The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Isaiah 6.1-8; Romans 8.12-17; John 3.1-17
It seems from all the publicity in the last few days that you can now ask Alexa, the Amazon gadget that sits around the house listening in to your conversations, any questions you might have about God. Good luck!
Along the side of the Kidron Valley, where the Mount of Olives meets where water sometimes flows, in a cave beside the Garden of Gethsemane, at the end of a little passageway squeezed between the Tomb of Mary and the Greek monastery, you’ll find the entrance to what was a cave. Nowadays it’s called a grotto, but it was a cave. Now it’s a small church, but it was a cave.
Jesus always found bolt holes, those deserted places that the gospels mention where he could be alone, where he could pray, take time out, away from the crowds. In the intensity in which he lived, surrounded by people, friends and enemies, the needy and the sick, he needed to get away – but people always found him.
It was the Garden of Gethsemane that was a place that he often went to – where he would go on that final evening to escape the charged atmosphere of the Upper Room – where he prayed to his Father as his disciples slept. Perhaps people knew that he went there, that he went to this cave - because it was there that a Pharisee found him.
Under the cloak of darkness Nicodemus makes his way out of one of the gates of the city on some kind of pretext and heads across the valley to this cave where he’s been told Jesus often goes. He wants to know about God, he has questions about God and he needs to ask Jesus.
Of course he knew about God, he was a teacher but he had questions to ask. Jesus is amazed but perhaps not surprised and says, maybe with a hint of irony in his voice
‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?’
He was a teacher but he’d come to another teacher and he makes that clear because his first word to Jesus is ‘Rabbi’.
I wonder if about 18 years before he’d been sat in the Temple, on the other side of the valley from this cave, discussing the finer points of theology and the law with some of his fellow teachers when a young boy wandered in and sat with them. I wonder if he was one of those who was amazed at the boys understanding, at his insights, a teacher amongst the teachers? Had he been searching for him since then, since his parents whisked him off, as the lad said to them
‘Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’
What had he meant then by, ‘My Father’? Nicodemus needed to know and had come to this cave to find out.
This is the Feast of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Trinity Sunday, the day when we celebrate the God we know and worship and adore, the God who has been revealed to us by Jesus but the God we are still feeling our way towards. We all have our questions about God and yet this feast invites us to celebrate what we do know and yet are still searching to know.
Isaiah was drawn into mystery. What he experienced in his vision of God was almost indescribable yet he was touched in the depth of his being with awe and wonder. It was a glimpse for him into heaven, drawn into the deepest of life-changing mysteries. His response was total ‘Here am I; send me!’ and with a mouth scorched by the divine flame brought from the altar he went to tell others of the divine mystery that he’d encountered.
But as Paul reminds us in the Second Reading our experience is different, very different. And it’s that different experience that draws Nicodemus from the security of the Temple, from the walls of the city, from the ritual of blood sacrifice to satisfy a distant deity, into the edgy and dingy world of a cave with a man who was setting the world on fire with his dangerous talk.
Because what Jesus speaks of is relationship and not the distant relationship of theophany, of
‘a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them.’
as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews describes it, but of the relationship of a child to a parent, the relationship of breath to the lungs, the relationship of one to another, of an acceptable word to our ears, the relationship out of which we cry ‘Abba! Father!’
Jesus speaks in the language of birth, of womb and water, of new birth and fresh life, of the wind blowing and the heart thrilling. Jesus uses a different language to speak of love – in that cave the Word made flesh speaks the word of love.
‘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.’
There were shocked faces in St George’s Chapel last weekend as Bishop Michael Curry preached his socks off and Harry and Meghan looked on. But the shock was not perhaps so much that a black bishop was daring to preach like this into the very heart of the establishment but that this is how we speak about God, that this is who we believe God is. Love being the power at the heart of the universe, love being the universal divine principle, love being at the most intimate level of creator and created, love being God and God being love may not be news to you but it seemed to be news to many of those who were listening, open mouthed, incredulous, to the creed written on our hearts. But that is what we know and that is what Nicodemus was discovering.
In that dark cave, by night, a flame was ignited that illuminated his life, and the light spread out into our lives.
Today is not about getting answers to your questions, in the way that Alexa may attempt to help you do; today is about experiencing the reality of God, as Isaiah did, in awe and wonder; as Nicodemus did as his darkness was turned to light, as Paul did as he cried ‘Abba, Father’. Today is about being drawn deeper and deeper into the truth of God which is bigger than answers because it’s the truth of love, that indescribable, awe inspiring, intimate mystery.
Who is God? God is like the person sitting next to you now – look at them; God is like the light that shines from the candles – see it; God is like the breath that makes us sing – sense it; God is like the beat of a heart strangely warmed – feel it; God is like bread placed in your hands – taste it; God is like wine that touches your lips – savour it.
Who is God? My sister, my brother, God is like you, for you were made like God; God is like me, for I too was made in his image; God is love and in Jesus we see it all.