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Holy Trinity Sunday B Sermon
John 3: 1-17

May 30, 2021

Sermon Archives


John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ 4Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ 5Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ 9Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ 10Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11 ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 ‘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.
17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

To be honest with you, when I first saw that the appointed Gospel reading for today included John 3:16, I got a little bit frustrated. It seems like we have heard this all too familiar passage quite often over the last year or so; and sometimes when it hasn’t even been part of the assigned scripture, I have mentioned it in relation to our readings! I was kind of looking for a bit of a break! After all, what more can be said about, “For God so loved the world …” that might spark new interest or faith for your lives today?
On top of all that, this is Holy Trinity Sunday! This is not exactly the most highly anticipated Sunday of the church year! We aren’t expecting an overflow of crowds here this morning; we aren’t singing Trinity carols around a lit and decorated Trinity Tree, or sending the kids on a Trinity Egg Hunt - we are instead reminding ourselves that God’s true essence is a mystery! Try as we might to define it, we always fall short, getting confused at the very least, and sometimes even risking heresy. Who really understands The Holy Trinity? It is quite possibly the most complicated doctrine in the Christian faith! So maybe it is this complication that makes it’s pairing with John 3:16, the verse that is often called, “The Gospel in a nutshell,” make sense.

Jesus says these words to a curious man named Nicodemus who comes to Jesus under cover of night. Nicodemus struggles with his faith. He wants to believe, but much of what he has heard and seen from Jesus needs explanation and clarification. He begins by affirming Jesus’ worthiness - he calls him a Rabbi and says that they (which makes us believe that he is speaking for others who are too timid to come and ask Jesus questions) know that he is from God. Nicodemus is sincere, and his questions are sincere, even if they betray a total misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what he is about. When Jesus talks about being born again - from above - Nicodemus takes him literally … and that just gives Jesus an excuse to talk some more!

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Jesus then shares the gracious and merciful nature of God to love this world, which is all in God’s good creation that rejects and is at enmity with God. God loves this world enough to give his only son to die in order that all may live, even those that oppose God. Not only that, but Jesus goes on and says something that we should never forget when we recite John 3:16, and that is John 3:17 - Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Indeed, those are wonderful words of promise and new life for all of us!

But I would like to go a little further Nicodemus, because he is one of the few characters in this Gospel outside of the disciples who appears at several points in the story. This is his first appearance - and the best known one, I would say. He returns at the end of Chapter 7 to remind his fellow Jewish leaders that Jesus has the right to a trial and cannot be condemned without the opportunity to speak for himself. This earns him a rebuke from his colleagues, and we assume he is looked down upon for standing up for this one who they want to be rid of. He makes a third appearance, this time after Jesus’ crucifixion, when he accompanies Joseph of Arimathea to collect, anoint, and bury Jesus’ body from the very Romans that just executed him. By doing this he might just as well have pledged his allegiance to the one who was just executed for a capitol offense by this occupying force.

If you couldn’t tell, Nicodemus has grown on me. I am no longer frustrated to hear this story passage, mostly because of his presence in it. He shows up at multiple points and grows in his faith. At first, he brings bold questions and confusion under the cover of night. He later invites others to slow down their judgment and hear what he has to say before condemning him. Finally, he risks shame by publicly honoring one who was just executed. Faith, in Nicodemus’ case, takes time. His journey with Jesus continues across most of John’s Gospel and, we might assume, even beyond, into the post-resurrection time. He may very well have been a leader in the early community of believers that became the community for whom John wrote this Gospel. He stands for those for whom faith has been a struggle. For some, coming to faith has been fast and strong with little to no instances of doubt or fear - and we give thanks for those instances. For most of us, faith comes more in fits and starts, two steps forward and another back. Or perhaps at times faith seems clear and at others, just plain confusing. Sometimes faith seems like an endless series of questions as we seek to understand God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Hearing Nicodemus’ story today, then, is particularly meaningful for us.

I read that Nicodemus is the patron saint of curiosity. I think that’s pretty cool, that curiosity would even have a patron saint, and that it should be the one who first heard the best-known teaching in Christianity is certainly appropriate! Maybe the implications are also that he is the saint for all of us with an uneasy or restless faith. As we look around and see the challenges and troubles in our community and our world right now - the conflicts, violence and hatred being spewed at a time when we should be rallying around the triune God - Nicodemus is there with us asking Jesus hard questions. He is there for those who aren’t satisfied with easy answers and who keep questioning, and for those who want to believe and to understand, but if that is not possible, at least to believe even when we don’t understand.
And as we identify with Nicodemus in our curious faith, we also see in Jesus the very essence of God. For God is patient. God does not give up. If God can keep working in and through Nicodemus through three years and sixteen chapters of questions and curiosity in John’s Gospel, God will keep working in and on and through us … no matter how long it takes.

On Friday night I met with my very first book club. It shouldn’t surprise you that our club was formed with the intent of reading and discussing books about craft beers, and this first book is a 202 page argument about the very word, “craft” and what it means especially in relationship with beer. Toward the end of the book the author told a story about how important it is for people to define things. He will often ask audiences to define what a giraffe is. Immediately people start talking about a hairy, spotted, four-legged creature with a long neck. But the author contends that they aren’t defining a giraffe - they are describing one. The definition of a giraffe is, “a species of even-toed ungulate (Artiocadtyla), a class of mammal. That is not helpful to me in understanding a giraffe, and I venture not to most of you either! But the description of how we experiences giraffes is very helpful. So maybe today, on Holy Trinity Sunday, instead of trying to define what the Trinity is, we can remember and share our experiences with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, just as we read and remember once again Nicodemus’ experiences with the same.

Thank you for taking this theological journey with me today, friends. For I have gone from frustration and resentment to appreciation and gratitude along with our brother, Nicodemus. We don’t have to define the Trinity to be part of the church created, redeemed and sustained by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We don’t even have to totally understand the most basic, well known single statement of faith in the scriptures that seems to be repeated ad nauseam at times! We can be curious and question God, confident that God won’t give up on us. And we can share our encounters knowing that in so doing, we share the very presence of the triune God! Amen.