The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s112g12  Trinity Sunday 3/6/2012

'he came to Jesus by night'  John 3.2

As I read this passage again, I recalled the account in Genesis, that in the beginning, when darkness covered the face of the deep, 'the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.' (NIV)   Interestingly, we have just bought a house very near the beach, where the ocean, just two minutes away, is the mighty Pacific.   Yes, it's tsunami-ville :-)   But we can hear the ocean every night, and know the power of the wind as the easterly (the ‘beastly easterly’) blows over the sand dunes.   The benign Spirit we are acquainted with from the NIV is contrasted with the 'wind of God' rather less benignly sweeping 'over the face of the waters' from the NRSV.   I have always been able to cope with the dry heat of Adelaide as well as the reasonably mild winters of my experience.   I find humidity difficult, but the thing that has always been most disturbing is the wind.   It unsettles my soul; or has done so in the past.   I am beginning to wonder if the last 20 months of earthquakes and aftershocks has inured my soul to cope with uncertainty - with the chaos that the wind seems to embody.   It is too early to answer this question definitively.

The night is the provenance of the Spirit.   It is to see, but to see, despite the darkness.   And few of us do experience real darkness these days.   In our home we have the displays of clock radio, microwave, and oven inside, moon-light and street lights streaming in windows from outside.   The ease of switching on a light means dusk no longer implies sleep.   Reading has come back into vogue, where the tv and personal computer no longer holds our attention.   We are regularly entertained, even during the night.

I work as a hospital chaplain, and one of the things I never do is wake people up.   Lots of good things happen when we are asleep.   Some mornings I'd look at one or other of my sons and think: Crikey! they've grown an inch overnight!   (2.54 cms doesn't have quite the same ring to it :-)   Lots of healing happens while we sleep.   And, how often an insoluble problem vanishes after a good night's rest?   Growth, healing, and processing happen when we cease to do anything towards their increase.   These are all in the realm of the Spirit.  

The Spirit helps us in our lives, our growth, our healing and our processing, to enable us to wake up, renewed, to take our part in the world, to be more ourselves.   The Spirit does not take us out of the world, into a holy huddle, to be someone else.   We have to be re-born when we have somehow withdrawn from the world, be that through scriptural, theological or spiritual teaching.   It was Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, the personification of the orthodox and the devout, who needed to be re-born; this person who had withdrawn from ordinary humanity, who needed, not to change his religion and confess Christ, but to re-enter the world with other people.   We are re-born into humanity, not into a subset of humanity.   So that question: 'Have you been born-again?' most likely implies that the questioner, him or herself, thinks that they have been 'properly' born-again into a holy huddle, and they have entirely missed the point, and it is they who have to be re-born into common humanity, as Jesus was incarnated into the real world.

It does not matter the name we call God.   In 1956 C S Lewis wrote in the last of his 'Chronicles of Narnia', 'The Last Battle', of Aslan who speaks to Emeth, the disciple of Tash, 'If any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves ..'   (p205)   And this can be easily re-phrased 'if any church do a cruelty in my name, though the church says the name 'Jesus', it is the devil whom the church serves'.   And it is cruel for a 'christian' church to condemn others who don't believe in the same terms as its members (supposedly) do, or worship in the same manner as it does; it is cruel to marginalise women and to alienate gay and lesbian persons.

Today we celebrate the Holy Trinity, and the last thing that this feast is about, is understanding the divine.   The essence of the Trinity is diversity.   There is a clear unity in the divine, and surely this is about incarnation, and hence inclusion.   For the church, this implies acceptance of diversity and catholicity - of embracing the diversity in all others.   We 'naturally' cannot understand a divine that includes and embraces all; for all of religion, 'christianity' included, seems to imply a chosen and exclusive people.  We cannot understand this divine.   We have to 'stand under' such a God as this, to accept and to love such a God as this.   If God allowed one subset of humanity to comprehend the divine alone, this implies a god of exclusivity rather than diversity.   So any concept of a 'chosen' people, under either the old or the new covenant, by virtue of intellect, strength, wealth, heredity, race, gender, or even faith, implies that this specialness, this selfishness, is God's creation, God's fault!  

Diversity and inclusion - this is the 'name' of triune God.   Separateness, exclusivity, selfishness - this is the idol we make in our own image - which leads us to blindness to the needs of others and inertia in our own pilgrimage.

As in times past when I looked at my sons and remarked at their growth spurt overnight, we see the action of the Spirit mostly in retrospect, yet this in no way diminishes our appreciation of the power involved.   In this sense the provenance of the Spirit is ever in darkness.   John Lennon sang in 'Beautiful Boy': 'life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans'.   Again this points to the truth that the Spirit is active when our attention is distracted.   I don't make these remarks from on high, as if I am any different.   Mary, my vicar wife, and I have just finished a full Sunday and giving out to other lovely people and we are reflecting on the learnings each of us have had today.  

Growth comes as we are incarnated into life, in a spirit of acceptance and inclusion.   If we fight off sleep or adamantly restrict those from whom we may learn, who is the looser?  

Sometimes the Spirit is hovering over a conversation, sometimes over a political stush.  No interaction any of us ever have, leaves us unchanged.   Every interaction between equals enriches each of the participants.   And because all are equals, any 'victory' that a 'stronger' might think he or she has won over another will be seen by the other for what it is - bullying.

And I suspect that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity has been an instrument of bullying, not in effect dissimilar from 'bible-bashing', nor different from the Anglican Church which has been seen as an instrument of bullying in the colonies (in South Australia where I was raised, as well as other places) by non-conformists, as well as the indigenous people of the land.

Nicodemus came to Jesus by night; he had no wish to confront his orthodox and devout friends who were perhaps antagonistic, but his conversation with Jesus didn't leave him unaffected.   It was he who came, with Joseph of Arimathea, to perform the appropriate burial rites (John 19.39) for the deceased.  Again it was not something that was 'nailing his colours to the mast', it was just the normal courtesy that any orthodox Jew would do for another.   But he was changed; not that he changed his religion, but he saw that Jesus both validated his religious heritage and relativized that heritage.   And the root of the word to 'relativize' is surely to relate.   And Jesus, in the incarnation, is all about relating, in the most intimate of ways, to ordinary people.

Which leads me to ask: 'Are we, as 'christians' ready to have Jesus both validate our heritage and relativize that heritage?'   For be well assured, that it is only in relativizing our heritage, it is our incarnation into the world, that our heritage is being renewed, even though we are elsewhere distracted.

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