320 E College Street, Iowa City, Iowa 52240 Sunday Worship, 7:45am, 9:00am, 11:00am

Trinity Sunday

Raisin_smallPreacher: The Rev. Raisin Horn

Trinity Sunday, Year B
May 31, 2015            John 3:1-17

In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

You may have heard the story about a kindergarten teacher who watched her classroom of children while they were drawing. “As she got to one girl working diligently, she asked about the drawing. The girl replied, ‘I’m drawing God.’ The teacher said, ‘But no one knows what God looks like.’ Without missing a beat or looking up from her drawing, the girl replied, ‘They will in a minute.’”[1]

This story comes from Ubuntu, a book by Michael Battle, who worked with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Battle explains that Ubuntu is an African way of seeing the world as an intricate web of relationships, encouraging harmony and interdependence among individuals and communities. He writes, “Ubuntu can be seen as the very thing that God in Christ was up to.”[2]

The little girl who drew God in class had no doubt that she could show God to the world. She wasn’t thinking that no one has ever seen God.

So how do we come to know God? God is revealed through Jesus, who walked as a human and sent his disciples out in pairs, in relationship. God is revealed through the Holy Spirit, by whose power we are marked as Christ’s own forever. The Spirit blows all about us, and we cannot contain or control it. The Spirit groans with sighs too deep for words. We see relationship among each person of the Holy Trinity – in cooperation and mutual dependence, not in competition.

In the gospel lesson today, we find one of the Pharisees, Nicodemus, wanting to see Jesus, but he needs to travel under cover of night. He risks his reputation on this journey, for his friends do not look favorably upon this person called Jesus.

Poor Nicodemus! Jesus tells him that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus, very confused, asks, “How can anyone be born after growing old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus starts preaching about water and spirit and flesh. He’s not making it easy for Nicodemus to understand.

Frederick Buechner, in his book Peculiar Treasures, pokes fun at Nicodemus’ total lack of understanding, writing that “ if [Nicodemus] couldn’t see something as plain as the nose on his face, he’d better go back to kindergarten.”[3]

So we return to our kindergartner, drawing God. If we don’t happen to have a kindergartner at home, how are we to get a picture of God? We can’t see God by ourselves. We turn to the wisdom of theologians from ages past.

We start with St. Gregory of Nazianzus, former bishop of Constantinople, whose “fame as a theologian rests on five sermons he delivered …on the doctrine of the Trinity. They are marked by clarity, strength, and a charming gaiety.”[4]

Gregory reminds us that trying to look directly at God is like looking at the sun. We can’t do it, for the sun blinds us. Gregory wrote, “…it is impossible to express him, and even more impossible to conceive him.”[5]

Gregory sees God as three persons with one mind, one nature, all in eternal relation with one another and constantly in motion.   A mobile, that hangs over a baby’s crib provides a good image.   Any movement of one part also moves the others.

We look to St. Augustine of Hippo for another perspective. Augustine was well-known for his 15-volume study of the Holy Trinity. He used the image of a tree. Imagine that you’re stretched out on a summer lawn, looking up at your favorite tree. Augustine suggests that when we consider this tree, we see that the root is wood, the trunk is wood, and the branches are wood. The wood is one substance, but really three separate entities.

Augustine also spoke of the Trinity’s three persons as the Lover, the Beloved, and Love Itself. All are united by love, but none can be complete, or make sense, without the other two.

The three persons of the Trinity exist in eternal relation to one another, in a mutual indwelling. The Father and Son can only be father and son by the existence of one another.

Jesus says later in John’s gospel, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (Jn. 14:9b-10, NRSV) God the Father and God the Son are mutually indwelling, with the Holy Spirit.

After Jesus has ascended, God sends the Holy Spirit as Advocate and Comforter. In the creation stories, when God speaks creation into being, the Holy Spirit moves over the earth and the waters, acting in cooperation with God the Father who created and God the Son, the Word, who dwells richly with the Father and the Spirit.

On this Trinity Sunday, we don’t need a theologian nor a kindergartner to tell us that the Trinity serves as the model of dwelling in relationship. Relationship here in community, in our common life as Trinity Church, is built first by our worship together. It is here that we are strengthened to go out, dependent upon each other’s help and vision, in service to our neighbors.

Each person we encounter, as we serve them, can teach us something, and none of us is too old to learn.

This week, as those of us who work at Agape Café close the kitchen for the summer, it is not only the thousands of hot meals we served this year that matter.

I don’t only ask how many meals we counted, but also how many new names we learned. How many conversations did we have later on the street downtown with our guests? How many of these guests now call us by name?

When we leave here on Sunday mornings, may the spirit of Ubuntu guide us in our relationship with others to know “the interdependence of persons for the…fulfillment of their potential to be both individuals and community.” [6]

As Christ’s body in the world, and with the Spirit dwelling within us, may we lead others to see, to know and to love God, until we see God face to face.



[1] Michael Battle, Ubuntu: I in You and You in Me (New York: Seabury Books, 2009), 14.

[2] Ibid, (Dust jacket).

[3] Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures: a biblical who’s who (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979), 122.

[4] Holy Women, Holy Men: celebrating the saints (New York: Church Publishing; 2010), 364.

[5] Gregory of Nazianzus, “The Second Theological Oration – On God,” in Edward R. Hardy, ed., Christology of the Later Fathers (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954) sec. 4, 138.

[6] Battle, Ibid, 3.

Date Posted Title Listen Download
May 31, 2015 Trinity Sunday Listen Download