no, you two go ahead. I don’t want to be a third wheel.” The idea is that it is easier, and more comfortable, when two people are together. When a third person joins in, it just gets awkward.

Well this Sunday is a little bit awkward. Today we try to understand the Trinity. Three in One. One in Three. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Lover, Beloved, Love. Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. God in Three Persons. Holy, Holy, Holy. Blessed Trinity.

Preachers have gone to great lengths to try to explain the Trinity. Sometimes we explain it as soil, seed and water. A plant needs all three to grow. There is also the egg description. In an egg there are three parts. The shell, the white and the yolk make up one egg. This may ‘beg’ the age-old question: Which came first? The chicken or the egg? A third explanation uses water as an illustration. We experience water in three forms ~ liquid, vapor and ice ~ but it is still the same substance. One in Three. Three in One.

Yet, none of these illustrations really captures the nature of the Trinity. As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, the Trinity is a logic-buster. There is no way to explain how our God is both one and three at the same time. We can get theological about it and talk about God in three hypostatic modes of being, but that doesn’t help much either. Because, when it comes right down to it, it is simply a mystery.

In fact, the word Trinity is a non-Scriptural term that was developed as a way to describe the mystery we see reflected in the Scriptures. There are several places in the Gospel where we hear Jesus speak of the Father and the Spirit. In today’s lesson, Nicodemus’ mysterious encounter with Jesus, Jesus speaks of being sent by God and being born of the Spirit. Coming from a strictly monotheistic tradition the early Jewish followers of Christ had to explain how Jesus could be both God and human and how the Spirit of God could blow among us. The doctrine of the Trinity was developed to address just that.

But mysteries that are explained cease to be mysteries, right? As Nicodemus asked Jesus, “How can these things be?” Dispelling the mystery is the temptation we fall into when we try to explain the unexplainable, to illustrate what cannot be illustrated. When we think we have a handle on the Trinity; that’s when we’re really in trouble. The only thing we can say for sure about the Trinity is that we can probably never fully comprehend it. I think I agree with what Johannes Tauler wrote in Seasons of the Spirit, “To experience the working of the Trinity is better than to talk about it.”

What is compelling to me about the Trinity is that it reflects a God in relationship ~ relationship with us and relationship with each other. God doesn’t go it alone, so what makes us sometimes think that we have to? The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not separate from each other or from us. As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, “….no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” And, later, that verse that many of us know by heart, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

So, if God is a God of relationship, what does that mean for us? One example might be seen in the Special Sunday we celebrate today. Peace with Justice Sunday allows us to support peace initiatives in our Conference, throughout the country and around the world through the building of relationships.

Goldendale United Methodist Church in Washington operates an after-school program called Kids Camp, which teaches life skills and morals to local kids from low-income families. The church’s pastor, said Kids Camp targets children kindergarten through fourth grade whose parents are not available after school. The camp uses curriculum designed to build self-esteem and values and to encourage good behavior. The volunteers build relationships with the youth. Kids Camp received a Peace with Justice grant that helps underwrite its operating cost.

Another recipient of a Peace with Justice grant, Lake Washington United Methodist Church, Kirkland, Wash., is helping to meet the needs of homeless families in their community. The church created the Safe Parking Program as a response to the lack of shelter space and transitional housing. Shelter options are limited in the county where the church is located, especially for families with adolescent males. The church offers a safe place for homeless families living in their cars to be in community, to park over night without fear of harassment.

As the Lutheran preacher Luke Bouman puts it, “The Trinity is the story of an unexpected God in relationship with us in unexpected places and unexpected ways.”  The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. On Trinity Sunday we can’t just do the math. Does 1+1+1=3? Or does 1+1+1=1? Maybe both answers are correct.

The Trinity invites us into a way of life that isn’t entirely logical. The Trinity isn’t neat and tidy, and neither are our lives. The good people of Goldendale and Lake Washington United Methodist Churches probably found this out as they reached out in relationship to those in their communities. So, to go back to our earlier question: Which came first? The chicken or the egg? My answer is that it doesn’t really matter. What’s important when it comes to the Trinity is not so much understanding it as living it.

Let us pray: Triune God, you are not a God of isolation, but a God of relationship. Help us to reach out to you and to each other, that all your children may experience the love made manifest through you, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sustainer. Amen.