Trinity Sunday

June 19, 2011
John 3:1-15

“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

With those five little words, “You must be born again”, Jesus turned every single religious teaching Nicodemus had been leaning on his entire life, upside down.

For his whole life, Nicodemus thought that he knew for certain that he was going to go to heaven when he died. You see, as a Pharisee, Nicodemus had been counting on two different things to get him into heaven.

First, he was counting on his religious heritage. He was a son of Abraham. And He was a Jew - one of God’s chosen people. Therefore, because of his religious heritage, he felt assured that he was going to - one day - enter the kingdom of God.

Second, he was also counting on his adherence to the religious Law. The Pharisees were the self-appointed guardians of the Law. In fact, they added some 600 different rules to the original Law of Moses. And Nicodemus was the chief of all rule-keepers. He was one of only seven members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious body of the Jews. He kept the rules to the absolute limit. So, Nicodemus was counting on his religious heritage, and his keeping of the Law, as his ticket to heaven.

But then, Jesus pulled the religious rug right out from under him. When Nicodemus asked the question, how can a man be born again when he is old? Jesus responded, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus didn’t know how to respond to what he heard. He didn’t know how to handle it. He was confused by our Lord’s words. Well, that same confusion exists today – even among some Christians.

Quite often, people tell me, especially at a funeral, “Well, he was a good man, or she was a good woman. He or she always tried to help others. They were always there when there was a need.” Unfortunately, that is the same kind of thinking that had Nicodemus putting his faith in the wrong things.

Being a good and moral person doesn’t get you into heaven - Nicodemus lived by the letter of the Law. Attending church doesn’t make you a Christian - Nicodemus attended synagogue three or more times a week. Believing there is only one God doesn’t get you into heaven - as James wrote in 2:19 of his Epistle, “thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: but the devils also believe, and tremble.”

In other words, Jesus was saying, “those things are all good, but that’s NOT good enough." According to Jesus, “being born of water and the Spirit” is what prepares someone for heaven. And that is what I want to talk about this morning. Being born again is about our relationship with God. Being born again is the birth that takes place when we are baptized.

If you were baptized as an infant, you probably don’t remember your own baptism. But, I’m sure all of you here have been to and witnessed someone else’s baptism. Do you recall what happened on that day? Words were said - Water was poured - Prayers were offered. And promises were made: God’s promises and our promises. On the day you were baptized – when that covenant…that promise…was made, each member of the Holy Trinity was present and involved (The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit).

After the birth of a child, a family will come to me and ask to have their child be baptized. And when I ask them, why they want their child baptized? The response I always hope for is, “in order that their sins are washed away”. And that is the correct answer because it is the first assurance and gift given in Baptism.

The gift of the Son is forgiveness of sins. Sin is a reality of who we are. It is a word that is rarely used outside of church. What it means is that we aren’t perfect – that we aren’t the people that God created us to be.

Our condition – our sinful nature is why Jesus came to earth. Turning to him, believing him, and trusting him, is what washes sin away.

The water - joins you to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The water - cleanses you from sin.
The water - allows you to come in to the presence of God.
You become clean - not because you can cleanse yourself, but because of what Jesus did.

So washing, cleansing is one of the gifts that we are given in baptism.

A second gift comes from God the Father. When you are reborn, you become (by adoption) a child of God the Father. Your re-birth puts you in a new relationship with God. In our world, we may have doubt about who the physical father of a child is – but in baptism an eternal bond is created that is even stronger than the one between an earthly parent and child.

How do you know that you are truly a child of God when you had nothing to do with it? Simply remember that the same is true of your physical birth. You had nothing to do with that either. You can know because you don’t become a child of God because of something that you did – but because of God’s action. God ADOPTS you as His child.

Now some of you may be thinking about loved ones who although baptized, no longer seem to care about their relationship with Jesus. I know that I did as I prepared this sermon. I thought of my youngest daughter who claims to believe, but isn’t living a Christian life. And it saddens me – more than you know. I thought of the single mother, whose baby I baptized - but that was the last time that she came to church. I thought about the wounds and difficulties they and others have suffered since they turned away from Christ and His church. But then I remembered God’s promise: They are His children. They may no longer acknowledge it - or live by it - but they are still children of God.

We don’t know exactly the eternal consequences of their separation from God because we are limited in our understanding. But this we do know – God is faithful. He named them as His children at their baptism and He will always welcome them back. The final gift of baptism comes from the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said we need to be “born of water and the Spirit”. “What is born of flesh is flesh, but what is born of spirit is Spirit.” It is the Spirit that gives you the assurance of your being a child of God.

That is, in your life you experience the reality of your relationship with God the Father through the Holy Spirit. He constantly brings the effects of your rebirth into your life. By that I mean, you see how you are changing – because of God being active in your life. It is that Spirit that gets you to respond – when God calls.

In other words, it is the Spirit that gives you the gift of meaning in your Christian life. Over the years, I have heard phrases like: “I’ve done my part – it is now time for others to do theirs.” And, “I’m too busy to be part of the activities of the church.” Or, “I don’t have anything to give – I have no talent.” And, “Someone else can do so much better than me – I won’t help.”

Separating yourself from what God is calling you to do – is ignoring the purpose of the gifts that the Spirit gives you to do ministry. Your ministry will change throughout your life, because you change throughout your life. And there will be different needs throughout your life that God will want you to fulfill in another’s life. What you can be sure of is that you are given gifts by God in order to provide and minister to others. They are the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

These seven gifts are part of the sanctifying grace that enables us to live a holy Christian life. So, what are the assurances and gifts given to you in baptism? The Washing away of sin by being joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus - given to you by God the Son. Rebirth as a child of God and adoption into the family of God - given to you by God the Father. The gifts necessary to provide purpose and meaning to your life, to live a godly life, and th grace to minister to others – given to you by the Holy Spirit.

All of these are yours…given…without any action on your own, because God is faithful. And when you experience them in your life, you will get a little glimpse of the kingdom God has promised to you, now and forever. Amen.

Last updated - June 24, 2011.