"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."
I speak with you today in the name of the loving God. Amen!
Several years ago, when I was a camp counselor, and still to this day when I’m running retreats, I prefer for participants not to wear watches. I’ve noticed that campers or retreatants who wear watches are always wondering what’s next. They tend, as my wife says, to anticipate rather than participate. I don’t like this phenomenon. Going to camp or being on retreat is a chance to be fully present in the moment; not to worry what comes next; not to be constantly pulled by the commitments and expectations of our day to day agendas.
Now, I could simply inform people of this opportunity. I could explain to them my reasoning and show them the advantages to letting go of their watches for awhile. I could wax eloquently and with much passion about how God is present with us in this very moment and to constantly worry about what comes next is a rejection of God’s grace present in the present. But where would the fun be in that. Instead I prefer to be a rascal. Therefore, when a camper asks what me what time it is, I more likely than not answer with some sort of comment like, “penguins don’t wear shoes, or Ice Cream has no bones.” I must confess to taking a distinct guilty pleasure in watching the camper’s confusion. It really brightens my day to bewilder and frustrate someone’s expectations.
My intention—beyond selfish entertainment at the expense of others—is to draw people into the here and now. My hope is to instigate awareness to what is going on right now in this moment because that is where we are most likely to hear God. See there is more going on in this moment than we are aware of. Too often we are clouded by our limited perceptions of things. We have particular categories, boxes in which we place every thing and every person. As long as these people and things function within our conceptions of whom and what they should be we are able to blithely mosey along without paying much attention, without giving ourselves to the moment or each other.
We do this in all aspects of our lives, even our faith. Furthermore, we have been doing this since the beginning of time. Look at our dear brother Nicodemus. Nicodemus was, as one commentator put it, “thoroughly informed and utterly inert,” and “was under the influence of a religious tradition that taught a faith that was to be managed, protected, and guarded.” Do this. Don’t do that. Complete the checklist. That was the path to holiness, the path to God. Now, Nicodemus found himself in a quandary. See, on the one hand he could not deny that Jesus was doing Godly things—signs that could only be done by one who was at least on God’s side. But on the other hand he couldn’t place limits on Jesus, he could not categorize Jesus. Jesus would not fit into one of Nic’s well crafted boxes of understanding. Nicodemus wanted an exact method, a procedure, a set of rules to live by. Jesus gave him poetry. Nicodemus wanted a course; a path to follow that led him in a guaranteed direction to a pre-determined place. Jesus says the wind blows where the wind blows. Nicodemus wanted to know the cause so he could predict the exact effect. Jesus calls him to relationship.
This is what a I call a swift kick of Christian love. Jesus is trying to crack open Nicodemus mind, trying to get good old nick to realize the connection between the physical and spiritual.
Now many a theologian over the years has interpreted this passage, and the passage we read from Paul this morning, to mean that there is a separation between the body and spirit and that the spirit or spiritual things are all that Christians should be concerned with. They are quite frankly wrong.
Consequently, this misinterpretation has led to really bad Christian behavior. For example, it has become at times in the church’s history, fashionable to mutilate the body in order to free the spirit. More common in our society today is the idea that since the spirit is saved then what we do with creation doesn’t matter. Since our souls are redeemed, we are free to use creation, to consume our natural resources with ne’er a second thought. Finally, a separation of matter and spirit leads some to think that the church should not be concerned about the social order. That the church and its members should be about ministering to the spiritual needs of people only. The church should be only concerned about the physical in order to relieve the symptoms of poverty and injustice but never question why poverty and injustice persist.
This interpretation and the resulting behavior are wrong because that is simply not what Jesus says. Jesus says to Nicodemus that one must be born of BOTH water—that is to say matter, physical substance, the stuff of creation—AND the spirit. Later in today’s Gospel Jesus says the most famous piece of scripture in
Jesus today is calling Nicodemus into relationship. Jesus is calling him away from a personal faith based on completing a checklist. Jesus is calling him into a faith that is relational. Jesus calls us to see the connection between heaven and earth, between body and spirit. This is hard for Nicodemus and us, because a checklist faith is ordered. A relational faith is messy. A relational faith requires us to be open to the spirit. Open to the fact that the spirit may lead us somewhere where we never thought we might go.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Now it is traditional to have assistant priests and curates preach on Trinity Sunday. It is a rite of passage for us to stand up and try and explain the Trinity. So I went looking for a decent definition, one that was simple, relatively short, and adequately explained the Trinity. I failed in this quest. People have written tomes upon tomes about the trinity. They have used philosophical language, mathematical language, sign language and symbols. But they just can’t get it done. This is because we can categorize God. We can’t with precision describe God completely. What we know of God is in relationship not as an item. The doctrine of the trinity is the teaching of God in relationship. Whether we say “father, son, and holy spirit” or “speaker, word, and breath” or “creator, redeemer, and sustainer” we are communicating a relationship. We are communicating our understanding that God is in relation with us in multiple ways that some how make us one as God, Jesus, and the Spirit are one.
To stay in relationship we must remain open. We must be open to God speaking the word Jesus Christ through the Spirit breath. We neither know where the wind comes from nor where it is headed, but if we are open God will lead us.
This week the General Convention of the Episcopal Church will gather to do business. We only do this once every three years, which is good. We should be about living Christ in our daily lives, not constantly sitting in business meetings quibbling over minute points of grammar. So, once every three years is enough. This convention, as all of them have, will confront questions of relationships—our relationships to money, our relationships to power, our relationships with each other. I is my hopeful prayer that the Bishops and Deputies of the general convention are the wisdom and stamina to remain open to the Spirit on every issue, open to the fact that we can not predict what God is willing to do in order to show us God loves us.
Now, just as the deputies and Bishops do not represent a specific constituency—rather they are to vote their conscience on every topic—they can’t live our faith for us either. Therefore, I too pray for all of us to remain open to God. Listening with open hearts to hear what God wants us to do in every moment, every relationship, and every breath of our lives.
Being open starts today as we kneel and pray. Being open starts today as we confess our sins, admitting to God and our neighbor when our hearts and minds have been closed to heaven and earth. Being open starts today when we walk this aisle and come to God’s heavenly table where we receive and consume the Body and Blood of Christ to go be the Body and Blood of Christ. Amen!