Posted on May 27, 2018 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Today is Trinity Sunday, which means it is the one day of the year that we celebrate a human-made doctrine. The doctrine of the Trinity is a human attempt to explain how God chose to reveal God’s self to the world. Now, throughout the scriptures God revealed God’s self in many ways — wind, fire, silence, wisdom (Sophia), a loving parent, a husband (Isaiah 54:5-6), as a human (Jesus Christ). And throughout the scriptures, just as often as God has revealed Himself, humanity has rejected God. But God persists in revealing himself to us so that someday we might truly come to believe. And so today, we attempt to once again honor a few ways God has chosen to reveal God’s self in the forms of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and our story today is one of the few times that Jesus actually discusses all three persons of the Trinity.
Our Gospel story today contains what might be the most well-known verse in all of scripture, John 3:16, and as I said back in March when we read a portion of this story on the 4th Sunday in Lent, “John 3:16 is perhaps the most popular verse in the New Testament and it is considered by many as the best summary of Christianity as a whole.” But, the story is so much more than this one verse. You see, this story isn’t about believing with our minds. This is a story of transformation. This is a story that challenges all the Nicodemuses in the world, that’s you and me, to go beyond just living a good moral life.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee. He was a religious leader who knew the law, who proclaimed to ”know” God and God’s ways, but although he knew God’s ways in his head, he was challenged by Jesus to go beyond what he knew. You see, as the story begins, Nicodemus thinks that he, as a religious leader, understands who Jesus is and who God is: “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” (John 3:2). But, Jesus calls his “knowledge” and understanding into question.
In essence, Jesus’ response to Nicodemus is this, “Nicodemus, you have studied well. You know God’s law, you follow that law, and you are living in a way that appears to be good, but you have not allowed God’s ways to transform your life. You have not allowed God’s Spirit to abide in you.” And Nicodemus, like you and I, does not understand.
All too often we are just like Nicodemus. We are those who have studied God’s words. We are those who use the right language. We are those who attempt to teach God’s ways to the world. We are those who proclaim with our lips what we know, but we, like Nicodemus can only come to Jesus in the dark. Oh, we know all the right stuff, but what are we doing with that knowledge? You see, in his encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus challenged Nicodemus, which means he is challenging us today to move from theory to practice, from knowledge to faith, from curiosity to commitment, and to do this Jesus says we must be able to see God’s kingdom.
“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (3:3). What? At this point let me say, if John 3:16 is one of the most popular verses in all of scripture, I would argue, John 3:3 is one of the most confusing verse in all of scripture. As Nicodemus says, how can we do this? How can we be born if we are already alive?
The Greek word Jesus used here that has caused so much misunderstanding is anothen, and it can be translated as “from above” or “again.” So which did Jesus mean? He meant both, which is what makes this confusing. There is no way you, or I, can go through the birthing process again. In fact, that was not what Jesus was saying at all. No, when Jesus said, “no one can see the kingdom without being born from above (or again),” he was stating that to be part of God’s kingdom we need to let God transform us, here and now. Being born again, or from above, is something done to us by God. In other words, unless Nicodemus, or you and I, allows God to change his whole way of being in the world, he will not be able to perceive God at work. If we want to see God in this world, if we want to be part of God’s kingdom now, then it's time to allow God to change our whole way of being, and God will do that by water and Spirit, Jesus says.
In the Greek the word for spirit is pneuma, and it can mean “spirit,” “breath,” and “wind.” In plain English, if you want to be transformed then let God’s wind blow over you. In a world where we think we can find all the answers if we just have more information, more details, more knowledge, Jesus says to us today, “the answers my friend are blowing in the wind.”
Brothers and sisters, we live in the dark because we believe that if we can just know enough that we will do things right. We live our lives “knowing” that if we just get more information, better surveys, more details, … that the right answers will come to light. But truth is, that’s not true. None of this is about us. It isn’t about our knowledge, our skills, or our actions. No, it is about God’s transforming winds that are blowing in our lives. What we do in this world is not about doing things right, it’s about doing the right thing, and if want to do the right thing, we need to turn to God’s Spirit, God’s wind, and we need to allow that wind to blow in and through us. And to do that, Jesus invites us to see the kingdom of God.
By the way, when Jesus invites us to “see” God’s kingdom, or to “enter” God’s kingdom, he isn’t talking about a place, he is speaking of seeing and entering into God’s transforming power. Those who live in the light allow the winds, or spirit, of God to blow over them to transform them. Those who live in the light are able to "see" God's power in their lives and in the world. They realize and believe that they are living in and by the power of God — something that those in the dark can't see.
Today, we have been invited to receive life as God’s gift. We have been invited to receive a life that is shaped by and utterly dependent on God’s love. That’s eternal life! It is not simply life in heaven after death. It is a life that begins now, in the moment that believers entrust their lives to Jesus. It is a life that is about letting God transform us, birth us again, into God’s new family.
We live in a world that is desperately seeking a better way. We are part of a faith community that is struggling to figure out our future, and today we have been invited to seek the answers to these concerns and desires in a new and transforming way. We have been invited to be born again. But to do that, to accept this invitation, we need to turn to God and God’s holy and enlightening spirit, and as Bob Dylan sang in his 1962 song, “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” May God’s holy and enlightening wind blow over us and transform us. Amen.