"God in the Dark" - Trinity Sunday
download this mp3
Right-click on the link above and choose "Save Link As"
to download this audio.
Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
May 27, 2018 at 10:15 AM
Central Passage
John 3:1-17
Trinity Sunday

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Holy Trinity B – May 27, 2018

Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17


God in the Dark


              I have something to confess. When news of the Noblesville shooting popped up on the alert screen of my phone, I barely paid attention to it. I looked at the notification, noted the number of victims, read that a brave teacher had subdued the shooter, thought, “That’s sad but it could have been much worse,” and went on with my day.


              How callous have I become? How desensitized, how narcotized am I to the mass gun violence taking place in America’s schools, not to mention that occurring in homes, churches, and streets across the country? I barely give it a second thought anymore. As if violence in public places was normal.


              Unless you’re a parent of a school-age child, perhaps you have found yourself accepting this as normal, too. Notice what goes on in the news cycle. A mass shooting hits the headlines for a few days, and unless something unusual happens in the follow-up, like the Parkland, Florida murders earlier this year, where there were several weeks of student-organized mass protests and advocacy, the story disappears. Its place may be taken, perhaps, by another mass shooting. That’s exactly what happened these past two weeks, where the murder of ten students and teachers in Texas was replaced in the headlines by the Noblesville shooting. And we see the headlines, shrug our shoulders, and move on. Something in our humanity continues to ebb away. We’ve become numb, animalistic, resigned, and more fearful than ever before. And this isn’t just my feeling about it. In this quarter’s Word and World, the Luther Seminary journal, an article cites a survey of gun owners from the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2016. In the 1990s, most gun owners surveyed owned their firearms for hunting and target practice. In 2016, the reasons had changed. Most gun owners said they owned their firearms for protection from other people.


              Over the past twenty-five years, we seem to have slipped further and further into a collective darkness – a darkness of exhaustion, despair, a sense that nothing can be done. A darkness of selfishness and self-preservation. A darkness of isolation, fear, suspicion, and mistrust of our neighbor. We are caught in a dark eddy of violence and fear, as far from God as we can possibly be.


              And yet, in the darkness, violence, and pain, God is still present. The Triune God – the One who comes to us as God really is – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is present in the midst of it all. One of my colleagues in Noblesville, Pastor Teri Ditslear, wrote these words as she ministered to the people of Noblesville.


I was at the NHS today. I got there as kids were getting off the bus from WMS. The emotion in the room could have filled the state of Texas. Tears, sobbing, fearful expressions, glazed eyes, stoic stances, it was almost too much to bear. God was there. We then got separated into groups because of another threat. I went with a large group to hunker down in a safe place. More tears, more faces in agony, children questioning, lots of hugging and embracing, tender moments between children and adults. The adults were amazing, professional, reassuring, confident. After the threat was over, we moved back into the gym, reunification process was about to commence. Less stress, kids were relieved that soon they would be home. I moved to the place where the parents were being kept. To get there, we (10 at a time) lined up, hands on shoulders, hugging the walls as we walked through the halls where armed police stood. It was intense. God was there. As I moved through the doors where over 100 adults stood, the emotion was raw, tears, disbelieving expressions, people hugging strangers and friends, stoic, a few were angry, but all in all adults were holding it together. God was there. The process was excruciating. Calling 10 kids at a time, with 1200 kids was going to take a while. I saw some of my people, met some new families, and my heart just aches for them, and even right now, my heart breaks for the innocence that was lost today. God is here and God is not going anywhere.[1]


              God isn’t going anywhere. The Holy Trinity continues to reach out to a humanity that tries to shed it; to bring us back to the love of God – not just for ourselves, but for all people.


              When Nicodemus met Jesus that night long ago, he, too, was a creature lost in the night just as we are. An important man, a powerful man, a man with much to lose if he publicly recognized the truth of Jesus the Messiah. A man much like us, enslaved to ourselves, with no way out on his own.


              Nicodemus opens with a line that sounds like it comes from a well-seasoned politician. “We know that you are a teacher who comes from God because no one could do these signs you do unless God were with him.” Jesus isn’t impressed, though. He responds directly, without any politician’s tact: “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”


              Nicodemus is flabbergasted, and gets stuck on the literal meaning, with humorous results. “It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb a second time and be born, isn’t it?” Yes, Nicodemus. Yes, it is. Jesus, of course, is speaking about birth of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, which blows where it wills. Which creates faith and new life where it wishes. Which brings God’s fresh, healing air to the stale, moldy atmosphere of sin and selfishness inside of us. Which brings us to the light of the world, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God the Father, who enlightens every darkness, and gives us – freely – a life of the ages that begins here and now and continues.


              The Triune God is relationship in God’s very essence. The Triune God is love and life in God’s very essence. And God isn’t just content to bring love, light, and life to places that are already beautiful or already enlightened. God brings love, light, and new life to the darkness. To the dark places of our lives that we would rather keep hidden. God is present in those places, and nothing we can do can keep God from being present there.


              There is a line in the Apostles’ Creed (and in the Athanasian Creed as well) that has always struck me. After we confess that Jesus was “crucified, died, and was buried”, we say that “he descended into hell”. The Latin text is better translated, “he descended to the dead”, but there is a poignant symbolism to confessing that Christ descended into hell. It’s because it is totally incarnational. God comes down to us, into the hell of our lives, and lifts us out into his love, his light, his life. The Eastern Orthodox even have icons of Christ breaking down the gates of hell after his death and liberating the souls there from darkness. I believe that Christ does the same today. He still descends into hell – into our hell – to bring us up from our deepest, darkest darkness.


              The Father sends and loves. The Christ loves, enlightens, and saves. The Spirit enlivens, sanctifies, and gives faith, love, and life. The Triune God is here – in and with us, over and under us, behind and before us, beside and between us. God make his presence known to us today and always, whatever the darkness we find ourselves in.


              Let us pray. Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, be among us in our darkness and bring us into your love and light. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.



[1] Teri Ditslear, Facebook post, May 25, 2018.