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"Rebirth...most needed by religious people who might think they do not need it."



Trinity Sunday, May 31, 2015
The Reverend John Ohmer, Rector
The Falls Church Episcopal

On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate one of the most important aspects of our faith, and that’s relationship. We’re reminded today of our belief in God as One God in Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which means that God is, God’s self, a relationship: Father loving Son, Son loving Spirit, Spirit loving Father, loving so much the love spills out, overflows…God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.

Something to remember: “God the Son” did not start, or begin, 2000 years or so ago that first Christmas. Jesus wasn’t the beginning, or start, of God-the-Son. Rather, we believe God the Son, who has been and always was co-existing with God the Holy Spirit and God the Father as One God, became incarnate, (in-carne, “in flesh”), took on our human nature that first Christmas. Jesus wasn’t the beginning of God the Son but the taking on of flesh of God the Son.

So what? Why is that important, why should you care?

Again, relationship.

Taking these notions seriously will change

·         your understanding of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, which will change
·         your relationship with your Bible, which will change
·         your relationship with God, which will change
·         your relationship with yourself and with others.

I think it's important to add here that God does not generally force changes in relationship. God doesn’t kick down the door to our heart; he’s described as standing at the door knocking; up to us to get up and invite God in. We’re free to resist changes in our relationship with the Bible, with God, and with others. But if we yield to them, and welcome these changes in relationship, they will be so deep, and affect so many aspects of our life, change our outlook on life so much, that over time or all of a sudden -- to quote John Wesley -- “we feel our hearts strangely warmed” – there’ll be a feeling of being born anew/above, transformation of life, a fresh start.

That’s part of the reason that on Trinity Sunday, this story from the Gospel of John about Nicodemus is assigned to be read.

This man, a ruler, a leader, named Nicodemus, comes to Jesus by night.

Nicodemus is more than an individual person; he’s a representative. He’s meant to represent a certain type of religious person, specifically the Sanhedrin, the religious ruling class, leaders. As a commentator on this passage wrote[1], “rebirth is a spiritual experience available to all, but perhaps most needed by religious people who might think they do not need it. [When] religion becomes a matter of the correct observance of particular practices, [and these] practices become routine, they may actually serve to hinder spiritual sensitivity [and] and a spiritual transformation in such situations is very much needed.”  

Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, in order to be secretive about it, and at first he relates to Jesus as “Rabbi,” or teacher. And Jesus meets Nicodemus where he is: he doesn’t say, “come back when you are ready to be seen in public with me.” He meets with him, meets him exactly where he is.

And having met him exactly where he is, Jesus invites him to a deeper understanding, a higher understanding of himself, religion, and God. For example: when Nicodemus “you’re a great teacher,” Jesus says, “Unless you are born anew, you cannot see the kingdom of God.” And at first Nicodemus takes Jesus’ statement literally:  “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

So Jesus explains: I’m not talking about literal birth, being born again, I’m talking about spiritual birth, being born from above.

Nicodemus tells Jesus that he’s a great teacher, but Jesus starts talking about new life! 

Jesus meets Nicodemus, and us, right where we are, but Jesus also challenges Nicodemus, and us. 

Nicodemus is challenged, and we are challenged, to relate to Jesus as teacher, yes, but more than that.

(You can admire a teacher, you can respect a teacher, you can even have a teacher as your mentor and role model…but you don’t normally trust your life to a teacher.)

And there is something about God that you can trust with your life. That’s why we’re talking about a change in relationship.

That’s why I said it’s important to take God being revealed as Trinity (One God in three persons) seriously…if we understand Jesus as more than a great Rabbi or teacher, but as the enfleshed Son of God who always existed co-eternally with God the Father and Holy Spirit, but who walked the face of this earth for 33 years, then your understanding of Jesus’ relationship with the Father and Holy Spirit will change. The authority with which Jesus speaks changes: when Jesus says things like, “the kingdom of God is like this…” you’ll have a sense he’s speaking with pretty good authority. You don’t have to just wonder what God’s priorities are, what God cares about, what angers or delights God: you can find out, by looking at the life that Jesus led, hearing again the stories he told, reading again about the way he treated people, the way he reacted to hard-heartedness, judgmentalism, religious rigidity.  

Which is why I say your relationship with your Bible will change. Stories and parables and passages will suddenly take on new and fresh meaning. You’ll have “ah-ha!” moments. Realizations. Epiphanies.

Which is why I say   
·         your relationship with God will change. God becomes, if God has not become before for you, alive, dynamic, wild, original, present, loving, gazing on you, not judging, but adoring, encouraging.

And if that is your relationship with God, then
·         your relationship with yourself and with others will change. Because you’ll see yourself, truly know yourself as beloved. Treasured. Created out of love, to love.  

And once you have had those thoughts, those feelings – even for just a fleeting second – that this is true –

that God is alive and is deeply concerned for you and
that God has the power and the willingness to work things out –

once and whenever, to the degree you feel the ability to turn things over to the Lord
instead of worrying about them,
you feel yourself being born anew, born from above. You feel new life, new possibility. 

What flows from that is more peace in your life…
…a deeper sense of relaxation, more often, because you feel fundamentally and permanently cared for.

What flows from that is an increased desire to be in the presence of God, whether that is in Scripture, or in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Either way, you want more frequent communion with the incarnate Word of God. 

These changes in your life are so deep, and affect so many other aspect of our life, change our outlook on life so fundamentally, that over time or all of a sudden, “we feel our hearts strangely warmed” -- there is a feeling of being born anew. Of being born, again.

And if there is anything that a newborn represents, it is possibility. Total trust.

No matter who you are, or where you are in your spiritual journey, you are welcome. God will meet you there. But he also invites you to move on.

God wants to renew you, give you a new heart, help you get rid of all your old habits and give you new wonderful ones.

As with Nicodemus, it is never too late for this work. God will meet you at night; God will meet you as teacher.

But God will also invite you to be born anew, from above.

God will invite you to a new kind of life…a way of living so different than the anxious lives we are used to that it will seem like a new life, like you have been born, again.

--##--


 [1] Emmanuel Y. Lartey, Feasting on the Word B3, p. 46. 

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