Trinity Sunday – May 30th, 2010 – John 3:1-15
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
By in large, people don’t like to be different. People don’t want to stand out from the crowd, don’t want to stick out. Even the people who want to be “rebels” and stand out, simply stand out the same way every other “rebel” does. Maybe in the 50s if you wanted to be a rebel you would wear jeans and a black jacket – just like James Dean. Or when I was in college, you’d dye your hair a wild color – right after you went to store where they sold tons of hair dye to all those other people who wanted to be rebels just like you. Even our rebels like to stick together. By in large, we don’t like to be different.
But here is the truth. As a Christian, you are different from the rest of the world. This is what our Lord teaches us today – “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Last week was Pentecost – we saw again and were focused upon the wonder and mystery that we have received the Holy Spirit from God through the gift of Baptism – we are born of the Spirit. We are Christians – and as such, we are different from the world, we will be different, or to borrow from a song, we now have a little Gospel light, and we are called to let it shine in the midst of a world full of people who have no light. That makes you different from the rest of the world. The world dwells in darkness and loves it, but you are a child of the light, born of the Spirit. Christ our Lord shows us what this means in our Gospel lesson today.
To begin, we hear, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.’” So, here you have Nicodemus, a powerful and respected man. A ruler of the Jews, sometime high up there, one of the hoity-toity, a muckity-muck. And he is bold and he comes to Jesus and says, “Oh yes, we know You are a Holy teacher sent by God.” But did you note when Nicodemus says this? By night. When no one is around to see. Jesus teaches and preaches all the time, in front of crowds. Does Nicodemus come then, when people can see? No, he doesn’t want to stand out. Nicodemus creeps up to Jesus, skulking around like a thief, and when no one can see, then he puts on a bold face. Oh yes, we know. . . we know. He’s there by himself, in the dark, hiding his actions from the public, yet still he’s trying to hide himself in a crowd. We. Do you see how ashamed and fearful Nicodemus is here? What would happen if people found out he was conversing with this Jesus? Would he be mocked? Would people laugh at him? And Nicodemus wants to know more, knows that he should learn – he does say that Jesus is a teacher, and you go to a teacher only if you need to learn – but Nicodemus is flat out scared and ashamed.
Now, consider your own life. Are there times when you are scared, when you are ashamed to be a Christian, ashamed to be a Lutheran? When you are keenly aware of the fact that your faith doesn’t let you fit in with everyone else? Are there times when you wish you could just fit in better – maybe with the folks at work or school who are coarse and unkind? Or even when you wish that this Church just wasn’t. . . so different from the other Churches around – that it would be nice if we looked more and sounded like them? Not would it be more truthful, not would it better teach the Word of God in its truth and purity, but wouldn’t it just be. . . more comfortable? The thing is, when we have these types of thoughts – where are looking? When we worry about fitting in, are we looking at Christ, are our eyes focused squarely upon our Crucified Lord, are we determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified, or do our eyes wander to our neighbor? This pressure to impress others, to fit in, to do what “they” do, whoever they are, has been around since the fall, and it is harmful and destructive. It is blinding, for it takes our eyes of off Christ.
Which is why Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Unless one is born again, he’ll not see. His eyes will be off elsewhere and he’ll miss, he’ll ignore these things of God, he’ll ignore the things of Christ Jesus. And Nicodemus, he misses the mark here too. “Now can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Misses the point. Is this some bizarre ritual I must do in order to join the club? No, it isn’t. You’re thinking is off right now Nicodemus – our Lord says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” You are thinking in fleshly terms, Nicodemus. This birth has nothing to do with your earthly mother – it has to do with the Spirit taking water and joining you to Christ Jesus and your Heavenly Father! To be a Christian, to be one born of the Spirit means that you think, you see things along spiritual lines. We think in terms of the faith, in terms of the Creed – that our lives are shaped by what we believe, that we see things along the ways we have been trained from the Catechism. The world loves and trusts all sorts of things, power, wealth, fame. We have been born of water and the Spirit, and so we know that we are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That is the Spiritual truth. The world strives to get ahead, to have more and more, to be powerful and successful and make people adore you. We have been born of water and the Spirit, and we know that we are to love our neighbors, to serve them, to strive to make their life better even at cost to ourselves. That is the Spiritual truth that we are part of.
But the problem is, rightly now we are so fleshly. We know the Spiritual truths, we know how our lives ought to be – and yet so often we fall right into those comfortable, sinful patterns of the world. We worry about what our friends and neighbors think more than we worry about what God has said. We worry more about what luxury we might not have more than we worry about what our neighbor needs, what our Church needs. The old sinful nature rises up in us, and we turn our eyes away from Christ and towards that utterly sinful, messy world and we dive on in there. Luther is wonderful to read on this – I don’t think that there has been a theologian in the history of the church who has been so eloquent and so blunt on the struggles we have with our sinful flesh – here is one that I like – “The original sin in a man is like his beard, which, though shaved off today so that a man is very smooth around his mouth, yet grows again by tomorrow morning. As long as a man lives, such growth of the hair and beard does not stop. But when the shovel beats the ground on his grave, it stops. Just so original sin remains in us and bestirs itself as long as we live, but we must resist it and always cut off its hair.” That’s where we are at – constantly fighting the same struggles against sin, constantly beating down sinful desires. The struggles we worked against yesterday pop up again. And whenever we look in the mirror, whenever we take stock of our life honestly, we will always, always see more sin creeping. In fact, as you grow in the faith, as you learn to see things spiritually you will see more and more sin in your life, you will see clearly the vileness of things that you had been used to doing with nary a thought.
So then, what remains? Nicodemus asks, “How can these things be?” We can ask it too. When we see the sinfulness of our lives, when we cast off the smug, self-righteous “Oh, I’m a good person” attitudes and look at ourselves, we can ask this question too. How can we be turned away from sinfulness and unto God? What is our Lord’s response? “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” It is true that sin is a vile illness, but you have been Baptized into Christ Jesus and His death, and this means that your sin has been taken up by Christ, that your sin was lifted up with Christ upon the Cross and put to death. On account of Christ Jesus, the sin that you have done is forgiven. The sin that merits your death and damnation is done away with. And that is how you have eternal life – that is how you have it now. You are baptized, you are joined to Christ, and you are risen as He is risen. It doesn’t always show, sometimes your sinfulness hides it, but Christ Jesus Himself dwells with you. The True and Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is with you, and they give you strength to struggle, strength to actually show love even now when you still must struggle against your sinful flesh. Life with God isn’t just a down the road in heaven thing – it’s a now thing. Yes, you will be perfected on the last day, but right now God is with you, right now He gives you life and strength. Right now your Lord gives you His own Body and Blood so that you might be kept firm in the faith, firm in forgiveness, strengthened to show love. And this is the wonder and the beauty of it all – Christ has given you salvation, given you His own Gospel light, and He makes this light to shine all the more in you when He draws you unto Himself. Just as the people in the wilderness were healed and had life when they beheld the bronze serpent, you are forgiven and have life when you are focused upon Christ, when you are focused upon the Word of God – and Christ Jesus wrests our eyes off the world and makes us to grow, to know the things of God. And when you fail, when you sin, He wrests your eyes back onto Himself. This is how you grow, by being focused upon Christ and seeing Him.
And because of this, you will stand out from the crowd. You will be different from the world, for the world could care less about the things of God. The world could care less for the Word, the world despises Baptism and the new birth it brings, the world despises this most Holy Supper of our Lord’s Body and Blood – but you have been given eyes to see, you have been called by God to receive forgiveness and eternal life. You have received the Gospel of Christ, and thus, all thanks be to God, you are different, you are changed – you are united with Christ. This Trinity season, the Gospel lessons will have our Lord teach you more about Himself and His love for you. May you diligently hear His Word, ever more clearly see His love, and grow in Him. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +