Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “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.”
Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 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.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 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. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 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. 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.”
Have any of you been following the “Occupy” saga? The battle of the 99% to reclaim the dreams and hopes dashed upon the rocks of promises of the 1%. The 99% are the young adults graduating college and have little to no hope of finding employment. The 99% are the working class moms and dads that struggled to make ends meet with the ever-increasing cost of food, shelter, and education as their paychecks stagnated with the promise of increase when the economy got better. The 99% are people feed up with a system that demands all we got and pays us in IOUs that have a small printed disclaimer with 362 black out dates where they can’t be used.
The 1%, well that is a little bit easier to define. The 1% are those that do not worry about putting food on the table or how they will make rent. The 1% maintain the financial systems and flood ivy covered walls of education and smoke cigars, drinking scotch in the dark recesses of Washington DC. If the 99% can be characterized as the marching revolutionaries of a new social justice movement, than the 1% are the silent elitists, quietly pulling strings behind the scenes to maintain the status quo.
I had a really hard time with Occupy when it first appeared. I had been angry for sometime. I knew something was going on but did not have the words to make sense of it, let alone voice it to others in a way that made sense. I knew that the paths to promise no longer meant the same thing it did “back in the day.”
Those protesting the economic downturn and harsh realities that followed were often compared to the glory days of civil disobedience of the 1960’s at the beginning of the Occupy protests. The media had no idea what to do with them. Neither did the country. We looked upon them with curiosity and disdain, often holding them against the impossible standard of not being Bayard Rustin, Martian Luther King Jr, James L. Farmer Jr, Rosa Parks, Earnest Green, Minnijean Brown, the Freedom Riders, or the Poor People’s Campaign.
This burgeoning movement carried with it the embrace of yesterday and the rejection of comparisons to those that have gone before them. Was Occupy more than the same tune being sung by a new crowd?
“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Here is Jesus speaking riddles again. Jesus is the ancient version of Fab Five Freddy or Run DMC, speaking in rhymes and riddles that make sense if you squint yours eyes just right. Jesus confuses Nicodemus, who ponders, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
That is a great question. How can you undo what has been done? Can you put the toothpaste back in the tube? How do you get born from above? Survey says, The Holy Spirit?” [Ding! Hum Family Fued song.] That’s the number one answer.
We know it’s the Holy Spirit. It is Trinity Sunday. We get all kinds of information on God the Creator. You get an entire testament on the Creator part. We get all kinds of stuff on Jesus. Well, minus those silent years he spent on vacation in the Caribbean working on his saviorness. The gospels focus solely on Jesus and if that was not enough we get a guy named Paul writing about Jesus and how we are to interpret him in our daily lives. Then we get one day a year where we talk about the Holy Spirit. She is almost an after thought in the Godhead.
Today, this Sunday we celebrate our reformed hearts with “Trinity Sunday” and the proclamation that all three matter and all three manifest in the Christian journey we call the church. Bam. Sermon over. Then Jesus says, “You must be born from above.’ 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.”
What did some folks describe the civil rights movement as? The winds of change…does that sound familiar to anyone? The struggle for civil rights never ended. There is a testimony waiting on all our lips on that one. We can attest to the facts that equality has not been delivered to everyone’s doorstep. Justice is just out of reach of many. And Liberty presents its self only if you have the economic means to buy it outright.
Those that chose to stand up against the tyranny of power and speak truth to the ugliness of injustice and demand peaceful ways to a hate filled and destructive world are utterly fueled by the Spirit. This is the banner we ought to be waving today, that the Trinity is more than a thing or idea. The Trinity is a way of being. And here we are sitting in Trinity Presbyterian Church…How do we live out the Trinity way of being?
Let me put this another way. Is it important to define the Trinity before we engage the Trinity? What if the Trinity was more like an algebra of faith. It represents the functions and operations in which the whole is established from its broken parts. The Trinity is how God solves for X.
Algebra may intimidate some of you. I was cool with algebra but when we got to calculus and physics, going in to ministry sounded really, really good. If we can look at algebra as a system of operations, concepts, constructions, and relationships that connect variables to other variables and offer us a solution, it may not be so frightening. With algebra, if we learn the basic rules and operations and we can work on complex problems.
If we look at the Trinity as the algebra of faith, than we will need a system of operations, concepts, constructions, and relationships that will govern us and established a whole from its broken parts. The good news is that we are given a book that has all kinds of operations, concepts, and relationships. It’s called the Bible.
- Love you neighbor as yourself.
- Do Justice, Love Kindness, and to Walk Humbly with your God.
These are just two of hundreds of operations that we find in scripture. I have taken the liberty to write out a few that I have seen in the fabric of this Trinity.
- Trinity… Equips each other to serve the community.
- Trinity… Speaks out against injustice.
- Trinity… Celebrates the joys and morns the suffering of others.
- Trinity… Lives with hope and grace in the face of adversity.
- Trinity… Is a light in the world that doesn’t have to judge, damn, or exclude.
- Trinity… Is a light in the world that affirms, praises, and includes.
- Trinity… Trusts that God is not done with us.
- Trinity… Knows that when Gods sends us out, that we are sent with enough to get through the day.
- Trinity… Is not too proud to ask for help.
These are the operations we have that keep us together. Theses are the concepts and relationships that make us whole. From our various parts, we are made one, one community, Trinity.
“You must be born from above.’ 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.” If Bayard, Rosa, Martin, or Minnijean knew what lay ahead, would they have taken that step?
If we knew what awaits us in tomorrow would we take that step? The future is our unknown, the future is our X. Our faith is the algebra we will use to move towards that future. Our faith is the operation we will use to solve for X.
We must keep moving and trust what that as we are dutiful about prayer, diligent in studying scripture, and humble in action that we are pleasing God. As we practice the algebra of faith we delight God in our operations, we delight God in our relationships. And God makes us whole. Not just Trinity but all of creation is made whole as we work the algebra of faith together.
We do not know where our strength will come from. We do not know when our unbelief will arrive. We do not know if injustice will bend. We do know where the Spirit shall arrive. We do not know when the Spirit shall arrive. We do know that when it comes it is going to bring change with it.