Devotional Message: The Feast of the Holy Trinity; Year B (5/27/2018)
Revised Common Lectionary Texts
St. John 3:1-17
Prayer of the Day
Almighty Creator and ever-living God: we worship your glory, eternal Three-in-One, and we praise your power, majestic One-in-Three. Keep us steadfast in this faith, defend us in all adversity, and bring us at last into your presence, where you live in endless joy and love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "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." 3 Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." 4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." 9 Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" 10 Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11 "Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
St. John 3:1-17, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Message: “A Story of Faith”
I’ve long been intrigued by the story of Nicodemus. A Pharisee, he would be associated with those who are most vehemently opposed to Jesus. This explains why he chooses to visit Jesus under cover of darkness. Most likely, if his colleagues suspected him to be a follower of Jesus, he would find himself in a very difficult position.
Yet Nicodemus does come to Jesus, addresses him as “Rabbi” (or “teacher”), and declares, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.” Although his fellow Pharisees might be threatened by Jesus and determined to do away with him, Nicodemus is one who is interested in the truth, and has come to see what he can learn for himself.
The middle segment of this text is a tricky exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus, in which Jesus says, “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Some Bibles translate the Greek word ἄνωθεν (“anothen”) as “again” — most notably the King James Version (“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”) — but they miss the entire point of the exchange. ἄνωθεν can mean either above or again. Nicodemus misunderstands Jesus, and imagines having to be physically reborn again (“How can someone enter a second time into the womb…”), while Jesus is referring to being born from above (“What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”). Despite what the other Pharisees may be saying about him, Jesus has come to the world — and to people like Nicodemus — to invite them into a faith that is nothing less than the complete rebirth of their spirit. Born of the flesh we become members of the human family. Born of the Spirit, we become children of God. (see St. John 1:11-13)
The closing paragraphs of this text include one of the most familiar passages in all of Scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Martin Luther described it as “The Gospel in Miniature.” Countless Christians have memorized this verse over the years, and taken great comfort from it. Combined with the verse that follows (declaring that Jesus is sent to the world not for condemnation but for salvation), and Jesus’ previous words about the Spirit (it is like the wind, which blows where it chooses, and can’t be predicted — this is a play on words since the Greek word πνεύμα can mean either Spirit or wind), we are reminded that no amount of human effort can make us right with God. It is dependent on the mysterious movement of the Spirit, which draws us into the saving grace of Jesus, and allows us to live at peace with God. How is that for an invitation to explore the Triune nature of our God? We don’t choose God, and by our own believing become right with God. But God chooses us, mysteriously, surprisingly, powerfully, as the Spirit blows into our lives, and causes us to be born from above.
May that Spirit blow powerfully in our lives these days, that we, like Nicodemus, might not be drawn into the skepticism or opposition of those who surround us, but into the love and grace of God.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- What is Nicodemus looking for, as he goes to visit with Jesus?
- How does he misunderstand, at first, what Jesus is trying to say to him?
- What impact does this have on Nicodemus’ life and faith (for a hint, see St. John 19:38-42)?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- What intrigues me most about the teachings of Jesus, and the example of his life?
- When has the Holy Spirit blown me to a deeper place of faith and trust in God?
- How have I experienced God as creator, savior, and spirit?