Sermon, Trinity Sunday
May 27, 2018, St Petri,
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’
3 Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]’
4 ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’
5 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, “You[c] must be born again.” 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’[d]
9 ‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked.
10 ‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man.[e] 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’[g]
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Nicodemus believed in God. He would have believed in God as or more deeply than the 52% of Aussies who say they ‘believe in God’.
He was a man of real and costly faith in the One God he confessed. He would have prayed too. He would have prayed that great prayer of Israel called the ‘Shema’, from Deuteronomy 6:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever….”.
This prayer was his badge of honour. He was a member of the elite Jewish ruling council in the fair city of Jerusalem. Nicodemus was among the elite. He has reached the holy top in Israel. But he sensed there was more. He goes seeking Rabbi Jesus one night.
To his perplexity, Nicodemus discovers that his ‘One God’ was far too small! He, a “teacher of Israel”, is challenged to his core by The Teacher of the whole world who tells of God’s wide, deep multi-layered character and his wide, deep multi-layered intention of love for a world who has god in a little comfortable box.
God, the deep and wide, One in Three is at work. Nicodemus’ mind and heart are challenged. So is mine. Is yours?
This God can only be heard pondered and believed, not dissected and proved as some theoretical thing.
Pondering the Holy Trinity is like viewing a grand vista of mountains rolling on forever with those green and blue hues from the eucalypts, or staring into a blood orange sky held up by a grey blue ocean stretching on to what seems like eternity, or looking down from above the cotton wool clouds at the patchwork of this vast brown land. You just cannot take it all in. Logic and intellect stop. Wonder and awe take over. Then if there happens to be anyone listing – praise. Words of praise just come.
But the truth is, I am Nicodemus. I think I have made it to the holy top; that I understand enough to live right and true enough. In the presence of The Teacher, I am found sadly wanting by God the Holy Trinity.
My vision, my understanding, my interest, my longing, my searching for God is always limited, always less then Him and who he really is. My mind body and spirit are always narrow compared to his wideness and vastness; so is my love for him and others.
This is God, One in Three; One face and yet three faces, one person, and yet three persons, Father Son and Holy Spirit, in a golden circle of perfect self-giving love – all bowing in deference to each other, all serving each other, all in total and complete unity of spirit.
I long for a in like that. I long for love in that. I long to belong to a community in that – where no one wants to be better than me or make me better than anyone else. I long to know the mutual respect and self-giving love of God that makes me like that to others, and them to me.
But I struggle. I also want to be my own man; my own person. I want to win. I want to be just that little bit better than the rest. I want to determine my own life, my own goals, my own vision for my family, my marriage, my job, my property, inheritance , even my church. I tend to think I have God covered and when I believe that, I am my god. I put him in that small comfortable box.
But he will not be contained. I sense so. Like Nicodemus I go searching….
I know today as I ponder that width and depth of God the Holy Trinity as revealed by The Teacher, I am puny, I am limited, my vision is too small and often misplaced altogether. My small vision of God and what I want to see and do seems to disconnect me from this beautiful perfect community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I need a reset, I know. Do you? Jesus tells Nicodemus that Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel needs a reset.
‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again of water and the Spirit’
The love for which I long, the belonging for which I crave and the life I sense I would love to live are in this being “born again”.
But how and by what midwife and when and where and why?
Then John 3:16 comes. This magnificent God: Three in One who enjoys such love and respect and kindness in perfect proportion lives to share these; share himself, share his gifts and draw puny little punters like me into his divine circle of loving life.
This holy huddle; this ‘inner circle’ is looking outward; looking out for me and you and inviting us into the golden circle. It is an open circle and it is ‘gold’.
He chooses us, though we be small and strangers to his love. We are his welcome strangers. He gives himself to us not to condemn us, show us up, shame our smallness and lack of vision or love, but to fill us with his vision and love and re-birth us to be his community of love looking outwards.
I begin to become aware that we are chosen strangers pulled into this community of belonging and love to pull others into the circle of this church.
We are not here to be a holy huddle of self-interest or narrow vision. We are Holy Trinity people of The Holy Trinity – an outward moving circle of welcome, acceptance, calling and new life. We are an open circle; an open book.
But am I really in the circle? Am I included in the love God has? Then it clicks. Yes, yes and yes! I belong in this elite circle because he made it so, not me. And I know the moment, the day, midwives present……
The U.S. Lutheran scholar, Pastor and leader, CFW Walther puts it well….
Oh, that every one of us would let ourselves be brought to faith in the promises once given in our baptism! You who do not believe though you have been baptised, what riches of grace and salvation God has given you already, yet you do not consider or desire them! You belong in God’s kingdom yet wilfully want to remain in the kingdom of darkness.
The dove of the Holy Spirit has brought you, like an olive branch of peace, into the ark of the Christian Church, but you would rather wither and fade. Oh, open your eyes and return to your Baptism! Then God will be your God and Father again, your sin will be drowned in the sea of his grace, and your baptism will be the door to heaven.
Your Baptism stands fast. It happened once, and God does not go back on his Word. There God has, so to speak, made himself captive to you. So do not let Him go; do not let your hand of faith let go of his covenant of grace. He cannot leave you.
Ahh, the joy of knowing God as one in Three; kind and loving Father, brother, mentor, Saviour, Son, and wise counsel and spiritual power to live life new, Spirit. So much more than just “One God” or “me and Jesus” or “me and myself”!
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, ‘Abba,[b] Father.’ 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:12-17)
Baptised, son and daughter of the Holy Trinity of love, freely enter the circle today. Help that friendly looking stranger you know enter the golden circle too.
You belong to the circle. You are called to be an open circle. Marvel at his “Son-set”, his ocean of grace, his connection with you, like a dad with a little child on his knee – “Papa”, “Abba”, “Father”, says Paul. No fear of others or what’s ahead today – just the golden circle of baptism into this loving communal God. No shame for you, just ‘sonship’ for men and women.
Let the words come. Let the praise continue.
Listen to the gospel reading about Nicodemus noting the conversation between him and Jesus and placing yourself in the room that night. What do you hear about yourself and your beliefs? What do you feel? Where does the conversation ask you to go on your search for truth and life?
What about God are you very certain of =- the things you have come to believe are certain and immovable in you? Are they anything to do with God being Father, Son and Holy Spirit? If not or if so, how so?
It might be worth a listen to Lutheran and his Small Catechism work on the Apostle’s Creed, one of the three great ecumenical creeds of the Christian community from ancient times (along with the Athanasian Creed and the Nicene Creed). Go here for an American version….http://www.st-ansgars-montreal.ca/WhatIs/Small_Catechism.pdf
What did you make of the comment that the Holy Trinity can only be pondered and believed, not dissected and proved? Where does your pondering lead you?
God the Holy Trinity is a person. How do you relate to him? How would you describe your relationship with him at the moment? What needs to change and how?
He long for us to be close – even to name him “Abba”, Papa”, “Father” (Romans 8 reading). Have you ever had that kind of relationship with him?
What do you think about your baptism? Do you regard it as highly as expressed here by CFW Walther? If yes/no, why?
Might be worth checking that small catechism of baptism too.
I suggest you “let the words of praise and thanks come” today…..