“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born
of water and Spirit.” (John 3:5)
How would you describe a tiger to someone who has never seen one? You probably wouldn’t
use this dictionary definition:
“Fierce Asiatic feline mammal, tawny in colour, with black stripes.”
But whatever words you used couldn’t fully convey the beauty, power and energy of
that magnificent creature.
A photograph taken at a family wedding portrays the people who were there and what
they were wearing. What it won’t convey are the complex personalities and dynamic
relationships, the sense of family history and shared experiences.
There are all kinds of things that we need to experience personally before we can
understand what they’re like.
If this applies to tigers and families, how much more will it be true of anything
concerning God and our relationship with him as Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
A website called “allaboutgod.com” gives us this definition that tries to explain
the Holy Trinity, for example:
“There is one God, eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son (Jesus Christ)
and Holy Spirit. The three persons of the Godhead are co-equal and co-eternal.”
But words are inadequate. We can’t pin down an elusive mystery and restrict it in
a lifeless form. We need to find ways of expressing our understanding of the Holy
Trinity in terms of energy, relationship and creativity within the Trinity itself.
Then we need to go beyond that to discover something of the dynamic energy that exists
in the relationship between God in three persons and his beloved creation.
Our Gospel reading today offers us vivid word pictures of the love of God which dances
between the three persons of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which seeks to
draw others into that dance of love and delight.
Several times in his conversation with Nicodemus Jesus uses the image of being reborn:
“born from above”; “born of water and Spirit”. It’s as if Jesus is trying to get
across how completely different life with God is - so different it’s like entering
a whole new world.
We’re also reminded that it’s always God who takes the initiative in the salvation
of his creation. Jesus compares himself to the bronze serpent of Numbers 21, which
God told Moses to make to heal all who looked up at it. He offers a picture of himself
being lifted up to be the focus for healing and the source of eternal life, freely
given to all who believe in him.
The Holy Trinity in action is like a loving Father, taking the initiative in sending
his Son to save a world that may not know it needs saving.
The Holy Trinity in action is like Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man. He shows us
what God and love look like in human form and identifies himself with human pain
The Holy Trinity in action is the Holy Spirit, bringing new birth, new identity and
the invitation to join in the dance of love and delight that is God, Father, Son
and Holy Spirit.
God reaches out to each of us personally, inviting us to join in that holy dance.
How are we to respond?
Being born into a new life might sound scary – a journey into the unknown. Everything
will be new and different and we will be totally dependent on the Being who has given
us this new birth. Believing that that Being has given us new birth out of love
for us, we can also believe that the family of the Holy Trinity will receive us with
joy and delight and a faithfulness on which we can safely depend.
The words of Paul to the Romans give us further insight into our relationship with
God. The Spirit, through which we receive the gift of eternal life, is not a spirit
of fear leading us into captivity. It’s a spirit of adoption, a form of new birth,
which draws us into the family of God, Father and Son, so that we too can call God,
“Abba, Father”. We are children of God.
Images of God as Father and the Holy Trinity as family may be painful for some. Sometimes
words get in the way of truth and understanding. What’s important to say today about
the Holy Trinity, God in three persons, is this:
God loves the world and acts to save it from its own folly.
God offers new life to all who seek it.
It’s for us to respond joyfully and join in the dance of love and salvation which
is for all people for all time.
Rev. Stuart Ansell