May 16th- Trinity Sunday
Sermon by Alison Cook
John 3:1-17 Jesus and Nicodemus
3 There was a Jewish leader named Nicodemus, who belonged to the party of the Pharisees. 2 One night he went to Jesus and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God. No one could perform the miracles you are doing unless God were with him.”
3 Jesus answered, “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”
4 “How can a grown man be born again?” Nicodemus asked. “He certainly cannot enter his mother's womb and be born a second time!”
5 “I am telling you the truth,” replied Jesus, “that no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 A person is born physically of human parents, but is born spiritually of the Spirit. 7 Do not be surprised because I tell you that you must all be born again. 8 The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” asked Nicodemus.
10 Jesus answered, “You are a great teacher in Israel, and you don't know this? 11 I am telling you the truth: we speak of what we know and report what we have seen, yet none of you is willing to accept our message. 12 You do not believe me when I tell you about the things of this world; how will you ever believe me, then, when I tell you about the things of heaven? 13 And no one has ever gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from heaven.”
14 As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its saviour.
This is the Gospel
Show us the Father through the love of the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Someone once told me that the problems with relationships would be solved if women would only try to love their husbands a little less and understand them a little more, and if men loved their wives a lot more; and never tried to understand them.
You can make your own conclusions. But do we need to understand someone in order to love them? We do if we want to build a relationship So how do we understand a person? Well I suppose you could start by finding out something about them, may be by searching on the internet, or by listening to stories about them or hearing what other people have to say. Maybe just by looking at a picture of them we could begin to make judgements about them, learn something of their preferences from the clothes they wear or their hairstyle. Watching, listening, making observations will give us knowledge about a person, but to understand them we might need something more first hand, and if we want to build a relationship, we are going to have to start investing some time because relationships are two way, built on connections, rapport, bonds and links as you share time, conversations, experiences and ideas. That’s why when we sing ‘someone is with you’ the action is the thumb and forefinger of one hand linked with those of the other in an inextricable connection. Relationships are built on an understanding that is two way, I listen to you, as you listen to me.
As Humans we are made, or designed, to live in relationships with other people- usually in families. Which is why Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arch communities, has recently been awarded the Templeton prize He recognised the need of people with learning disabilities to live in community with other people, not out in community but in community where they could build a relationship with others and be fully human. One way or another we need to be part of a family. So when we think of our need for relationship and remember we are made in the image of God, it shouldn’t really surprise us that our God is a relational God. One God but known to us in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Trying to understand how three persons can make up one being is tricky,( I don’t have enough thumbs to do it) Trying to imagine how those three persons can interact so closely that they are in fact just one being is beyond me. I can cope with the idea of one God I can understand the differences between the creator God, the Son who loved us and died for us and the Spirit which gives us life but when you try to fit the whole together, I can’t see it all at once. But that isn’t a problem as Augustine said,” If you can understand it, it isn’t God.” HE is the creator, we are the created, it makes sense that we can’t fully understand God. But the amazing thing is we do have the opportunity to begin to understand. Yes we can read our Bibles, we can listen to stories about Jesus, we can hear about the wonderful things that are happening. But if we take what we heard about 6 weeks since Easter then we begin to realise that Jesus’ death has put our relationship with God to rights. Our relationship with God is re-established. Now through the power of the Holy Spirit we can draw close to God, we can know Him just as he knows us. We can become part of the mystery of the Godhead. That is why Trinity comes now, after Easter and after Pentecost. The amazing events have happened and this is the way things are going to be forever, God and people together, one family.
Okay, Time for a picture break.
Salvador Dali’s painting of Christ of the Cross of St John
Christ hangs on the cross, but it is a Christ which isn’t marred by blood or contorted in agony, He is surrounded by darkness, a deep darkness, and we look onto his head.
Below there is a sky, is it a sunrise or a sunset?
And below that you discover the view point somehow shifted and you are drawn into a fishing scene, two fishermen are either launching or landing their fishing boat onto or from a most beautiful blue expanse of water.
