I want to talk with us today about the repairing of relationships with people and the world around us and the repairing work – the restoration and resurrection work made possible by Christ and a relational, trinitarian God. But, to get to the resurrection part, we need to acknowledge how things get broken in the first place.
When we are captured by sin we are separated from seeing and perceiving God, and therefore our relationship to God, ourselves, our fellow human beings, and the world around us breaks down. The degradation and destruction of God’s good green earth is an example of what happens when we stop seeing and perceiving God around us – how could we keep pouring pollutants into the air and water and earth if we saw God present in these precious natural resources? Racism and other “isms” are also an egregious example of this break down of relationship and sinfulness. Instead of looking around us and seeing the beauty of and fullness of God reflected in all of the variety of skin colors and other unique characteristics created by God in other people, we as a human race and as individuals have all too often “otherized” and demeaned people in order to gain a false sense of superiority.
Yet the good news is that God has not and will not stop trying to bring us back into relationship with God’s own loving being, a being we understand and acknowledge on this Holy Trinity Sunday to be relational in nature. And since God is relational in nature – creating, redeeming, and sanctifying our lives and this world, seeking to transform it like the ordinary piece of glass that suddenly reflects a rainbow when the light hits it just right, so, too, can our relationships with God and with ourselves, with each other and God’s good green earth be restored. Here’s a story that reflects such restoration and healing:
Stevie Johnson is the manager of Education and Diversity Outreach at the American Song Archives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Johnson is also the executive producer on a newly released hip-hop album, “Fire in Little Africa,” commemorating the 1921 Tulsa Race massacre – considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in United States history. For Johnson, who could not believe as a young black male living in Oklahoma, with two degrees under his belt by age 24, that he had never heard the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre, his project is about building empowerment, education, and community. Johnson believes this musical project is a means to facilitate a “communal undoing of trauma, a healing of trauma.” (NPR, May 28, 2021)
For Johnson, coming to know about this painful history became the pathway to healing and restoration. As Christians we call such healing restoration work; when something or someone is not just put back together, but brought forward into new life and understanding, resurrection work. But who can give us eyes and hearts to perceive such resurrection work? Who can give us the means by which to participate in such resurrection work?
Jesus, of course.
In today’s Gospel lesson from the third chapter of John, the Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark of the night, trying to see, to find his way forward. He has heard about what Jesus is doing and knows from scripture that Jesus’ works reflect the work of the kingdom of God. And Jesus tells Nicodemus that those who wish to perceive God’s kingdom must be in relationship with God, a relationship made possible by the work of the Spirit.
Jesus is clear with Nicodemus: to see the kingdom of God, to perceive and know God’s work intimately in our lives and the world around us, we must be born from above, or born anew. Both “born from above” and “born anew” are translations of the Greek word anothen, which, as Pastor Robert Hoch notes, indicates a time of birth (anew) and a source for this birth (from above). (Working Preacher, March 2014) So, even as we were born once onto God’s good earth through the wombs of our mothers, a day we mark with our birthdays, so, too, are we born anew by the power of the Holy Spirit and water, an occasion marked by our baptisms. And this work of the Spirit makes it possible for God’s perceiving grace to give us a new vision beyond our sins and brokenness. This is a new relationship, we profess as Christians, in which we are adopted into mercy and a love that transcends comprehension, by God through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the “spirit of adoption” of which the apostle Paul writes in Romans.
On our own and left to our own devices, we humans fall into the ways of sin, losing sight of our relationship with God and then, because we have fallen away from this relationship with God, losing sight of God in the people and world around us, sometimes causing truly terrible damage in the process. Yet God who is Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; whose nature is relationship, is ceaselessly working to bring us into the fold of that glorious – heavenly – relationship so that the kingdom of God may be seen here on earth through God’s work arriving through our hands. Hands working to heal God’s good green earth and hands such as Stevie Johnson’s, working a new creation story to heal the trauma of racism and build a better world.