The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

It's Okay If You Don't Get It—A Sermon for Trinity Wednesday

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.

On the sign out front, it says that the Belfry is a Lutheran and Episcopal Ministry. Not everyone here identifies as Lutheran or Episcopalian, which we’re actually pretty into, right? But what we’re up to is certainly Christian—we focus our learning and our worship on the stories about Jesus, and how Jesus relates to God the Creator and to their Holy Spirit. We’re not always sure about the meaning of those stories, but we’re in it together—we learn from each others’ stories, too. I don’t know if you go home from here each week and wonder about the things we read and sang, but you keep coming back, so there’s something happening that’s of value to you.

Being UC Davis students, or LEVN volunteers, you’re in a developmental stage known as “emerging adulthood”—you’re still in the process of becoming yourself, differentiated from your family of origin. You’re absorbing information about the world and yourself at breakneck speed, processing and processing and processing. That’s enough to keep anyone lying awake at night.

I’m just moseying my way out of emerging adulthood into regular ol’ adulthood—boring, not recommended—and I occasionally find myself experiencing something called “night dread.” Waking up at some ungodly hour like 2:37am because my brain has chosen that moment to run through the whole list of things that need resolving IMMEDIATELY for some reason.

Has this happened to you? What do you do? Do you will yourself back to sleep? Do you toss and turn until the sun comes up? Do you watch a movie on netflix? Do you scroll through tumblr? Do you get up and try to do some of the stuff you’re worried about; answer some of the questions your brain won’t stop asking?

In our Gospel story for this week, I think Nicodemus had night dread. The story says that he came to see Jesus by night. This is probably for a few reasons—no one would see him, he knew where Jesus would be, and perhaps he just couldn’t sleep without going and asking. I imagine him half-whispering, “Rabbi, we know you’re a teacher come from God, for no one can perform the signs and wonders you do, unless by the power of God.” To say this out loud, as a Jewish religious leader, is to admit that this rabble-rouser just might be for real. He has probably been tossing and turning about this since he first encountered Jesus.

As usual, Jesus does not simply say yes or no, but says, instead, that the truth of the matter is that in order to truly experience the beloved community of God, one has to go through spiritual transformation. Nicodemus doesn’t know what to do with this, either, because he takes Jesus literally, assuming he needs to be re-born, which even in the first century, they understood could not be done. Three times, Nicodemus speaks to Jesus in this encounter, and all three times, he focuses on the logical possibility of explaining what God is doing, and all three times, he gets more confused. And he’s not alone.

This week, our liturgical calendar brings the focus to the Holy Trinity, our favorite confusing Christian paradox. God the three in one, one in three. We name God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. We name God the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. We have countless names that could go on this list—Savior, Rock, Shepherd, Prince of Peace, King of Kings, Source of Life, Fountain of Mercy, Wisdom, Healer, Mother, Advocate...I imagine you have a favorite or two. Our scripture and our hymns are full of these images and metaphors and names for God. Are there any I left out that you love?

Trinitarian monotheism is a critical component of our Lutheran and Episcopal Christian theological heritage. Councils have been called, creeds have been written, heretics have been burned, and wars have been fought over this and other doctrines of our church. You may be a person who is very concerned with orthodoxy—and you are not alone—and so you are committed to understanding the sticking point of the Son being “begotten, not made, of one being with the father” in the words of our Nicene Creed. Or perhaps you are drawn to the Gospel According to John, in which it is written than “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the word was God” (John 1:1).

You may be unsure what any of that is that I’ve just said, and are pretty okay wrapping your head around just that God the Creator, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit are fine by you. Often, I find myself safely in that camp. Yep, I have a seminary education and so am technically proficient in explaining that the Holy Trinity is consubstantial, and that the words “person” and “substance” in their ancient languages are not quite direct translations to our clumsy English. I could point you toward the writings of Martin Luther and many others about the delicate intricacies of this divine dance, to try to ensure that you’re not committing a heresy in the process.

But several years ago, a pastor of mine reminded me that the Holy Trinity is not merely a complex theological concept to be comprehended, but a relational reality to be lived. God-for-us, God-with-us, God-in-us. [1]

It is awesome—and by that I mean the slang of my Southern California home and the literal inspiring of awe—that God relates to us in these varied ways. God created this universe and everything in it. God came among us, their beloved creation, as one of us. God continues to move through us and inspire us.

We need not be able to explain why or how this is so in order to respond to it.

There’s a famous old diagram of the Trinity that attempts to express how it is possible that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but also that the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father. They are all of one being, but they are not the same.

That’s helpful, kind of. But theologian Kee Boem So says that “the Trinity is not an abstract doctrine but a practical reality with implications for Christian life.” [2] Nicodemus came to Jesus hoping to understand who Jesus was, in order to assess those implications. Coming to believe that Jesus was the Son of God would mean radically transforming his life, his community, and his religious practice. The same is true for us! Recognizing the community built into the God who loves us—God the Creator, God the Redeemer, God the Sustainer—should lead us to build a community, too. If God is multi-faceted, and co-creative, we ought to be, too.

Throughout our lives as Christians, there will be times when we understand most deeply God as Creator, and then there will be times when we really dig into relationship with God as Redeemer, and there will be times when we really feel the movement of God as Sustainer. This is the beauty of our Trinitarian monotheism. God is always doing a new thing, making us new, keeping us moving.

God-for-us, God-with-us, God-in-us.

God-for-you, God-with-you, God-in-you.

That’s awesome. Amen.


[2] Kee Boem So, "The First Sunday After the Pentecost" in Preaching God's Transforming Justice: Year B, 259.

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