Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 & John 16:12-15 

Trinity – Dynamic Invitation; A seat at the table

a reflection by Dan Spragg

In Genesis 18 Abraham and Sarah are minding their own business, resting in the shade of their tent from the heat of the day, when they had some visitors. Three visitors. They welcomed them, washed their feet, and prepared a meal for them. What has made this passage quite interesting is that in the passage, the reference to these visitors switches back and forward a couple of times between ‘they,’ and ‘Lord.’ First it is simply three people, then it is the Lord, as in Yahweh… God, then it is back to ‘they’ and reference to all three visitors. It is well understood that God indeed visited Abraham and Sarah in this story, but God came as three visitors who were travelling on their way somewhere, who stopped and who had a conversation, who ate and drank and had their feet washed.

This image, is a very well-known painting by Russian artist Andrei Rublev. You’ve probably seen this before. It was painted in the 15th Century as a depiction of these visitors to Abraham and Sarah. In the Russian Orthodox tradition it is a famous icon. We aren’t so familiar with icons in our tradition, the protestant reformation took care of that, but they can indeed be quite powerful tools to facilitate prayer, meditation, contemplation, and other acts of worship. Today in the Christian Calendar is Trinity Sunday. The day in which we are reminded of this unique nature of God. At the time of Andrei Rublev the Trinity was “the embodiment of spiritual unity, peace, harmony, mutual love and humility.”[1] Unfortunately, in my opinion, most of the energy used to discuss the Trinity throughout church history has not been to focus on that understanding but rather it has been to argue about metaphysics and how three can be one and yet three, and which order do they come in, and how does the Spirit fit into Jesus’ relationship as the son of God, and who came first etc.… it goes on… I think however, that Rublev got it right with this image, there is not so much trying to prove anything but rather trying to convey an experience, the experience of what it might be like to interact with the divine known to us as God. Take a look at the image for a moment… what do you see? Perhaps more importantly, what do you feel? What does it do to you? As an icon, the image to me draws us into the very conversation that was happening around that table. There is an empty place at the table, it’s not too much of a stretch to feel an invitation to come and sit, eat and drink, be part of the conversation. The Divine, invites us to the table, to be fed and to talk with.

As far as trying to describe who God is to us all we have is our experience isn’t it? We can build arguments and descriptions but underneath it all surely it is simply human words trying to describe interactions with the divine. John’s Gospel, which we’re spending a bit of time in at the moment, attempts this as well. In somewhat of a contrast to Mathew, Mark, and Luke, John’s Gospel uses quite a lot of language that is couched in mystery. It is mysterious language trying to grasp at something beyond the surface. Even in the short passage we have with us today things aren’t straightforward, it can take a number of slow reads through to get what is going on in any logical sense, but again, perhaps logic shouldn’t be the aim. John points to a deeper reality. Perhaps the best way to summarise it is to call it a ‘communion,’ …some things words just can’t ever hope to name and we need to do better at accepting their limitations sometimes. If I can grasp anything from this passage it would be that there is a ‘oneness’ of purpose to the actions of the divine, to the actions of God. Jesus at this point in his ministry is not far off the events of Easter, he has a sense of what is coming and in his wisdom as a leader, in his wisdom as a friend, he decides that some parts of what is next would be too much for the disciples to get their heads around and so he leaves some bits out. It’s already bad enough that he is talking of leaving them and so he works to encourage them instead. When the time is right, the Spirit will guide them and this guidance will be true and it will be as if Jesus is there with them teaching them once again of what God is up to in the world. It is exactly what they needed to hear. I’m sure many of you would have had parenting moments that are similar to this. Moments in which actually the whole story would be too much to handle, so as a parent you say what is needed in that moment, and you assure your child that all will be well. What this really cultivates is trust. As parents we reassure our kids that they can trust us to handle the bigger picture so they don’t need to right at this point in time and as we go on and work through this together we will be with them guiding them each step of the way. This is exactly what the disciples needed to hear. It’s also exactly what John’s community needed to hear too some 20 or 30 years after Jesus had been crucified. This gospel was written to a community who not only had their leader taken from them, but who also had been displaced from their land, and they were not made welcome by the locals whether those locals were Greeks or Romans or Jews. In their conflict, in their experience of absence and disorientation, this is what they needed to hear too: that what Jesus taught was true and real, and it was true and real because Jesus was in one heart and mind with God, and it did not matter if conflict and chaos came because the Spirit of this truth, the Spirit of God, the presence of the Christ would teach them and guide them into this way. They needed to hear that while things seemed to be going nowhere fast, God was with them as an active participant of one heart and mind, to bring them into a life lived with God, a life lived in the fullest sense.

We have also with us today the character of Wisdom from Proverbs. Wisdom is personified as one who is calling out to us, one who is ancient – there in our beginning, one who delights with wonder and joy at the creative acts of God. Wisdom is seen here as God’s partner in work, a master craftsperson, working alongside God. In 1 Corinthians Paul likens wisdom to Christ, ‘Christ as the wisdom of God’ (1 Cor. 1:24) Wisdom, or Christ as the expression of God in the world. And heading back to John’s gospel, John talks of Christ as the Word of God who, at the beginning, was with God and who was God. Now, that’s a bit jumpy from one place to another but there is a nice little connection for us here today. Communion or the act of communing, which is to be in conversation with, to be connecting with, to be at one with is a good way to describe the experience of human and divine interaction. It is relational, it is interactive. I think in it we can sense a dynamic force. The dynamic interaction of divine and we, humanity, called to trust as we walk along the road. What is open to us is in an invitation into this one big dynamic movement of God that has been moving along since the very beginning and Christ, the fullest expression of God that we know is indeed the one who personally invites us to sit at the table and to delight and wonder and be filled with joy. Christ calls out to us to follow. Christ invites us into the conversation. Christ calls us friends. Christ teaches us along the way. Christ sends us out to be part of God’s joyful expression in the world.

For us today, I wonder if we are not too dissimilar at times to that community of John’s. The church, feeling a little displaced in the world not really knowing who it is or where it stands half the time. We indeed know our own challenges as The Village. No doubt you know people in neighbouring parishes who talk of their challenges too. Life indeed is full of absence and disorientation as much as it is full of delight and wonder and joy if we have eyes to see. Seeing this joy, being reminded of it, having a sense of God’s presence being real and with us is indeed the challenge. Trusting that we will be guided along the way, that is the challenge. Being open and humble enough to admit we cannot see the bigger picture, humble enough to admit that our words only attempt to describe the fullness of life that is found with Christ; that is the challenge.

I read the following this week which I believe is quite helpful. “John’s Gospel invites us to live into God’s future attuned to a relational vision of life in God and life among us. This does not explain all there is to say about the mystery of Holy Trinity… It is, however, an invitation to see our relations in a different light – the light of God’s fecund [fertile] life, in which departure and coming, presence and absence, crucifixion and lifting up in glory, are both different and one.”[2]

All of everyday life that we experience here and now, that is what we can hold up to the invitation of God and see reframed and redefined in a different light.

There is an image which could be quite helpful for us. You might have seen it before…

A life-filled conversation.

An invitation.

A meal.

With three,

Who are at one.

Unity.

Diversity.

Justice.

Grace.

And the conversation goes on.

[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_(Andrei_Rublev)

[2] David Schnasa Jacobsen in his commentary on John 16:12-15, found in, Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship, Year C, Volume 3, p14.