Today is Trinity Sunday: the first Sunday after Pentecost and last week’s dramatic readings of God breaking in on the disciples with howling winds and flames of fire; varieties of tongues and varying languages. Today, the prophet Isaiah also provides dramatic images of strange visions, hallucinations, and wing tipped creatures crying aloud and swooping down with burning coals of fire.
Why so much drama, do you think? Who is this God and what is this manifestation of Spirit all about? And what is its relevance for the Church today? Have we lost our sense of awe and wonder of the holy? Can we be open to something new and different even in worship? I mean, really?
We ask ourselves, “Where is the wow in life?” Where is the mystery and wonder of it all? On Trinity Sunday, we get to remind ourselves of the multi-faceted nature of God. God as Father/Mother/Parent. God as Son embodied in flesh with human features eyes and ears. God as one who lives and dies, laughs and cries. God as Spirit indwelling, surrounding, leading, guiding.
At best, we keep exploring. I shake my head at those who seem so sure, so emphatic, about all things God. So all-knowing and able to figure God out completely and speak exclusively God’s intentions. To even think such a thing seems blasphemous to me; at best.
God is beyond. Extraordinary. Other. Ever unfolding in every life and every circumstance; every generation and every place as we ourselves are unfolding. We form words and create images but we do so only in part.
God is mystery. As mysterious to the rational mind as the virgin birth itself, or our claims about the dead being raised from the grave, or the speculation that all people regardless of who they are or what they have done are invited over and over again to a common table in which all are welcome.
As mysterious as our baptism, in which we are told that our sins have been washed away and we have been claimed even as infants without any profession or confession, is that we have been initiated into the family of God one time and forever. Never the need for a second baptism. It is ours, sealed forever.
It is as mysterious as the possibility that we could possibly be loved beyond measure, without any merit of our own.
That grace abounds; just plunked down at our feet for the taking, and the only thing we have to do is pick it up. Be open to it. Receive it. And out of that receiving, then doing our good work as best we can; bringing the first offering of ourselves, our heart, and mind, and spirit. Now, I don’t know about you, but that seems like a “wow” to me.
It is as strange and as mysterious as a learned, old, religious Pharisee like Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night asking, “How is it possible to be born again?”
And I love this. He comes to Jesus by night. How many of us have come to God by night in the dark and confusion of our lives? How many of us have come to God desperate for a ray of light and hope?
John makes a point of telling us that while everyone else is tucked away in bed, Nicodemus cannot sleep. Oh my, how familiar is this! He is an important man; a man with power and authority. A man wedged between the chaos of the day before and the fear of the morning to come; he presses his way. At nighttime, where all the masks come off and confessions can be made. Those dismal periods fraught with chaos and doom; too secret to share with any other; quietly hoping for the sun to shine on us once more?
Nicodemus comes to Jesus. John does not tell us why. Perhaps out of curiosity. Perhaps seeking something new to satisfy. Perhaps realizing that what he already has is not enough. Perhaps needing more than his eyes can see and his ears hear. He comes in the stillness of the night. And in a way, I think Nicodemus represents all of us seekers.
The “why” of it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day – we are here. And Jesus does not turn us away. Because long before Nicodemus ever drew the first breath, and we were ever a speck in our mother’s womb, God had decided to love us, to come to us, to die for us, and to live within us. God had already decided to save us and the whole world.
Nicodemus was a learned man; he knew how things work. He knew the futility of thinking than an old geezer like himself could ever re-enter his mother’s womb. He knew that once pushed through the birth canal, there was no turning back.
Nicodemus had been following tradition all his life; doing what was expected of him; living the same old same old. But one night, he asked the most pivotal question of all: How can I be born again? Born anew? How is it possible to set out on a new trajectory of life and meaning? How can these things be?
It’s an excellent question. A question we ought to be asking every now and then. How can these things be? For it reminds us that whereas we might have limitations, and whereas there are things that we do not know or cannot do, God has entered our story and God has decided.
Jesus said that unless you have been born of water and Spirit, it is not possible to enter the kingdom of God.
I don’t think Jesus was talking about heaven here or some place in the clouds; after a while and by and by. No, I think the kingdom of God that Jesus was speaking of is the kingdom located on the ground, right here with us; in us; waiting for us right now.
I think Jesus was saying, “If you want to enter that kingdom, you are going to have to change your mind and your way.” Because things in God’s kingdom are in stark contrast to what we are accustomed to; to what our culture says; to what our own desires may be. It is kingdom fraught with opposites and paradox. A kingdom that often does not make any sense at all. A kingdom in which humility and kindness are preferential to pride and self-promotion. It is a kingdom where those who would be last are first; and those who are first are last. It is a kingdom of emptying and letting go and dying – dying in order to live – and living in order to die. Letting go in order to gain. And gaining in order to let go.
We don’t hear anything else from old Nicodemus after that. We imagine that he went on back home; settled in next to his wife with lots of things on his mind. You know how it is, don’t you? Perhaps more questions than he started out with. More questions than he had answers to. We don’t know what he said or did in the temple after that. How he might have entered into long debates or not. But something tells me that he was never quite the same. No, he did not go back the same old way. He was a new person after that.
We don’t hear his name mentioned anymore. Except in the 19th chapter where John tells us that after Jesus had been nailed to the cross; suffered, bled, and died; when all had been said and done, there was a secret disciple who came to Pilate and asked to take away the body of his Lord. And there was another man who came with him; this same Nicodemus, whom John makes a point of telling us was the one who had come to Jesus by night.
Together, they came, and Nicodemus brought with him a mixture of myrrh and aloes, a hundred pounds to anoint the body of his beloved. And they took the body of Jesus and wrapped it in linen cloths and laid it in a new tomb.
Oh, my brothers and sisters, here is the hook: the day and the night are the same to God. It doesn’t matter how we arrive, God’s love and grace are available to all of us and each of us – and the entire world.
It’s all wrapped up in the 16th verse – so boldly proclaimed on billboards and bumper stickers, in stadiums, Facebook, Instagram – it’s everywhere. If only we would take it in; fully take it in and live it out.
“For God so loved the world (the entire world and everything in it; and everyone in it) that God gave God’s only Son, that whosoever believes in him, will not perish but shall have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world – not to judge it – but to save it.”
May it be so.
 John 3:16-17