Sunday, May 30, 2021
One of the great rabbis and spiritual thinkers of the past century, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, once wrote a book entitled, God in Search of Man. The outmoded use of “Man” for everyone notwithstanding, it is a classic. In it, Heschel boils down human history from the biblical perspective as just that: God in search of man. Indeed, when you consider the breadth of the Hebrew Scripture, so much of it is God engaging humanity. God inviting us into relationship. God calling people into covenant. God recognizing humankind as partners in creation, desiring to forge a world filled with justice and compassion. Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel and Leah, Moses, Samuel, Saul, David, and the prophets all received invitations from the divine long before they considered partnering with God. They are not the initiators. God is. The prophet Isaiah’s vision in our first lesson is a classic example of God in search of man. “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’” God inviting humanity into partnership. And Isaiah’s response is timeless, “Here am I; send me!” The quintessential human response to the divine invitation.
Thus, on this Trinity Sunday, the heart of our understanding of God as somehow three-in-one is fundamentally rooted in the notion that you can’t fully or finally understand God without talking about relationship. With regard to the Trinity, it is the idea of God in relationship with God’s self. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Lover, Beloved, Love. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. However you consider the persons of the Trinity, they are in relationship. And that reality--God--is in search of humanity. In search of the great heros and heroines of the faith. But God also in search of you. God desiring relationship with each and everyone of us. God inviting us all into the divine reality, to live more fully into who we are to be and as extensions of God’s compassion and justice. Finally, as we have been created in the image of God, humanity naturally seeks humanity. We are hard wired for relationship, community, connection. As God relates with God’s self and humanity, we seek out engagement with one another. The opening up of society at this time underscores this truth. We have been forced to minimize our activities with others for over a year, and it feels so good, so right, so fundamental to our being to begin to physically reconnect with others.
However, if you are one who has never had the clarity of Isaiah’s vision, the voice of God calling out, “Whom shall I send?”. Take heart. You are not alone. The religious leader in today’s gospel lesson, Nicodemus, reflects the experience of most people I would imagine. In fact, Nicodemus is known as the patron saint of curiosity. David Lose also claims him as the patron saint of all those of us with an uneasy or restless faith. Those who aren’t satisfied with easy answers, those who keep questioning, those who want to believe and also understand, but at least to believe even when we don’t understand! Do you ever fit any of those categories? Sound familiar? If nothing else, the idea of God as Three-in-One should make us scratch our head a little bit. Faith, you see, is not so much certainty as it is engagement with the questions, the queries, the concerns of life. Thus, the encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus helps us to recognize a very real part of the life of faith: curiosity.
Nicodemus is one of the religious leaders of his day. His life in John’s gospel follows an interesting arc. Clearly, he finds the teachings of Jesus engaging and provocative. However, he does not dare speak to Jesus during the daytime, for fear of what that might mean for his position in the religious leadership. He comes to Jesus under the cover of night to understand more of what Jesus teaches. From this encounter, what Nicodemus thought he knew is challenged. Jesus upsets the neat religious logic Nicodemus has marinated in, and Nicodemus will never be the same. Indeed, Nicodemus, while not an outright disciple, begins to follow Jesus. Later in John’s gospel he challenges the Sanhedrin in arresting Jesus, arguing that the sentence is unjust. And John ends the crucifixion portion of the narrative with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea taking the body of Jesus from the cross, wrapping it in linens, and lying it in a tomb. Nicodemus was no longer an innocent bystander. He was involved.
And involvement is what God invites us into. Involvement in our lives. Involvement in the lives of others. Involvement in the larger world. For when you are involved in these relationships, you are involved with God. God meets us through the incarnation of the other and the larger creation. It is fitting, therefore, that we observe Trinity Sunday and this text on Memorial Day weekend. A time when we remember the lives of so many who have given their lives for our livelihood and freedom. Their sacrifice reminds us of the interconnection of life and the need for all of us to engage in the world in ways that promote life and opportunity for all. The quote from Howard Thurman in the weekly newsletter is apt: Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
The most recognizable verse from the gospel for today is John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Yet, far from some reference in a football players’ eye paint or a sign waved at a Nascar race, the text is the promise of God embodied in Jesus. Not judgment but mercy. Not “watch it!”, but welcome. Not condemnation but salvation. The verse that follows underscores this: Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. A promise of God so in love with the creation that nothing will separate us from the divine. A promise of God in search of man so that we might come alive. A promise of God in search of you that you might know you are of inestimable worth and value and recognize the same in those whom you meet, so that we can all whisper with Isaiah the heart of our calling, “Here am I. Send me.”