Sunday, May 27, 2018

Today is Trinity Sunday John 3:1-17

Today is Trinity Sunday…we celebrate the three musketeers that are God three for all and all are one…It is a bit confusing.  What makes it more confusing is for some it is a core theological belief for others …well they believe in God, period. There is a commentator who shares this about God
“There is a foundation-shaking reality behind our words and our actions in worship, an utter holiness beneath our feeble attempts to pray and praise such an awesome God. How do our liturgy and the beauty of our sanctuaries even begin to touch the hem of such a robe?”[1]
… I wonder how the text speaks to those in our congregation how do we address this question of being born again? I know for some of us it may get our hair stand on end for this term alone has and is a weapon used by other Christian groups to separate themselves from the pack claiming their way is the only way.

I also wonder how this text is heard by those who are beyond our walls, those not--or no longer--part of a community of faith does this trigger in them what it triggers in me? I know people outside of faith communities experienced God's holiness and God's nearness in other ways and other images. Indeed, how much is God a part of our everyday thoughts? How much time and energy have we given to expanding and deepening our understanding of God, our images of God, our experience of God?

According to Henry G. Brinton, "Our problem today is not that we grasp too much of God, but that we experience too little of God. But if we expand our hearts and minds so that we can encounter God in fresh ways, then we discover a Lord who is extraordinary, not ordinary" [2]
So let us examine Nicodemus who is invited to see God in a new and different way…
Nicodemus. He was, we are told, a leader in his community.
We do not know much about him.
Maybe he was a lawyer, schooled in the tradition of his people. If so, he would have been a senior partner in the leading law firm in Jerusalem, with all the posh perks and a candidate to be a character in a john Grisham novel.
Likely he was an intellectual, perhaps an academic. If so, he would have been not only tenured, but a distinguished professor with a string of publications and an impressive series of academic lectureships. – Bob?
But then again he could have been a major political leader in Jerusalem, no doubt, with his own political action committee, and all the funding at his disposal that he could have wanted.
In another setting he might have been a corporate CEO, well connected, with access to all levels of power, plus enough stock options to live carefully close to scandal, but always careful enough to stay clear. He could teach a few of our leaders today a lesson or two.
There is no evidence, we just don’t know but I wonder what it would have been like in downtown Jerusalem if he had been a reality star, successful, a handsome man, with endless promotional enterprises, always trending the latest looks, always trending on social media maybe with a a big -time, multiyear contract.
Well we don’t know All that we know is that he is very big, somebody important. Like all important people, his actions are very public, under public scrutiny and endlessly reported.
As the story goes, one night this important man went to a secret rendezvous. H instructed his secretary to get the limo with a trustworthy driver.  You know one who will keep everything very hush. It might have worked too except he had been spotted and it was reported that “He came to Jesus at night.” Can’t you just see it…this big limo pulling up in front of some little mud and straw hut where Jesus was staying in Jerusalem.  Jesus was there for Passover and in this Gospel, he had literally just cleared the Temple.  Perhaps this is another reason for the secrecy.
So now we have this dramatic meeting between Nicodemus, and important man in the Jewish community in Jerusalem and Jesus. Maybe he went to see Jesus out of curiosity. Perhaps the story of Cana had moved him.  Maybe he understood Jesus reaction at the temple and wanted to learn more. This is put out across that this is a huge public risk for Nicodemus that he comes in the cover of night…there must be something more…. Walter Brueggemann says of Nicodemus “he had everything, and he wondered, ‘Is that all there is? Is there something more? Is there something different?  Am I on the right track?’”[3] Well, what would that motivation be for such an important man to take such a risk? Brueggemann says; “it must have been a gnaw about reality.”[4]
Now there is a turn of phrase one doesn’t hear these days a gnaw about reality! It means that well Life was getting him down. He was greatly or deeply trouble perhaps even to a point of anguish or despair.
So, Nicodemus enters this shadowy room, no lights, only an oil lamp.  In the best of all pastoral sense …Jesus waits. Nicodemus hesitates, he knows once he starts to ask questions he just might get answers. So, he starts off safe; “I have heard about you. I have heard about your water-to-wine miracle, but I have also heard about your teaching. I have the impression, good sir, that what you are doing is very odd and very special. I just wondered about it, because what you do sounds to me like the presence of God. We Jewish scholars of tradition know that God alone can do such things. Can you help me here?”[5] It is almost as if Nicodemus is seeking and affirmation of what he holds to be true…you know the old I believe this is what is happening right ok good.
But Jesus can see deeper.  Jesus knows that Nicodemus is seeking more than affirmation.  He can sense the yearning within Nicodemus and gets past his resume, gets past his superficial acknowledgements and aims straight for his deeper questions.  That deeper sense of there is something more to this life that is gnawing at Nicodemus’ heart. Jesu looks at him, Jesus looks in him, with a deep spiritual seeing and says; “You got to start over! You’ve go to be reborn. You need to be made anew.  Born again! Born form above! You must become vulnerable and innocent and see the world with a sense of wonder and awe as through the eyes of a child. You need to forget the earthly things that bind you. Your job, your trophies, your diplomas, your money, and your reputation. You must let all that go. Get it out of your head so that you may see the wonder that is the gift of God. You see me do miracles. I do them, because I have given up self.  I have given up that centeredness that is tied to this existence and connected my life to God in such a way that my power comes to me through me from God because of my emptiness. This is how it works with me and God and this is the invitation to you as well. Start over in vulnerability and innocence and awe and wonder. The way you are living now cuts you off, your sureness, your arrogant security keeps you from all the gifts of life for which you so much yearn.”
There is a long pause.  Jesus waits.  Nicodemus’ face gets kind of screwed up as he thinks this over.   “This is not possible”, Nicodemus exclaims!” What he says is being biologically born again is impossible but what he is actually thinking is …you, you, Jesus are asking too much; I cannot give it all up. What he feels is a cold sense of alienation and impotence, a wish for newness, but afraid of what it all means. He says thinking biologically, but wondering socially “How can that be?” The question sounds like a conclusion: it could not be …could it?
Almost as if he is reading his mind Jesus says again “You have to start over.” Nicodemus, confused, sits in silence waiting for more from Jesus. In spiritual direction I have a practice that when some one says something simple and sweet I, will say nothing but wait, wait for the more to come. Nicodemus waits, and Jesus goes on using Hebrew… “It’s like the wind. You cannot make it blow; but when it does blow, you cannot stop it.”
Jesus was splaying with words.  Jesus knew that Nicodemus would understand that the Hebrew word for wind and spirit were one in the same, ruah:
“you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (v.8)
Nicodemus is just more confused than ever.  Then in the midst of his confusion Jesus says…Well The only one who has access to this is me. I am the one who comes from God and I, the son of man, will be lifted up (v14).
“The phrase, ‘Lifted up’, in the fourth Gospel, means lifted up on the cross, made high in elevation by crucifixion. (I would argue it means dot be lifted high through resurrection via crucifixion). The spirit is the power of God that enables us to contradict the world and the world’s expectations, and to sign on for the innocence and vulnerability and dependence…and freedom …that had not been, someone free for God’s way in the world, someone not captive to the pressures and demands and dictions of the world , someone called by God to be their true self, powered by the wind, dazzled by the (resurrected) one, as innocent as one born…again.”[6]
People do not see it, but this is a perfect text for Trinity Sunday.  Jesus addresses the Spirit, Himself and God. And the midst of the concept of Trinity that scholars and theologians try to explain and create doctrine about ...we stand with Nicodemus!

