Holy Trinity Sunday
I don't know about you but I have really been enjoying these readings from the Gospel of John this past month or so. John has a way of getting at the mysteries of God in a simple but profound way. Here, on Trinity Sunday, we again hear from John – relating a conversation with Nicodemus, who comes to Jesus one night.
Nicodemus was a pharisee, a teacher of Israel, a religious authority of his day. We don't know exactly why he came to Jesus at night, but it was likely out of some sort of embarrassment, so as not to be seen by his peers. At this point, it doesn't appear Nicodemus has come to faith in Christ. Later in John 7, he appears, defending Jesus from the other Pharisees, who wished to arrest Jesus without a fair hearing. And finally we see Nicodemus at the death of Jesus, with Joseph of Arimathea, bringing spices to honor our Lord in burial. Joseeph is said to be a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, and it seems by that point Nicodemus was in the same vein.
Perhaps it was this nighttime conversation with Jesus in John 3 that sets Nicodemus down that road. And so today we can sit with the teacher of Israel at the feet of the greatest Teacher. Today we too, ponder the mysteries of a God who so loved the world that he sends his only Son. And on this Trinity Sunday, we can also see in Jesus' teaching the importance of our Triune God's work in and among his people.
The Father creates us, gives us our flesh. From the world we inhabit to the air we breathe to the lungs that inhale it, we owe our existence to the Father, the creator of all things visible and invisible. But here is where we have a problem, too, for the flesh he created, we corrupted. We are born, but born into sin. Flesh gives birth to flesh. Sinful Adam brings for a son in his own sinful image, and so on and son on, right down to Nicodemus, and to you and me. We are outside the kingdom of God, outsiders from our very Father in heaven. Sin separates, perverts, and kills. Creation is broken, and death reigns in each of us. The world is a mess. The world is perishing. But the Father loves the world, and so sends his Son.
You know this, because you live in the world. You know this because you, too, participate in the sins you've inherited from Adam. You know well the Father of lies, who reigns in this world, and gleefully cheers you on to sin. You know well the burden and confusion sin brings. You confess it each week as we gather in this place. A poor, miserable sinner, sinning in thought, word and deed. You are just as much a part of the world as the next sinner. Just as much in need of a savior. Don't be fooled by thinking that “sinner” always means some other sinner, or even the rest of the world. When the word speaks of sin, it always speaks of me, of you.
“For God so loved the world” isn't “for God loved the world SO much”, but “This is how God loved the world.... In this way God loved the world.... that he sent his Son”. Jesus is not just the expression of how much God loves us, but he is the very way that God loves us. He is the expression of God's love for a fallen world. And there is no other way to the Father's love.
To receive it, Jesus says, to enter this kingdom of the Father, we must be born again. Nicodemus takes this literally. But others miss the point, too, making such born-again-ness into a work you can do. How many times have other Christians asked, “brother, are you born again?” And a Lutheran doesn't know what to say. Or a survey asks us to check a box, “born-again Christian” and we bite our lip, wondering. What they often mean is a conversion experience, a watershed moment in which we make a decision or commitment to turn to God. Pray a certain prayer, feel a certain feeling... and make the appropriate testimony of such. Oh and then be baptized to show it.
But this gets it wrong. We must listen closely to what Jesus says. “Be born”. It's passive language. And isn't birth always passive? What child decided to be born from his mother's womb, anyway? So too with Baptism. A gift received from God. A washing of sins that God does to you and for you. A rebirth of renewal in the Holy Spirit, that God provides and enacts and initiates. This is the “born again-ness” that we Lutherans confess, and receive. Are you born again? Yes, in baptism. The free gift of God in Christ.
How can a man do this? How can a man enter into his mother's womb and be born again? Of course he can't. Even more impossible is that he can be freed from sin and made wholly clean and perfect before God. Of course he can't, on his own. But with God all things are possible. And in baptism, that's just what he does.
And we are baptized in the name of the Trinue God. The only God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is a great mystery. But like all the other mysteries of our faith, it is not to be fully understood but simply received and confessed, believed and cherished. I can't explain it to you. I can only say what Scripture says. God is three in one, and one in three. But his three-ness and his one-ness is for you. And you bear his triune name upon you – sealed by water, word, and Spirit. And in this name you have eternal life.
The Catechism explains that our Baptism is also a daily rebirth –
“It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written?--Answer.
St. Paul says in Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
By the work of the Holy Spirit, who creates faith and works in Baptism, we receive the “goods” of Christ's death and resurrection. For the Son of Man, Jesus, was lifted up. He was sent so that the whoever believes would not perish but have eternal life. He is the one who comes from Heaven, the only one with the credentials to know all about salvation and to actually accomplish it for all. Yes, for all. No matter your origin or your sins along the way. No matter whether you are a teacher of Israel or a prostitute, a tax collector or pharisee. Young or old, wise or fool. There's plenty of room at the feet of the rabbai and at the font of rebirth. So live in your baptism, you sinners, reborn. And live in Christ and his Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.