Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2021 Year B
Nicodemus isn’t the only one with a question about “birth”. A story is told of a girl who was assigned to write an essay on birth. She went home and asked her mother how she had been born. Her mother was very busy at the time and said, “The stork brought you, darling, and left you on the doorstep.”
The girl continued her research by asking her dad how he had been born. Being in the middle of something, her father similarly deflected the question by saying, “I was found at the bottom of the garden. The fairies brought me.”
Then the girl went and asked her grandmother how she had arrived. “I was picked from a gooseberry bush,” said the grandma.
With this information the girl dutifully wrote her essay. When the teacher asked her later to read it in front of the class, she stood up and began, “There has not been a natural birth in our family for three generations.”
When Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of being born from above – or being born anew – Jesus isn’t talking about a natural birth. As he explains to Nicodemus, he’s talking of a spiritual birth, a birth that was – that is – somehow supernatural.
“Very truly, I tell you,” Jesus says, “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is Spirit.”
Compared to our natural birth, our spiritual birth might seem a mystery. The mystery that’s involved in it is the mystery of God, the God who made us and gave us our first birth; the God who saves us by becoming one with us, dying with us and for us; the God who lives and works in us and gives us our second, our unnatural, birth.
So our experience of God is a marvelous and mysterious one. It’s actually comprised of more than one reality. We have and we know the God of Isaiah; the God who is high and lifted up in his temple; the God who speaks and brings forth all of creation; the God who is judge, lord, ruler, king; the God who is, in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes.
This God is strange to us; this God is beyond us; this God we dare not touch, even though we know this God and he knows us, even though we see this God’s signs all around us.
And then we have the God who is in Christ, the God who is Christ, the God who is lowly and humble, the God who reaches out and touches others, the God who serves others, the God who walks the earth with us, who cries and laughs with us; the God who calls God Abba, Father; the God who is tempted with us; the God who embraces and encourages us; the God who surrenders himself to death for us, having only the promise and the hope of being raised to life again.
And we have and know God the Spirit -- God the bringer of visions and dreams, God the source of strength and hope, God the supplier of healing words and of comforting prayer; God the wind, the breath, the air we breathe; God the transformer, the one who gives new birth, new life; God the presence within us and the presence all around us; God calling to us -- calling for us – calling through us – calling in us.
We are children of God, says Paul. When we cry Abba, Father, it is the Spirit of God bearing witness with our Spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
As Christians, we don’t know all that there is to know about God. After all, God is immeasurably greater than our knowledge of Him. But we do know what God has shown about Himself. We know God in three different ways – we experience Him in three ways – we love Him in three ways.
C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, tries to describe part of this three-fold knowing, this three-fold loving, in his description of a Christian at prayer. “What I mean is this,” he writes. “An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get in touch with God. But if he is a Christian, he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God – God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God -- that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You can see what is happening [says Lewis]. God is the thing to which he is praying, the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on, the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. The whole threefold life of the three-person Being is actually going on in that ordinary act of prayer.” [end of a rather long quote]
Is it possible to develop a simple mental picture of God? One simple portrait of what our life in God is like – or ought to be like?
It’s tough if we are determined to think that things are either black or white, and if we go to incredible lengths to cram things around us into one or the other of those black or white categories. But God is greater than any category, any system of thought or classification, and so is our life in him.
I am a sinner. We’re all sinners, unworthy to touch the hem of the robe worn by Jesus. Nevertheless, I am a child of God. We are all children of God, intimately acquainted with his Spirit, a joint heir with his Son of all the riches of heaven.
Our God is a mystery, and the life that our God gives to us is a mystery, but because God, within that mystery, touches us, it’s mystery that we can experience and savor and know something of.
As Christians, we yield ourselves to the outrageous claims of Jesus – his claim to be the Son of God, his claim to be the way, the truth and the life, his claim to be in the Father and the Father in him.
As Christians, we see the hand of God in the world around us. We see the hand of God in the lives of people around us. We sense that God is reaching out and calling people to himself. We sense that God struggles within people, trying to convince them of the beauty that is within them. We feel the need to pray for others, to tell others that God is all around us, the compulsion to suddenly stop in the midst of turmoil and thank God for little things.
Christians are blessed to experience the giftedness of grace in our lives. We know the incredible miracle of the indwelling God. We know that we are born from above; and we know that that’s totally miraculous, totally the work of God.
We see in the Scriptures God described as three yet one. We see in the Scriptures God as creator, redeemer, and sustainer. We see in the Scriptures God as Father, and as Son, and as Holy Spirit. We see in the Scriptures God as loving parent, dear brother, and caring presence.
Poor Nicodemus. You wonder. Is all this making his head spin?
Understanding how one can be born anew is a lot for him to wrap his mind around. It hardly seems natural. But then, it’s not natural to us either. Rather than being natural, it’s the divine gift of God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
For which we say, thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia.