For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
June 3, 2012 (The Holy Trinity, Series B)
I saw a sign once on the door of a professor’s office at the Seminary. It went something like this. “We hope that we have answered your questions. Unfortunately, our answers have only caused you to raise new questions for which we have no answers, leaving us as confused as before. However, we feel that we are now confused on a much higher level, and about much more important things, than before.” That’s probably the way Nicodemus felt after his conversation with Jesus in our text. He went to Jesus to get clarification and information about Jesus’ message and mission, so that he could help the Sanhedrin get some idea who and what they were dealing with. However, the answers Jesus gave him only confused him more than ever. Born again? I can’t go back again into my mother’s womb and be reborn, can I? The whole idea is absurd! And then Jesus chides Nicodemus that he didn’t already understand these things, despite the fact that he was a teacher of Israel. Isn’t Jesus being just a bit unreasonable here? Shouldn’t he have been more patient with Nicodemus and spent the time to try to help him understand?
The problem is not with Jesus’ presentation of the subject matter. The fact is, what Nicodemus was asking wasn’t something that can be conveyed as mere information. When we are dealing with the great and deep mysteries of the Christian faith, there comes a point when more explaining and teaching will not help matters any, in fact it’s more likely to cause problems than to help. Granted, sometimes we need to do a lot of explaining so that we can clearly see that certain ideas are contrary to the Christian faith and to be rejected—that’s the origin of the Athanasian Creed which we confess today and every year on Trinity Sunday. It was written to clearly reject the wrong ideas that some were teaching in those days regarding the Holy Trinity and regarding the union of God and Man in Jesus Christ. But the Athanasian Creed, or any creed for that matter, is an attempt to confess a revelation which doesn’t make sense to human reason, and so there does come a point beyond which the explanations simply aren’t going to be helpful anymore. The reason for this is that when we talk about Christian theology and Christian doctrine, we’re not talking about a subject like science or mathematics, where one studies inanimate objects or logical ideas from a “scientific” or neutral perspective to find out what makes them tick. The study of Christian theology is the study of relationships between conscious persons, both relationships between the persons of the Holy Trinity, and also the relationships between the Holy Trinity and we His creatures. And as with any study of the subject of interpersonal relationships, you can’t get too far in it if you’re trying to be “objective,” “neutral,” or “scientific” about it. In order to understand a relationship between persons, you have to be part of that relationship.
This is the point that Jesus was trying to make to Nicodemus when he said that he needed to be “born again” in order to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus was what all of us are, namely sinful and unclean, opposed to the true God and inherently hostile to any living relationship to Him. As such, He could not have the relationship to God that was necessary for the answer to his questions. A new Nicodemus had to be created, one who had been washed clean of all his sinfulness and who was perfect and holy as God had intended him. This new Nicodemus would be in relationship with the Triune God because he would be a branch of the true Vine, Jesus Christ. It is only by being born again through Holy Baptism that any of us are able to see the Kingdom of God. It is only by being brought into relationship with the Holy Trinity that we are able to understand or appreciate the meaning of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. This is why Isaiah objected to being in the presence of the Living, Holy God in our Old Testament lesson. He could not have survived being in God’s presence unless he was cleansed from his sin, unless he was, as Jesus says, born again through the Holy Spirit’s power.
So we need to be in relationship with God, that is, we need to be born again and made into new creatures, in order to partake of God’s Kingdom and understand Him rightly. This is not surprising when you think about it. After all, we are created in God’s image. That means that we are created to be in relationship with other persons, whether those be friends, parents, children, husband or wife, or God Himself, we are not created to be alone. After all, God Himself is not alone. He is one, but He is also three Persons, each of whom is in an eternal, perfect, loving and giving relationship with the other two. The mystery of the Holy Trinity tells us that we are not meant to be solo or independent. And the highest relationship for which we are created is the relationship with God Himself, the relationship that was broken by our sinfulness and has now been restored through our new birth into God’s kingdom and family.
This new birth in us happens by the Holy Spirit’s power in Holy Baptism, where our sins are washed away, and God’s Word which declares us righteous actually accomplishes what it says and makes us into new, righteous and holy creatures. In Baptism we become holy creatures capable of standing in the presence of the holy God. We are restored to the relationship with God for which we were originally created. We become participants in the love, the fellowship, and the joy which is shared among the Persons of the Holy Trinity.
Of course, if we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we are still sinners as well. The new man which has been created in us by Holy Baptism is perfect and righteous, but until we die our old sinful selves are clinging to us as well. And so we constantly need to return to the waters of our Baptism to again be restored to the righteousness and the purity that was given us there. This happens through the preaching of the forgiveness of sins, in the Word of God and in the sermon, and especially in the Holy Absolution, in which the names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are again spoken over you as the Holy Spirit again strengthens and feeds the new, perfect creation in you which has been hurt and injured and perhaps even destroyed through your sin. Through the proclamation of forgiveness also the Triune God restores you to the relationship with Himself that He created you to experience.
And how is this fellowship expressed? He takes up residence in us and is with us to bless us and comfort us all the time. But we can’t see or touch or taste Him in our heart. We can see and touch and taste the bread and the wine in which He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink, however. By taking into ourselves His body and blood, we express and experience the close fellowship we have with our God. By the Holy Spirit’s power Christ Himself enters into us and sanctifies us as His temple, and the Father Himself adopts us as His children for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ who has given His life for us and has now made us His own. We become included in the infinite love, the infinite joy, and the infinite peace that the Persons of the Trinity share with one another. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +