Trinity Sunday: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, May 27, 2018
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
Community is important for us as humans. We live and work and belong to a variety of communities—like Montgomery, Old Cloverdale, magnet school, the Country Club, Rotary Club, Junior League—you get the idea. Our varied communities are different from one another and so too those who make up those communities differ from each other as well bringing their own personal gifts and abilities to that community. Yet, in our broken and narrow vision of the world, we believe that we desire a sameness to our communities—that there should be common interests, common concerns, common belief systems in order to maintain cohesiveness.
And so, we find ourselves expending a lot of energy and effort on finding those who agree with us, who look like us, who believe in the things we believe in whilst separating ourselves from anyone who is different, anyone who might compromise us. We are so focused on living into this idea of sameness as unity that we are even willing to compromise or lessen our own personal values and beliefs just so we might be a part of some defined status quo that brings us a feeling of security.
One of my favorite books as a child and even as an adult is The World of Pooh by A. A. Milne. Its not that I find Winnie the Pooh to be particularly extraordinary—he is sweet and silly, all stuffed with fluff. Instead it is the Tao of Pooh, the natural, harmonious path of The Hundred Acre Wood that I am so drawn too. It finds delight and joy, care and concern, and that welling up of good feeling that is not necessarily happiness, but that we might describe as “the peace which passes all understanding” in the church. In The Hundred Acre Wood’s extra-ordinariness, I discover adventure and love, fear and courage, joy and nurture. It might not be a swash-buckling adventure, but it reminds me that life need not resemble the next X Games to be interesting or satisfying.
The Hundred Acre Wood is filled with some of my favorite people or, more accurately, characters—Tigger and Piglet, Pooh, and Rabbit and Eeyore and Kanga and Roo and Owl. There is even a misunderstood Heffalump or two. And all the inhabitants of that wood have their own personalities, beliefs, fears, and anxieties. Pooh, of course, is always concerned about the potential scarcity of honey. Piglet is pretty much the equivalent of Henny Penny and her “sky is falling” motif. Owl is a know-it-all who always seems to be wrong. Rabbit is just plain bossy and if only everyone would listen to Rabbit, the wood would be a much better place. Eeyore’s cup hath never run over nor has he ever completed a successful building project. Tigger is bouncy, bouncy, bouncy which only he thinks is fun, fun, fun, fun, fun! Kanga and Roo seem the least neurotic of the bunch as Kanga is always nurturing, loving , and understanding—a perfection which might offer its own neurosis—and Roo is simply exploring his world, being exposed to a variety of new experiences and personalities as his adolescence is shaped and nurtured by those around him. In some ways The Hundred Acre Wood is almost a microcosm of the world around us. As they go on adventures and explore new heights with red balloons, strategize about potential honey combs, plant gardens, plan parties, or simply float down stream, I am reminded of the joys and perfections of life when people don’t look, act, or think like me.
We don’t really value The Hundred Acre Wood anymore where individuals are allowed to live into his or her own sense of being, or celebrated for the gifts they have to offer, or are accepted as a full member of the community regardless of their faults be they an overweight Pooh, a doleful Eeyore, or a timid Piglet. Instead The Hundred Acre Wood has been corrupted by our need for agreement. Membership in The Hundred Acre Wood feels a little threatening when we have to accept so many others who are different from ourselves. So in our quest for order and alignment we begin to shape a society that looks more like a dystopian young adult novel where society is sorted into categories and celebrated only for what makes people alike versus a sweet children’s story that celebrates what makes them different.
That may be an odd sort of statement. Most of us would agree, at least intellectually so, that life is more interesting when there are bearded ladies at the circus or foreign ambassadors at dinner. We are often even more than willing to give props to those who might offer a different and varied perspective on the world that helps us to broaden our own horizons. Yet, I might also argue that we don’t always find the Tao of diversity. Unlike The Hundred Acre Wood, I am not sure that we always live in such harmony with those who are so very different from us—racially, culturally, socio-economically, politically. Instead, it seems that we allow our diversity to polarize us and instead of celebrating that diversity, we are threatened by it. Yet it is that diversity which can and does draw us in to greater unity. Instead of glamorizing dystopia or even utopia, we might do well to consider how The Hundred Acre Wood can give us a keen view into the kingdom of God.
In the reading from John’s Gospel this morning, we are privileged to overhear a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. They are talking about the possibility or impossibility of being born a second time. Jesus defines this as being born from above and Nicodemus either misunderstands or can’t understand that particular concept and questions him on the practicalities of being stuffed back into a mother’s womb and coming out again. Jesus is focused on the heavenly aspects of this action whereas Nicodemus is focused on the earthly ones. Jesus, without naming it, is talking about baptism and his definition of baptism might surprise some of us. For Jesus, at least according to John’s Gospel, baptism is not about sin removal and instead is an invitation into the kingdom of God. Notice how Jesus responds to Nicodemus’s question about entering a second time into the mother’s womb and being born. Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit.” Jesus is clearly defining baptism as entrance into the kingdom of God. Though many of us often associate “kingdom of God” language with a geographical setting; Jesus does not. The kingdom of God is less place and more space.
The kingdom of God is about diversity for the sake of unity. It begins, has its being, and ends in the Godhead—one in three and three in one. It is the Trinity and through our baptism, we are joined or maybe conjoined to it. In simplest terms, Trinity is perfect community—it is the three diverse essences that define the very nature of the Godhead. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. But God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We affirm this nature and its diversity every Sunday in the saying of the Creed. When Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God to Nicodemus, he is speaking about the Trinity and furthermore, he is inviting Nicodemus into this kingdom.
That kingdom reigns in perfection because it accepts and celebrates its diversity. That shouldn’t be surprising to us. When we look at our created world, we see its most basic elements—fire, water, and air—as unique and yet, integrated into one another and the world around them. That is how God intended our world to be. That is how God intended us to be and he presents himself to us in that diverse and yet fully integrated manner that we might strive toward his perfection. The kingdom of God is made up of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And its made up of you and me, Asians and Africans and Europeans, Democrats and Republicans, even Alabama and Auburn fans. It is when we celebrate our diversity and live together regardless of whether or not we are Pooh or Rabbit or Tigger or Eeyore we discover our one universal commonality—that which makes us different.
This morning we will baptize Henry Carlisle into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. It is a rite of initiation into the kingdom of God. We will promise to him and God and one another to do all in our power to bring him up in a life in Christ. That promise is not about making him act a particular way or believe a particular thing, instead it is about extending him the invitation to be a part of the kingdom of God.
Someone once asked me if I knew Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. My reply, “No. I know him as my communal one.” One in three and three in one. The great Tao of the Christian life is living in community modeled on the only perfect community we know—not The Hundred Acre Wood, though it might come close, but the Trinity.