On from Young, 2011

The Dummies Guide to Trinity?

Jesus’ people worshipped the One God. They would pray the Shema from Deuteronomy every morning. “Hear O, Israel the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”

Then they met Jesus. And they met the Spirit of God again, in a new way, which we celebrate at Pentecost.

Then... someone said... “Hey... are we worshipping one God, or three Gods?” Maybe their Jewish neighbours said, “You’ve deserted the Faith! You don’t worship the One True God, There’s three of them!”

And Jesus’ people thought no... it’s the same God, it is  the One God... but ....

There were years of discussion and argument before they settled on the Doctrine which we call the Doctrine of the Trinity. It’s not actually in the Bible; the church constructed the Doctrine of the Trinity from their experience of God, and from the traditions written down in the Bible, and with the best philosophy of the time.

But it is only a guess. It’s only an approximation of that Mystery which we call God. And for most of us, the Greek philosophy is itself as impenetrable as the Mystery of God!

It’s a bit like the human body and the human being that we all are. There are medical professors who know an enormous amount about it, but who, in the end, will tell us they don’t really know what makes us us.

Now you could think that The Doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t concern us, or that it’s irrelevant. But think about your doctor, or your specialist, who has a huge amount of knowledge, It’s very relevant; it helps us stay alive!

In the same way, the Doctrine of Trinity is very relevant. It describes God as best we can, and that deeply affects the way we respond... as best we can. If we had a different doctrine, we would be a different church... If our doctor said, “Eat as much sugar as you like,” our life would be very different! (If the Son was not God, but something less, we might think, “Yes, that’s good... but what does God think?”)

But most of us are not doctors; instead, we have some simple rules. Love your neighbour as yourself. Eat less sugar. Eat less fat. Eat more vegetables. Get exercise. Visit your doctor if things change. That is the Dummies Guide to Medical Science.

There is also a Dummies Guide to the Trinity. We might not understand how God works, if you like, but we know how to live in response. The Dummies Guide to God the Trinity is this: Look at Jesus, and live like him.

Yes, one God, three Persons... but day to day, look at Jesus and live like him. It won't make us a professional theologian, but it will give us a good handle on living with God.

The gospel reading today is about Jesus and Nicodemus. Traditionally, Nicodemus gets bad press. Jesus says to him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” We get the message!

But, think about it! Nicodemus had faith! “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God,” he said, “for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’’ Nicodemus believed. He came to Jesus looking for more. As one of the professors of the church says, “The issue is not Nicodemus, the unbeliever, but Nicodemus, the believer, facing Christ.” (Bill Loader)

We have all been Nicodemus. We have seen the signs of God acting. We have realised that what we have seen, and felt can only happen, in the presence of God. There must be God, we thought. And so, we had faith.

However, when Jesus has that odd conversation with Nicodemus about the wind, and about the serpent being lifted up, this is what Jesus is saying:

“If you keep seeking to follow me, and meet me, by looking at the signs of God which you can find in the world, you will stay in the dark. Do you get that? Nicodemus came to see Jesus “by night.” It means he was ‘in the dark’ about Jesus; he didn’t really ‘get it.’

Jesus says to him that he must be born anew. There is a completely new appreciation of life and faith that’s waiting for Nicodemus. But he needs to have faith in Jesus, not the signs. That will lead him to a whole new life.

And, of course Nicodemus, can’t see it. “How can I be born again?” he says. It’s not possible!

It’s a bit like when I went to high school, in Year 8, and they started teaching me algebra. The  teachers started talking about x and y, and I could not see it... or them! I’d been the equal top student in my school since Year Three, maths included. In fact Louise Gale beat me by one mark in Year 7, only because she had neater handwriting!  But I could not understand algebra. Maths was miserable. It reduced me to tears.

“How can I do this stuff?” I thought. It’s not possible!

In Year Nine, after the summer holidays, algebra suddenly made sense. I could not understand how I had not been able to understand! Not only that, algebra suddenly had a kind of elegance  and logic that I found  deeply attractive! Suddenly I was not in the dark! I could see!

Perhaps you’ve had an experience like that with something. It’s like being born again. Suddenly something we simply could not understand or grasp, makes sense. We are given... a new way of seeing and being. Something that mystified us, or left us cold, is now deeply attractive.

That’s what it means when it says the Spirit blows where it will. To really know Jesus ... is all gift. We don’t work it out. We can’t earn it. It’s given. We are reborn. Life is the same, but completely different. The wind has blown.

Someone is going to say, “If the Spirit blows where it wills, how can I do anything? I can’t see Jesus, really. I don’t feel like I’ve got a new life. I can’t believe all that stuff in the bible; it’s crazy. Has God decided not to give it to me... whatever this thing is that God is supposed to give people.”

Here’s one answer: Keep looking at Jesus. Keep coming to church. Keep reading the stories of Jesus. Just like my algebra, as time passes, things can happen, and we see in surprising new ways.

Here’s another answer: No, we cannot control the wind. But there is something that puts us in the way of the wind. There is something we can do to trim our sails to catch the smallest breeze from God. There is something we can do which means when the Sprit blows by us, we will be ready, and we can be reborn.

“Whoever believes in him, it says, will have eternal life.”

Eternal life is not life after death. Eternal life is life now that sees Jesus, and sees a whole new world. It’s that new, reborn life, that sees the whole world with new eyes.

If we will believe, we will be ready when the wind blows. And we will find the wind blows far more often than we realised.

There’s just one thing about believe. It doesn’t mean saying, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ his only begotten Son.” It’s not about doctrine.

It’s about response.

It’s about trust. Belief is a less than perfect English word for what Jesus was saying. What he was saying was more about trust, and less about facts we agree with.... It is about the Dummies Guide... which—remember—says “Look at Jesus and live like him. Trust him enough to live like him.”

This is the only witness I have for you. Trust Jesus. Seek to live like Jesus.

I don’t need the Dummies’ Guide to God; I need the Idiot’s Guide God! But even the little bit—the tiny bit—that I trust, and put my life on the line, fills my sails with wind.  It turns my life around. It sets me on course. I am free. I am not lost. And even in the wildest storm, I feel a safety I never imagined possible.

Put yourself in the way of the wind. Follow the Dummies Guide. Trust Jesus. It leads to being reborn. Amen

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical! 

Andrew 31-05-2012
I was trying to work something out recently, and found it hard going. I don't use algebra much any more, and I am really rusty. Belief, as in trust, is the same. If we don't practice our discipleship, it will go rusty, and the vision of the Kingdom will fade.
Kathy Donley 31-05-2012
Andrew, I found your earlier post on this subject very stretching, so much that I wasn't sure if I understood it. I appreciate this "Dummies Guide" approach. I think you say some specific things, but you also acknowledge that there's a lot we can't know about God. I really resonate with the idea that trust is different from belief or intellectual assent.

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