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Trinity Sunday, May 31, 2015

My friend Lynne has very bad vision. When she was a little girl and finally got glasses, she could see for the first time that the leaves on the trees were separate and not just one big glob. Her new lenses changed the whole world for her. The same goes for all of us. Whenever our glasses or contacts prescription is updated, we are relieved. Maybe the world has been blurry before, some of it too small to see, but when we see anew, we feel a huge sense of relief.

Jesus was in Jerusalem at Passover and performed some signs and wonders. But he didn’t trust himself to anyone who thought these were the way to God because he knew better. He knew a person – himself – was the way, the truth and the life. Against this background Nicodemus comes to Jesus. He is a prominent Jewish leader and teacher, a member of the Sanhedrin. He is curious about Jesus. But he comes in the middle of the night, perhaps afraid of persecution or ridicule from his fellow teachers. Now there are two teachers together in the dark, talking about the mysterious kingdom of God. Nicodemus espouses the view of the signs and wonders contingent. He and some others know that Jesus is a teacher come from God because of the things he does. Nicodemus wants a religion that can be proved, that can be based on empirical evidence, and Jesus is doing work like the prophets before him. Nicodemus likes nice neat categories, just as most people do.

But Jesus wants to teach him differently. He wants him to understand about the real kingdom of God that he knows about, that is near and that is possible to enter. So Jesus teaches Nicodemus and us about the power of the kingdom – the power of the Spirit, the power of Jesus and the power of God. When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born from above to see the kingdom of God, the Pharisee is still wearing what I’ll call his physical reality lenses. Instead of listening further to Jesus, he identifies this new birth with being born again from the mother’s womb and everyone knows that is impossible. But Nicodemus got one thing right – being born from above, just as being born from the womb creates new life because we change our lenses and enter the realm of the Spirit. Jesus tries again. Water and the Spirit are required to get into the kingdom of God. Jesus is talking about spiritual realities and all the while, Nicodemus has on his physical reality lenses.

The flesh and the Spirit are two different things, Jesus says and Paul echoes that in Romans, when he tells Christians that they are debtors to the spirit and not the flesh. He says that what is born of the flesh will die and what is born of the Spirit will live. For Jesus, life in the Spirit is renewing, transforming and eternal. Life in the flesh is not. Life in the flesh is not about the body or humanity because God loves us in our totality including our physical selves. Life in the flesh is any life on earth that is apart from God – anything evil or even anything done without considering God in your life and what God wills for you.

Because the Spirit comes from God, it is the breath of God. It blows where it will and no one knows where it comes from and where it goes. Not only that, the same is true for life in the Spirit. Living in the kingdom of God requires trust, and those who are born from above in the Spirit are flexible and open to the Spirit’s leading. They listen for the wind and follow as it leads them. They put their carefully laid plans aside to do what kingdom life dictates, whether it is serving others or changing jobs or being more generous or just changing plans when they feel the Spirit moving.

The Spirit is the first reality of the kingdom of God. You must be born from above to enter the kingdom and that means being intimately involved with the Spirit. It also means believing in Jesus. Jesus is the one who has been in heaven and has come down from heaven to tell the truth about what God is like – about God’s longing for the human race not to destroy itself through evil deeds, but to live in harmony with God forever. God knows that God’s purpose will be acted out in Jesus, the one who knows the Father’s will, but God also knows that it will not be like a magic wand waved over the earth and everyone will believe. Those reality lenses are powerful forces that people hold on to with grasping, clutching fingers. Spiritual realities are not controllable or even understandable, and this ambiguity is not something that people want in their lives.

Jesus knows his part in God’s plan. Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness and saved all those who looked at it with faith in God’s love from the poisonous snakes God had sent into the camp. Jesus compares himself to Moses. He is the life-giver, the salvation-bringer, the redeemer through his being lifted up, not only on the cross, where he reconciles the world to himself, but also in his exaltation in his ascension after he has been resurrected, conquering death and sin. To believe this about Jesus is to have eternal life, to take off the reality lenses and try on the spiritual lenses that are being freely offered by God, the optometrist. Eternal life is a new quality of life. By believing in Jesus as God’s son, we are raised with him to a new life of grace. We trust and hope in his goodness and love and we set our sights on spiritual things.

Jesus and the Spirit are God’s agents in the world, but the whole plan of salvation hinges on God. God loves the world. God does not want the world to perish, but to live life transformed and renewed. God wants the world to be saved through Jesus. Unfortunately, Jesus goes on to say after our passage, most people have chosen the dark rather that Jesus, the light of the world because they are doing evil deeds and they don’t want the light to find them. They don’t want to step out into the sun and have their deeds exposed. Unless they do, and accept the grace of a changed life, says Jesus, they will perish.

Today is Trinity Sunday. None of the New Testament writers have a well-developed, we-can-know this for-sure concept of the Trinity, but the three persons we acknowledge as part of the Trinity are in this passage. What can we say about them? First they are all loving. They all want the world to be part of the loving relationship they share. They are all a part of the way to get into the kingdom – God loving the world God has created, God sending God’s Son and the Holy Spirit’s coming like the wind.

How is this message for us? It is a reminder to us that sometimes we hold too tight to our reality lenses, where we want something to be rational and proved. We don’t want to have faith without seeing signs and wonders because it is too out there, too much of a risk. But we need to put on our spiritual lenses and we will see and enter the kingdom. We need to dance with the Spirit and blow the way the wind blows us. Following the path of the wind is being born from above and will get us into the kingdom. We need to look at Jesus lifted on the cross and ascended in exaltation to heaven and believe that he is the Son of God. Then we will not perish but have eternal life. And we need to trust in God’s love, because it is through God all these things are possible. When we take ourselves and our new lenses into the world, we see things differently. We think about loving and serving and giving, rather than acquiring and hoarding and running roughshod over people. Our lives will change, and the people around us will experience changed lives because of us. That is what Jesus is calling us to. That is what Jesus wants us to bring into our everyday lives – a new look and a transformed spirit. New life in the love of the Trinity is a gift to be received and cherished. Take a new look, believe and enter the kingdom of God.


     - Rev. Ann Barker