We stand with Nicodemus in our confusion about it all.  We stand in our need to get past this…Past this world that is so broken, the world cries for love every day and so we…we stand with Nicodemus with his question is this all there is …. we try and try and yet there is always more and where do we turn where are we called….
“Wait for the wind that will blow you to freedom;
and watch for the one lifted up in our midst.”[7]
Now that secret meeting is over.  Nicodemus gets back into his limo, but he is not the same man as when he stepped out. Who could be after a meeting with Jesus.  Nicodemus knows there is work to be done.  If we follow the limo we might see it stop by a beggar on the street and instead of just tossing some coins out a window we see the passenger get out and walk into a local tavern with the man as they sit, talk and order a meal. Through out the meal he had these odd words running through his  head.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that one who believes in him may have eternal life. (v.16)
Nicodemus understands that this is not easy mantra but an invitation, and invitation to be reborn, innocent, vulnerable, open to the movement of the wind, with his heart moving towards the unseen, towards the resurrection.  The world seemed open now, the way he saw the world was completely contradicted by this new way of being.  As he took some water to share with his new-found friend he could not help but wonder if, as he poured, it might turn to wine. He wondered if in the bread they shared, there might be new life. He was awe struck as an innocent child seeing the world anew as for the first time with all of its possibilities.
So we stand with Nicodemus in this wonder of trinity.  In this wonder of God emptied into a man who walked and experienced all of life as fully as possible.  A man who was crucified as a common criminal and yet was lifted high in the resurrection as the glorified Christ.  Who sent the spirit, the comforter which is in this room as we speak.  Stirring our hearts and our minds towards new birth and new ways of being.
It is a calling into relationship with God the creator, Jesus the Christ and the holy spirit.  That is the trinity, but it is funny because the trinity doesn’t work without us. We have been invited into this sacred dance.  This spiritual whirlwind if you will, we are caught up in the dance.
It is through this dance that we are fed spiritually and challenged to grow.  We are called to share the news of this spirit that God loves oyu.  No matter who you are, rich man, educated woman, beautifully transgendered person or something in between. It just doesn’t matter.
This is a radically strange and beautiful thing to be Christian.  To be born of spirit and water. 
The water being the physical outward sign that we are part of something, a community.  A nice neat package we are the united church of Christ Petaluma.  I have my membership.  It doesn’t matter if I got my membership in the Baptist church or the catholic all counts we proclaim one baptism.
Then comes the born of spirit part.  The born of spirit part is the challenge.  For it is the spirit who troubles the water. It moves us outside of these walls.  It calls us to do so much more than just Sunday. It calls us out to participate and share the good news. The Good news that you are loved.
One of the things we do is we have the basket in the back for hat Gloves scarves.  I would like to see, Just how many hats and scarves we can make over the summer.  Now I use the knitting loom which is easy to use, and I would be happy to teach anyone who is interested in donating some time and yarn to make hats and scarves.  I know we can knit sox as well, but I haven’t learned that one yet.
The dinner for six are going and through that we get to learn of each other’s stories. We minister to each other through deep listening and shared food. I am wondering this is just a thought for exploration. Can we do a community supper or lunch maybe once a month that is for our communities here and friends and neighbors.  3 congregations, one meal free to anyone who wishes to come? This literally just came to me as I am writing this.
There is a habitat build coming in this fall. There are the cots birdhouses that I am sure Heidi would be grateful for some help with.  These are all ways that the spirit move sin and around and through this congregation towards the community around us.
I pray that the spirit is moving each and everyone of oyu towards something new.  Perhaps it is just something new for yourself like seeking a spiritual director, maybe joining the book group, or the dinner for six.
I pray that the spirit puts something on your heart that you may see a need and we as a community can help fill it. Look around oyu r neighborhood, your town, where is god calling us as a congregation to make a change?  Where is the spirit leading this congregation as the loving presence of God to make a difference?
As the old song goes the spirit is a moving all over all over this land

[2] Ditto

[3] Brueggemann, Walter. The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. 284-287
[4] Ditto, 285
[5] Ditto
[6] Brueggemann, 286
[7] Brueggemann, 287

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