Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Sermon at Parish Mass, Trinity Sunday 2015


The Mystery of Life, Image and Gift of the Holy Trinity

Isaiah 6.1-8
Romans 8.12-17
John 3.1-17

“How can these things be?” asks Nicodemus. This is a very intimate scene from John’s Gospel. Nicodemus, a leader of the people, a teacher of Israel, comes to Jesus – but secretly, by night. He knows the law and the prophets, but he is seeking something more. He does not know yet what he is seeking, but he senses that Jesus is the key to finding it.
And Jesus speaks to him of the life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the mystery of the Holy Trinity that we celebrate today. The Father so loved the world that he sent the Son into the world, so that the world might be saved, and come to share in the life of the Spirit. But Father, Son and Spirit are all one God.
Jesus speaks to Nicodemus and to us from the heart of that mystery, the heart of God. When we say that God is a mystery, we don’t mean that God is a puzzle to be solved or a question that demands an answer. We mean that God is beyond anything that we can understand or know. This is the God uniquely revealed in the history of the Jewish people. The nations around them had gods in plenty, but all of them could be described and understood. You could make images of them, you knew what they were for – the weather, harvest, war, and so on. But not Israel’s God. No image can be made of Israel’s God, not even any mental image or concept. This is the one who, when asked for a name, said “I will be what I will be”.
We can never understand, define or pin down God. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” But what we cannot know with our minds we can know by love. Because God, the unfathomable and unknowable, speaks to us in Jesus. And, in Jesus, God summons us into the life of the Spirit. We human beings, created from nothing by God’s generosity alone, are called to share in the divine and uncreated life of God, who is love.
In this intimate scene, when Jesus and Nicodemus are talking together by night, Jesus chooses to reveal the most intimate secret: God is love, God is relationship, and Jesus has come so that we can share in that relationship of God who is love.
The life of the body, born from the flesh, born from below, as Jesus puts it, is given to us so that we can come to be born from the Spirit, from above. The purpose of our creation is to attain to union with God the creator.
The Book of Genesis says that humanity is created in the image and likeness of God. That means many things. It means that we are created for relationship, for communion, because God is relationship and communion. It means that alone of all the animals we have reason and will. It means that we are called to a moral, good and holy life, because these qualities reflect the nature of God.
But God is unknowable, a mystery that surpasses our comprehension. And human life also is a mystery, and so reflects God’s image. We do not call ourselves into being. We cannot determine our personalities or our destinies. So much of what it is to be human rises from unknown depths that we do not know or control. There is no such thing as the self-made man or woman.
We are created in the image of God who is mystery, and our life also is a mystery, a gift to be received rather than an identity to be constructed. Therefore the whole of life needs to be valued as reflecting God’s image, especially those parts of life that are dark, mysterious and hidden. The whole arc of life from beginning to end is a gift bearing God’s image.
In the darkness of the womb we have no idea when or how the human person begins. We emerge from a mystery we cannot know or determine. And the image of God is marked on all human beings, at every stage of life. Whether in the fullness of strength and vigour and human achievement, or in the life of the severely disabled, the terminally ill, and in those suffering from illnesses of slow decline that progressively veil the personality. God who is light but hides himself in darkness has set his image on us all.
Human life is the mysterious gift of God the Holy Trinity. We are created from nothing, given the life of the body so that we might seek the life of the Spirit, which is union with God. Therefore we need to have the profoundest reverence for the whole of human life from beginning to end, for all of it is imprinted with God’s image.
So the revelation of God the Holy Trinity, the intimate conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus by night, is not some abstract academic discussion. The concept of human rights begins here: the absolute value of every human person, slave or emperor, man, woman or child, because all alike are called to the life of grace and to union with God. This is something the first Christians were clear about from the beginning. But it is fragile and easily lost, as the rise of tyrannical regimes shows us from time to time. We need to be alert to anything that might undermine it in our society.
Again, assisted dying has been in the news once again this week, and the campaign for it is not going to go away. If we just go by what we can see then the beginnings and endings of life, when life is dark and veiled, can easily seem to be of lesser value. But if we are created in the image of God then darkness, mystery and hiddenness are part of that image, to be held and valued along with the rest.
Or again, in our Western Society we can seem so much obsessed by the rational and the conscious that we are in danger of forgetting the mysterious depths within and the realm of the Spirit, which is just as much a part of what it is to be human. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The opposite of this, the suggestion that life is something we do own and control, is really a kind of idolatry, because it replaces the image of God who is mystery with something that we wish to pin down and determine ourselves.
We live in a society that asks in so many ways, like Nicodemus, “how can these things be?” How can human life be of infinite value? How can the life of the body open us to the life of the Spirit? These are questions that are seeking the insight of faith to which the Church bears witness – even if, like Nicodemus, people do not yet know what they are seeking. And the Church, like Jesus, is in the world not to condemn the world but so that the world might be saved. The witness of the Church to the dignity of human life must reflect the compassion, mercy and love of God in whose image that life is created.

The thing that human beings most need to know is that we are created by God who loves us so much that he sent his Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. That is good news, and we need to sound like people who have good news to tell. Every human being is made for eternal life, and eternal life is the relationship of love in which God lives, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as is was in the beginning, is now, and shall be for ever. Amen.

1 comment:

Bruce Bridgewood said...

I always call Homilies - The Speech- v. good speech Father: I'm sure they all went home to the roast beef with inspired hearts...