Trinity sermon: Dr Janice McRandal

On Trinity Sunday, Dr Janice McRandall preached at West End Uniting Church. We are very grateful to her for this message:

Think for a moment of a group of adult friends, maybe three or four, sitting around a dinner table eating, drinking wine, and having a wonderful time. The conversation among them has really taken flight. There are jokes, stories, hysterical laughter, imitations, self-parody, irony, and wit. Serious matters float in and out of the conversation — such as politics, sex, death, and love — but nobody is really being serious. Nobody is preaching or trying to control the outcome of the conversation. Nobody’s personality dominates. Everyone’s individuality, if only for a short while, gives way to the greater pleasure, indeed the ecstasy, of the conversation.

Now imagine a six-year old child wandering into the kitchen and trying to get a sense of what is going on. She sees and feels that the room is full of joy and delight and communication, but can’t grasp what is going on. She can’t form any definite idea of what is happening or what is being said. Nobody is telling anything to anyone — like what the weather is like outside. Nobody is doing an activity with a goal or outcome — like cleaning up the kitchen. And most intriguingly, nobody is telling her anything or trying to get her to do anything — like clean up their room or go to bed. There is all this commotion, a kind of explosion of excitement, but it doesn’t seem to have any purpose. There is no ‘why’ to it all. It might feel to her either bewildering or alluring, or both.

What I want to suggest is that this is what our relationship to the Trinity is like. We are in the position of that little child in relation to the life of God: standing before, or within, a mystery that exceeds us, yet one that we are created to join. What the gospel about Jesus tells us and shows us is that the life God, the very being of God, is like an explosion of excitement and joy among friends who know each other very well and love each other very much. So well and so much, in fact, that there could be nothing better than wasting time in each other’s company. To speak of the Trinity is to say that God is relation, relation so intense and intimate that there really is no image or idea we can ultimately form of it. When we say that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that is what we are trying to say. Or when we say Holy Mother, Christa, Sophia, in the feminine, or when we say Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, that is what we are trying to say. Not that God is three human people, or that there or three gods, or that there are three parts of God, but that God is what happens between Jesus, the mystery he gave his life to, and the Spirit of that giving. And what happens there is the joy and liberty that sets the galaxies in motion and the love that death cannot defeat.

The reading this morning from John’s gospel speaks of a liberty that was with God at the beginning of all things, a liberty through which God makes and sustains all things.

“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. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus, who only appears in John’s Gospel, was a very important Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, judges and rulers over Israel. That Jesus is seen to so deeply challenge him is a purposeful stroke by John. A bit like me telling Ash Barty how to play tennis. Now Nicodemus Is indeed very wise, so when he responds to Jesus “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” He’s not being literal, he knows that’s not what Jesus is saying. But he is looking for something exact. He wants Jesus to tell him exactly what it means and how it is to be born again. Jesus does not give him a formula, or a scientific explanation. He gives him a mystery: the joy and liberty of the spirit

“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. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

I’ve often considered it ironic that this story of Nicodemus approaching Jesus at night, to speak of such mysteries, is included in the same passage of John 3.16, a text taken up so frequently to create the bluntest, scientific like formula for what it means to come into relationship with God. This idea, popularised over the last few centuries, that to be in relationship with God requires precise prayers and confessions — “a sinner’s prayer” — and then membership in the right church. But Jesus says first,

“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. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

And there’s a double irony in this text being chosen in the lectionary on Trinity Sunday, one week after Pentecost, an event that is often reduced by Christians to being the birthday of the church. As if Pentecost is to be entirely understood as the Spirit creating churches around the world.

“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. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Throughout the centuries of the Christian church, many theologians have taken this passage in John 3 to hint at the idea of ‘trinity’. They have read it alongside the first chapter of John’s gospel, which speaks of the logos or word through which God makes all things and which becomes flesh in Jesus, and then later in John 13–17, where Jesus prays for the same Spirit to make his followers one, or draw us into the life of God. What we are being shown here is not only that God’s life is marked by relation, but also that this relationship of God to God, marked by joy and delight, is the very liberty that underlies all things and into which all things may grow. Well beyond our formulas and well beyond our churches. To access the liberty of any created thing is to let it become a sacrament of pointless joy, of eternal relation. From all of us animals, all of the fields, and mountains, and rivers and seas, from microorganisms to quarks, algae and iron — to think the Trinity is to think the relationship of us all. Each and all a sacrament of pointless joy, of eternal relation in God.

“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. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Let me return to that six-year old child standing in the kitchen. She is on her way to a mysterious adulthood the way all of creation is on its way to sharing in the mysterious life of God. She may not understand now how a kind of pointless sitting around with friends is actually the best of pleasures and the height of liberation, but someday, hopefully sooner than later, she’ll begin to catch on. The unconditional loving care and attention of parents, or carers, and other adults are her best clues to what awaits her as the liberty and joy of adulthood. Likewise, the way Jesus loves us to death on Good Friday, the way the Father returns him to us on Easter Sunday, and the way the Spirit enflames us with this love on Pentecost are great clues to what the eternal life of God is that we have been created to share as God’s friends. It is a life of unfathomable mystery — which is to say, unimaginable intimacy, unstoppable hospitality, and the unspeakable joy of its gift and sharing. Church is that place where we begin to catch on.  

“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. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Dr Janice McRandal is Director of The Cooperative, a project in public collaboration in the spirit of public theology.

West End Uniting Church, 30 May 2021

1 Comment

Filed under RCL, sermon

One response to “Trinity sermon: Dr Janice McRandal

  1. Very nice blog.💥 💥 2021-06-21 03h 57min

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