Trinity Sunday: Nicodemus
May the Almighty, who is, who was and shall be forever, continue to engage, enlighten and inspire us all the days of our life? Amen.
If you had the opportunity to have a conversation with Jesus, what would you ask him? Nicodemus, the man in our gospel reading this morning, had just that opportunity. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, probably a member of the Sanhedrin, a prominent man in the community, and almost obsessed with the study and keeping of the law. First century Jewish people believed their salvation was dependent on learning and keeping the laws set forth by God, and as given to Moses.
Because he dared not jeopardize his reputation by being seen talking with Jesus, Nicodemus crept out at night. He began his conversation by paying Jesus a compliment. He said that Jesus must have been sent from God because no one could do the things Jesus did, apart from the power of God, the great ‘I AM’.
Not responding to flattery, Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God to Nicodemus, who was expecting the Messiah, a new David, sent to reclaim the kingdom of Israel on Earth. But in fact, Jesus, the true Messiah, came to usher in a new Kingdom of God. Nicodemus imagining his mother giving birth to him now, as an old man, was totally confused. His mind was on the physical world, but Jesus was talking about a Spiritual world. For Nicodemus, this spiritual Kingdom of God was a new way of thinking and a new way of seeing.
Nicodemus could not understand what Jesus was saying about the new kingdom. He had spent his whole life keeping those physical laws to gain entrance to God’s kingdom, but he was beginning to realize his way wasn’t going to work.
To enter God’s kingdom all of us must be spiritually reborn because we must begin a new way of thinking about the spiritual world. We must die to this world and be reborn in the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that we can communicate with God. Prayer is the way that we talk to God and prayer is done in and through the Spirit. Whether we speak the words out loud or to ourselves, it is the Holy Spirit in us that connects us with God.
God knows what we will ask before we even ask it, we are connected to God through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus used the metaphor of birth to describe this change of mindset from the physical to the spiritual.
Echoing Nicodemus’ question, what must I do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? A better question might be what must I do to be reborn? Our answer to the second and better question can sometimes be a source of dissent with other faithful people when we fail to understand the meaning of the term sacrament. A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward- spiritual event. In Holy Baptism the water used is an outward sign of an inward promise, a physical sign of a spiritual change.
Did Nicodemus get it? We are left to wonder because John does not tell us at this point.
This morning we are celebrating Trinity Sunday, the last major festival of the Christian year and a stumbling block that separates us from other peoples of the “Book”. Muslims and Jews alike believe in one god and yet fail to understand the concept of the trinity. Not so suprising because it took 426 years before the early church agreed on and recorded what we now profess when we repeat the Nicene Creed. There are only two verses in the Bible that seem to suggest a full Trinitarian theme to most of us: Matthew 28.19 ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…’
and 2 Corinthians 13.14. ‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all…’
I am going to try and share with you a glimpse of how I attempt to make sense of the incomprehensible. One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God.
We sometimes hear the Trinity described as H2O, water – liquid water, solid ice and vapour in steam, all H2O. Not quite right though because they differ in state only because of a change in temperature. God however is the same yesterday, the same today, and the same tomorrow!
Well then let us take the family as an example; I am a mother to my children, a wife to my husband and a daughter to my mother. But that isn’t right either because those roles depend on a relationship that is within a set time frame, I couldn’t be a mother without – well, the other half, and I couldn’t be a daughter without a dad. Both these attempts are very unsatisfactory.
Let’s begin again, perhaps God the Father could be thought of in terms of the creative force of a father. Jesus, the Christ, is God the Son who became incarnate in our human time and space, and is also described as existing “in the Beginning” as the Word, so maybe we could consider Jesus the Son, the Word, as God’s Message. The Holy Spirit too is placed at the beginning of time “moving over the face of the waters”, and also the advocate sent at Pentecost.
Perhaps the problem then, is in using words that describe a relationship, maybe we should look back at something quite different. Wisdom, Sophia and the Spirit of God are mentioned time and again throughout the scriptures. Maybe we should think of the Holy Spirit as the activator or the motivator to bring the kingdom of God into being on earth.
Some theologians prefer to speak of ‘Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer’ rather than the traditional ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’. For myself, the Trinity of ‘Persons’ is indescribable by using human vocabulary. What I can appreciate is a trinity of creation, message and motivation, blended into the whole of what it is that I call God.
“Imagine three tapers” they could be lit here and now, we would be looking at one flame.
Being born again of the Spirit, Nicodemus did not get it at first, but did become a disciple after Jesus died. Do we get it? We all know that babies don’t stand and walk from day one; all of us have to learn to walk in the physical sense. So too, we all learn more about God as we walk with Jesus on our journey through this world. We walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, on into the kingdom of God, by the grace of his Son, Jesus Christ.
The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 30/05/2021