1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jewish people. 2 Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3 Jesus answered Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the reign of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said 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?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the dominion of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 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.”
9 Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered Nicodemus, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of humanity. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of humanity be lifted up, 15 that whoever trusts in the Son may have life everlasting.
16 “For God loved the world in this way, that God gave the Son, the only begotten one, so that everyone who trusts in the Son may not perish but may have life everlasting.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through the Son.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
You invite us to join with you.
You call us to bear your divine image.
And to see and serve that
Same divine image in our neighbors.
Strengthen us for this work.
Come alongside us.
Use our hands, feet, and heart.
I’m not a particularly good dancer.
Now, to my credit, I never really tried to learn and I’ve never taken a class. Some of our members decided to take up ballroom dancing in their retirement years, and I think that’s a great idea. Finding new hobbies, discovering ways to keep the body moving and that little spark kindled. I enjoy watching good dancing and complex body movement is certainly impressive to me, I just, you know, haven’t learned up to this point.
And it wasn’t even part of, like, the societal culture when I was growing up. I mean, my junior high and high school dances were in the late 90s, we didn’t have the jitterbug or the lindy hop. Our music basically had 2 speeds, fast and slow, and the dancing was pretty much jumping up and down with your hands in the air for the fast songs, and the suuuuper-awkward sway back and forth for the slow songs. Maybe you remember the ones—guys’ hands on their dance partner’s hips, but not too low…ladies’ hands on their partners’ shoulders, maybe even around their neck if they were super close. But always an appropriate distance between the 2…6-12 inches at school dances. Leave room for Jesus, we always joked. Now I was also a church kid and went to my fair share of church youth gatherings with dances, and there, apparently, the Holy Spirit needed at least 18 inches or 2 whole feet depending on the chaperone.
But it was always this awkward side-to-side sway.
Which is why I am not a very good dancer. Not a lot of practice.
But, like at weddings and stuff, I try, and I have fun. And I’m always good for a wisecrack or a joke in your ear. That’s my go-to move for diffusing situations when I feel uncomfortable or out of my element…humor. Always has been.
For any of you serious dancers, you’ll know that it’s super important that you trust your dance partner. Trust is one of these foundational things to relationships, and especially if you’re flinging and flipping someone around a dance floor, trust is paramount.
You also need to be certain that you’re having fun. Don’t get so caught up in the competition or the mechanics of it that you forget to have a good time.
Holy Trinity Sunday is one of those feast days when the church can get caught up in the mechanics and forget to have fun.
The Feast of the Holy Trinity is a relatively recent festival in the church calendar and it’s the one major feast when the church commemorates a doctrine, rather than an event. I’ll just go ahead and say it, hard-nosed and immovable orthodoxy looks good on no one.
Here’s the thing, good theology is important and y’all know I love my good and right order, but doctrine for the sake of being doctrinal is just another box that we foolishly and futilely try to cram God into. A colleague said this week, “Pay attention and beware when your pastor starts their sermon with ‘The Holy Trinity is like…’ because you’re about to hear a really good heresy.”
So often we come, like Nicodemus, seeking knowledge about God, and we get disappointed at our inability to understand. When what we need, and what Jesus offers Nicodemus, is a way to perceive God, an invitation to open our eyes, to look and see and be aware of what God is doing. And through perception, becoming aware of what God is already doing and where God is already active.
So often we end up trying to know about God, instead of striving to simply know God.
Father Richard Rohr is a Franciscan brother who lives in New Mexico and he describes the relationships of the Trinity—between God the Creator, the Son, and Holy Spirit—as a dance. He describes a series of relationships that are grounded in trust and intimate love, that don’t overpower one another, but that move and work together, always for the purpose of advancing God’s vision and hope for the world. And of course, because Father Rohr is a Franciscan, this relationship, this give-and-take is full of fun and humor and is playful.
And Father Rohr frequently lifts up the oft-neglected fourth member of the Trinity—never mind that we don’t call it the Quadinity—but that we, humanity, are part of this dance and are invited into this dance, as well.
Paul lifts this up in Romans, “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.” Through Christ, we have been invited to the dance floor. And the good news is, we don’t need to know how to dance, we don’t need to know the steps. God’s got the lead. Our role is to trust.
Through Christ, we have been joined to God and God’s work for the sake and the betterment of the world.
If we are children of God, then we are heirs of God. And if we are heirs of God, then we are joint-heirs with Christ…heirs of God’s promise of restoration and renewal…heirs of God’s promise of the resurrection of all things…and joined to Christ in that work of restoration and healing and renewal. Yours are the hands and feet and heart through which God accomplishes God’s work in the world.
It’s not just a tag line for our denomination, the ELCA, it’s a theological statement. “God’s work. Our hands.”
We are not mere spectators of this work of the Trinity, you are participants.
We’ve had to do a lot of deft dancing over these past 14 months. From trying to navigate the shut-down and stay-at-home orders, to working out how to adapt worship to virtual platforms, to begin the process of resuming in-person worship at our Lakeside Chapel, to now figuring out the logistics of worship in the Sanctuary…we’ve had to lean hard into these relationships of trust and well-being.
I believe we were called to care deeply for the well-being and health and safety of those around us and in our community. I mean, that’s just the Gospel message 101. And when we’re at our best, I think we do that well. But I’ve got to be honest with you, church, these past 14 months have me wondering how well we’ve been paying attention.
As I said last week, if I plug up my ears and am so hyper-focused on me and what I want and what’s right in front of me, I think we misunderstand the call of the Holy Spirit that urges us to turn our care and concern outward to our neighbor…even at the expense of ourselves. As Paul will say elsewhere in the New Testament, in Philippians, “Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Regard others as better than yourselves.”
We have to trust this dance we find ourselves in with one another. We must be willing to make sacrifices for our neighbor’s well-being, whether it means serving them and loving them, or simply continuing to wear a mask for now until the most vulnerable among us are able to also be protected.
Maybe even more than ever—in what I’m calling these “in-between times”…when we’re bone-tired of the pandemic, but we have a little bit more ways to go until the most vulnerable are also safe—maybe more than ever, we have to lean hard in our trust of one another, willing to awkwardly dance while we try and get it right.
But as I said, the good news is, we don’t have to know the steps.
We just have to trust God’s lead.