It always seems ironic to me when Father’s Day falls on Trinity Sunday. One a secular holiday, the other a religious feast day, two holidays with no obvious connection. And yet, both of them are at their base holidays about relationships. The religious holiday is an attempt to help us understand the complex relationship between Father, Son and Spirit. The secular holiday, although fueled by the greeting card industry, is an opportunity to celebrate fathers, fatherhood and the truth that a father’s relationship with his child and a child’s relationship with his or her father may indeed be a very complex thing.
As someone who has been a father for almost nine years, I love Father’s Day. I love the ties, the clothes, the books and gadgets I receive. I love the cards created by my children, the way they can touch my heart and transform simple crayon creations into my most treasured pieces of art. Most of all I love the way Melissa gives me a little bit of extra attention on Father’s Day. . . . (Actually, I was thinking about breakfast in bed and not having my usual “Honey Do” list.)
And yet, for many of us, Father’s Day reminds us of our desire to better know the fathers who gave us life. The desire to pierce the emotional reserve that typify so many fathers, to know the strong figure who may have been more present than absent or more absent than present as we traveled through childhood. In the same way, Trinity Sunday is the day when we are reminded that the doctrine of the Trinity is the church’s attempt, the church’s secret wish to better know God, to understand God more fully. It is the church’s attempt to satisfy one of our deepest human desires since our first parents resided in the Garden of Eden – the desire to know God and so be like God.
My father was a child of the Depression and a veteran of the Pacific theater during the Second World War. He was forty when I was born and I was twenty-seven when he died. In many ways he was a mystery to me and he remains so to this day. Like our Father in heaven and perhaps like your father, my father chose what to disclose about himself and what to conceal. He was never very open with his feelings and though I always knew there was a richness and a depth inside him, it was not a place any of us could easily go. Like Moses and his bush, my father could burn like fire and to the day he died whenever I was in his presence I felt as if somehow I was standing on holy ground. However, I was lucky, when it came to love my father was very transparent. I know he loved me. While I do not completely understand what made him tick, I know that my brother and I were two of his greatest joys. And for me, that is enough
Fathers can be mysterious. In our Gospel for today Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a leader of the Jews, is confronted by the mysterious ways of God. He knows that Jesus is someone special. He knows that Jesus comes from God. Too many wonderful things have happened by Jesus’ hand, miraculous things, for Jesus to be anything other than God’s messenger. And yet this Jesus does not fit into any of the theological categories Nicodemus understands as a Pharisees. Jesus is not a member of the religious establishment, he is not highly trained, he is not a stickler for the minutia of the law. Still God seems to be with him. The Father seems to have empowered Jesus in special ways and Nicodemus does not understand how this can happen to the simple son of a carpenter from Nazareth. And so he comes to Jesus by night to find answers for his questions.
Nicodemus is both courageous and cowardly. He takes the risk to actually meet with Jesus. He is honest enough in his faith to know that God is present in this man whether he likes it or not. Nicodemus is cowardly in that he is not willing to risk his own social and religious standing. He wants to talk with Jesus but he does not want to be seen talking with Jesus. As a result, he meets with him under the cover of darkness, secretly, away from the prying eyes of his peers.
Nicodemus approaches Jesus looking for answers, what he finds are more questions. Jesus does not give him the simple answers he is looking for, rather Jesus raises more questions for Nicodemus, Jesus increases his confusion. The exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus is a wonderful dialogue. Jesus knows what this man wants before he even asks and he gives the Pharisee more than he bargains for. Nicodemus wants understanding, Jesus tells him that knowing God isn’t about right understanding it is about new birth. In essence, he tells Nicodemus that being faithful is not in the end an intellectual process it is a transformation of the heart. You want to know what God is up to Nicodemus, Jesus says, you want to know about the Kingdom, then stop thinking so much and open your heart.
Nicodemus has spent his entire life trying to know God, trying to understand God’s laws and interpret those laws for the people. Jesus tells him that he cannot define God but rather Nicodemus must allow God to define him, by water and the Spirit.
For you and me on this Father’s Day, on this Trinity Sunday, the message to us is the same. We don’t always get to understand those around us but it can be enough to know that we are loved. My father was a mystery, but I was fortunate enough to know in my heart that he was a loving mystery. The God of our faith who is at once three persons in one being and one being expressed in three persons will always remain a mystery beyond our human understanding. But like Nicodemus, our job is not to grasp God; our job is to allow ourselves to be grasped by God. The challenge of faith is to open ourselves, to give ourselves in such a way that we are transformed and born again by the love of this mysterious God.
In closing, I have to say that as a father I cannot imagine anything more horrible than the loss of a child. Parents are not supposed to out-live their children and I bet there isn’t a parent in this room who would not give their life to save the life of their child. In this sense, all we have to understand about our God is that he loves us so much he was willing to do the unthinkable. “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.” You want to know your Father in heaven Nicodemus then understand this – God sent his son to die for you – not because he had to and certainly not because you deserve it, but because God loves you more than you can imagine. You want to know God, then know God’s love. You want to love God, then allow that love to change your life. You want to serve God, then spend your life sharing that self sacrificing love with others.
Let us pray. God who is Father, Son and Spirit, we thank you for loving your creation. We thank you for the sacrifice of your Son so that we might have life. Send your Spirit upon us and transform our lives. Give us wisdom, courage and the willing heart to love others in your name. Give us the faith to trust in your mysterious ways and the grace to know how you would have us live our lives. You have blessed us immeasurably by calling us your children. Make worthy to stand before you as our Father.