This is an amazing painting which makes many suggestions, but it happens that the blue water we are looking at is modelled on Port Lligat, Dali’s home in northern Spain’ we are looking east, and this is a sunrise, a new start, a new day dawning, this is the way things are going to be. Above there is darkness, it not a night time darkness, there are no stars or glimmers of light, this darkness takes me to Genesis, the darkness that was there before God created, we have the view of the Father, outside of time, seeing from the beginning of time right up until now. A darkness which appears to cradle the cross as in the palm of God’s hand. We have Christ, his death on the cross out of love for us, a ladder between earth and heaven and a light for the world. And just as Christ joins the heavenly world with the earthly world he joins the two viewpoints here, see where Christ is looking, where he is gazing, where he simply cannot take his eyes away from; The boat on the water. I know in our Gospel reading Jesus uses the wind as a sign of the Spirit, but water is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit. It washes us clean and it sustains us and it is powerful, but in this picture it is also the transport route, the way in which we are invited to go You might feel you are part of the top of the picture but it is as a spectator, the lower part is active inviting you to join in the journey. So we have the Trinity in the painting, the Father, the Son and the Spirit, and an invitation to ourselves. And that is what this painting is designed to show. Geometrically there is a triangle, a sign of the Trinity, formed from the cross beam and the foot of the cross. In the centre of the triangle is Christ’s head, a circle showing Unity, in the words of Dali “The very unity of the Universe”. And we can view the top of Christ’s head, a neat little artistic touch which ensures the viewer does not see the subject as more important than themselves, instead we see ourselves on an on an equal plane with Christ. It neatly demonstrates that we are joint heirs with Christ.
In Romans 8 Paul explains through the Spirit we are children of God, adopted into God’s family so that through the power of the Holy Spirit we can call God Father and we are given equality with Christ, as we become part of the family that is God. It is God’s Spirit in us which testifies that we are children of God which allows us to speak to God as informally as calling Him Dad, and the Father recognises us as his children by giving us a share of Christ’s inheritance, the world. How we became part of this family is the question Nicodemus finds himself discussing with Jesus. For Nicodemus knows that being part of the right family is what matters most, he thought he had things sorted out, but now he finds Jesus is telling him God is starting a new family and ordinary birth is not enough. To be part of God’s kingdom you need to be born from above, born again, and this time the initiative is God’s. Then I love what happens next, Nicodemus asks another question, the same question Mary asked when God took the initiative and asked her to be the mother of His Son. ‘How?’ Just like Mary Nicodemus isn’t asking for proof or questioning God’s ability, just an honest, How can that happen? It’s beyond my limited understanding. And the answer is the same through God’s Spirit, God’s power. But Nicodemus is still unsure, he’s beginning to realise Jesus is saying this new way of entering God’s family won’t depend on which earthly family you belong to, it is open to all. So he asks again ‘How can this be?’ And Jesus allows himself to express a little surprise. We can’t tell from the text if this is a reprimand or a gentle tease or just despair as Jesus asks. It’s like in Harry Potter when Ron says to Hermione ‘What call yourself a witch?’ Hermione has simply forgotten she can use magic to solve a problem. Nicodemus has forgotten his history and there are some important stories that he needs to remember in detail, so Jesus reminds him. He says, Don’t you remember when the Israelites had grumbled against God and turned away from him, their relationship with God was broken and the result was an invasion of poisonous snakes. But God rescued them by telling Moses to put a bronze symbol of a serpent on a pole, and those who looked at the snake lifted up on the pole showed their trust in God and were saved. This is what the Father has planned, Jesus’ death on the cross is the way everyone’s relationship with God will be put right again. Again As a teacher of Israel Nicodemus should have remembered God’s promise to Abraham. In Genesis 12:3 God promises that through him all the families of the world shall be blessed. Right at the start God’s blessings were intended for the whole world, through the Jews, but not exclusively for the Jews. As a teacher of Israel, did Nicodemus remember the story of Jacob and a ladder that stretched from heaven to earth. Here is Jesus the ultimate ladder between heaven and earth.
So now we can reach the Father, through the Son and receive the Spirit a new power in our lives. We are in God’s debt and we repay that debt by realising there are somethings we don’t need to do anymore. We don’t need to give into what our bodies tell us we need or what the world tells us we need, we follow now where the Spirt leads us And if we do, we gain an inheritance along with Jesus. We inherit, with Christ, the world, not as it is now, but as it will be one day free from corruption, the eventual new creation. So what do we do, sit back and wait for God to sort it all out. No we are called to be part of the Godhead for a purpose, we need to go and join in with the task of bringing about this transformation, as individuals, yes, but also as a church, we are called to go and witnesses to the world God’s grace, live in a way which looks forward to the glory which one day Christ will share with us.
God in three persons inextricably connected, who calls us to be part of his mystery and sends us out to do his work, in the power of the Spirit though the love of the Son one with the Father. Something difficult to understand, but the more we spend time with God and the more we work with God, the more we will understand and love Him. As Julian of Norwich said,
For the Trinity is God and God is the Trinity. The Trinity is our creator, our sustainer our Beloved for ever and ever, our endless bliss, and until I am completely one with Him I shall never have deep rest nor find joy.