Join the Dance

May 30, 2021 Holy Trinity Sunday

John 3:1-17

Waking up on a January morning to the mist and fog lying over the rolling hills of Trappist, Kentucky was not a sight I anticipated. Being able to take a walk on the miles of trails was a blessing. To find myself contemplating and praying on such holy ground was surreal. This holy and sacred ground has continually been cared for by Trappist monks for over 170 years.  The monks have lived, prayed, and worked together for nearly two centuries!

It was here, at the Abbey of Gethsemani, where I met Thomas Merton for the first time. Now, let me be clear, he had already been dead for over fifty years, but it was through his words and the feel of his presence where I came to appreciate his depth of spirituality and his many writings. I give thanks to Thomas Merton for drawing me into a deeper spiritual life and the desire to become a Spiritual Director. The writings of Thomas Merton explore a deep connection with God found in contemplation and prayer. Merton’s writings point to the unity of creation and how we are all one in Christ. I was thirsty for more and have since enjoyed engaging his many words.

Merton along with Richard Rohr are two modern examples I look to to as spiritual teachers. I was searching as I was preparing to go on my seminary internship later in the year. It was the writings and words of these great spiritual teachers which drew me deeper into the wonder of God and revealed the power of the Holy Trinity. I was encouraged to continue my searching and learning through the God I had seen revealed through their works.

Encountering Nicodemus in John’s gospel this time around brought a new profound awareness of what must have been going through his mind. He too was searching. He had seen something in Jesus and wanted to learn more. Nicodemus would have been in the temple in the scene prior to this selection from John. Nicodemus would have seen Jesus become angry with the money changers and merchants making a mockery of the Temple. He would have heard Jesus’ teaching and he was drawn in by his words and actions. Much like the disciples who were encouraged to drop whatever they were doing and follow Jesus.

Nicodemus’ action at Christ’s death in helping Joseph of Arimathea prepare his body for burial revealed his faith for all to see. Nicodemus, a Pharisee by training, would have been questioned in his support of Jesus. I believe it is this reason he came to Jesus in the darkness of the night. He did not want any of the other leaders in the temple to see he was intrigued by what Jesus had to teach. Yet, when he first comes to Jesus, he calls him Rabbi. Being called Rabbi was a sign of great respect and it showed he was willing to learn. He was searching and he believed Jesus had something greater to teach him beyond the Hebrew Scriptures. He knew what it meant to be a follower in the Jewish tradition, and he sought a greater insight from this teacher who turned tables over and spoke with authority.

I also find it interesting Nicodemus sought Jesus in the darkness of the night because all humans tend to do the same thing. Whenever embarrassed by what others may think or simply do not want others to know, actions take place in the dark. It could be the literal darkness of night or the darkness within our own homes where no one else can see. It could be something bad or it could be something good. Whenever we want to hide something, we place it in the dark confines of our lives.

Nicodemus, in his encounter with Jesus at night, wants to know more and begins a dialogue of what it means to be born anew. Nicodemus stumbles and fails to understand as Jesus begins to teach, yet he perseveres. Too often, when we fail to understand, we just nod our head and walk away. It is much easier when you are presented with concrete facts and knowledge. Because of this, it is easy to get tripped up in the parables of Jesus. The disciples did not get it right away either. Jesus had to share the same stories in multiple ways for them to fully understand what he was talking about. And when he referred to his death, they denied his words. It would take the resurrection for them to fully understand Jesus’ words prior to his death.

Many struggle with faith because they want facts. They want Jesus to come to them just like he appeared to the disciples in the closed room after his resurrection. To have faith, one must believe in those things in which there is no visible proof. As Christians, our faith has been built on two thousand years of teaching and testimony. The foundation of our faith is the words of scripture. For me, I can also point to the spiritual leaders in which I have developed a strong connection. They have taught me to see and experience God in new and exciting ways.

Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus gives us insight into the Trinity. Speaking of God, Jesus tells of God’s love for the world, and it is because of this, Jesus is now present with us. Jesus is not present to condemn our struggles, challenges, or missteps. Jesus is present to redeem the world and restore God’s kindom here on earth. When it comes to the Spirit, Jesus speaks of the flesh and the Spirit. The flesh is those things of the world leading us astray. The material items of this life; love of money; desire to lift oneself up above all others. It is in the Spirit we are born anew in the waters of baptism and given new life. In the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we are promised an enduring and eternal life in God. In our searching, bits and pieces are revealed to us daily if we are willing to be observant.

It is easy for us to see signs of new life in these spring months. The months where everything comes into bloom and greens up. Yet, God is also always present in the dreariness of those winter months to lift us from our gloom. Take the time to stop and breath. Stop and breath in the wonder and mystery of the Triune God. Take the time to sit in prayer and ask for Jesus to join you in conversation. Be open to the mystery of the Holy Spirit and her guidance. Slowly, you will begin to feel the presence of the Triune God washing over you.

We are all on a journey. The question is, do you know where you are going? Surprisingly, the answer for most people is no. Getting caught up in daily tasks can stall the journey or appear to put it on hold. Yet, it continues whether we are aware or not. It is a dance. A dance with all our daily activities. There is give and take. Amid the dance, God is at work. The God we know as, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a dance revealing life and the love of God. It is a dance inviting us to celebrate in all the gifts we have been given. Are you ready to join the dance?

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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