SERMON FOR TRINITY SUNDAY
JUNE 3, 2012
GOSPEL: ST. JOHN 3:1-15
Once a long time ago, while walking through the woods with my father, I stepped upon a clump of grass and noticed this diamond shaped long slithering object sliding by. Dad, what is that, A SNAKE, jump out of the way! There in front of me was a clear and present danger. I jumped and ran! I was doing everything I could to move away from it.
There is a way in which all of us are in a similar, yet perhaps more subtle danger. We are in danger of existing and never living. We are in danger of being religious, but never really knowing God. We are in danger of knowing about God, but never experiencing God. We are in danger of living only for this life, and not being prepared for what is to come. This does not seem as dangerous to us, but it is the plan of our spiritual enemy to lead us away from God and keep us from experiencing God. The Bible tells us, “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray “(Revelation 12:9). The danger from this serpent is that we will be led astray from our real purpose in this world – to know God and to live for him, we must be careful not to be separated from him in the world to come.
The question is this: “How do we experience God?” Sometimes even the most sincere people who have grown up in the church do not understand what it means to experience God, or how to make Him a reality in their life. This was the case of Nicodemus, the man in our scripture this morning. He was a Pharisee, a religious person, knowledgeable of the Scriptures, but he did not understand what it meant to know God. He thought that a relationship with God was all about performance. He thought that the better he was at keeping the rules, the closer to God he was. Jesus confused Nicodemus when he said: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3) Jesus was talking about a relationship with God, and Nicodemus was thinking in terms of the following the rules to the “T”. Jesus was talking about an experience with God, and Nicodemus was used to thinking in terms of obedience to God. Jesus was talking about entering into a new kind of experience – a birth into the spiritual world, and Nicodemus did not understand the spiritual world and what it meant to be born into it. Many faithful church goers today are mystified by it as well. Let’s see if we can simplify it.
A person either knows they have been living away from God and wants to come home, or they are just unsure of whether they have been, as Jesus said, born anew spiritually. So where do you start?
The first step is” CONFESSION. This is simple, but it is also difficult. It is simple because it is simply a matter of admitting that we have failed; it is difficult because it is a matter of admitting we have failed. Our human tendency is to want to justify ourselves and explain our behavior. We want to compare ourselves with others, but God calls us to be honest and admit our sin, confessing it to him, and possibly to others as well. The last thing we want to do is to take an honest look at our sin and face the wrong things we have done. We do not like to admit we are wrong. But this is exactly what we must do. King David gives us the model prayer: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin, For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” (Psalm 51:1-4)
John wrote to the early Christians: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” (1 John 1:9-10). And in the book of Proverbs we find: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13).
If we confess our sins; not if we hide our sins. If we confess our sins — not if we pretend we don’t have any. If we confess our sins; not if we are blind to them. If we confess our sins — that is when we find forgiveness, and not until then.
But you say: “What if I can’t remember all of them?” “What then?” We do not need to enumerate each and every thing we have done. It is that we are honest and acknowledge that we have sinned by thought, word, and deed. We come humbly and honestly to God asking for His forgiveness. This is what Nicodemus seemed not to be able to do. He kept wanting to get into a theological argument with Jesus. He wanted to skirt the real issues and avoid having to confess his failure. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” THIS is the wonderful promise of God.
Following “Confession” comes “REPENTANCE.” Wouldn’t it be great if we could just get a ‘ticket’ to heaven? Many of us would just like to shoot up a quick prayer asking for forgiveness and have everything be all right. I do not recommend waiting until your dying breath to get right with God. I don’t suggest asking God to forgive you and then continuing to do as you please. Remember Jesus began his ministry with these simple words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2). To repent means to have a feeling of deep regret that turns you from sin and changes your heart so that you desire to do the will of God. You change from doing your will to doing God’s will. You want to follow God’s way rather than having your way. You fix your love on God. You lose your fascination with sin and want to be done with it. You don’t just want your sin forgiven, you want to have the power to overcome it.
Repentance does not mean that you will never sin again, for that is impossible for us as humans, but it does mean that when we do sin we continue to turn from it. As an example there is this little story about the late Christian musician Rich Mullins: “One rainy day he got into a blistering argument with his manager, Gay Quisenberry. Angry words were hurled back and forth, and Rich stormed out the door. Early the next morning, Gay was awakened from a sound sleep by the loud buzz of a motor outside her house. Groggy, she looked out the window and saw Rich mowing her lawn!” Mullins sinned in his attitude and in his actions, but he turned from it and made it right. Repentance is not a one time event, it is a daily experience.
This repentance leads to a new obedience. Jesus said, “Why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on the rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. (Luke 6:46-48).
Now we come to Conversion. A term which Anglicans shy away from. But conversion is an experience with God and is not something we manufacture. It is a supernatural thing. It is not something we do for God, it is something He does for us. He changes our heart. Jeremiah explained it something like this: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” St. Paul put it like this; “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.”
Nicodemus evidently experienced a conversion, in spite of his initial spiritual dullness and resistance. We read about him defending Jesus before the Pharisees as they were plotting against him – earning him a severe rebuke (John 7:50-51). He also shows up after the crucifixion of Jesus and helps Joseph of Arimathea anoint the body of Jesus, wrap it, and bury it. Both of these acts were done at great personal risk, and possibly got him expelled from the Temple. This shows that something had happened to the heart of Nicodemus. He could have held on to his title as a religious teacher in Israel and resented that Jesus was trying to teach him something, but he humbled himself and experienced a new birth. No one can bring about their own conception and birth, this is the gift of God. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith it is the gift of God. Remember Jesus told Nicodemus: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of the water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to the spirit. You have a physical birth that brings you into the physical world, but then you need to be born into the spiritual world. And this is the work of God. It happens when you invite Christ to live inside your heart.
And so my people, the final step is “FAITH”. What good does it do for God to forgive you if you do not believe He has done what He said He would do? We must exercise faith. We must believe in God. We must believe that he has forgiven us and given us a new life leading to the kingdom of heaven.
For example: What if your spouse sincerely loved you and frequently told you that he/she loved you, and you refused to believe them? How would it make them feel? How could you have a meaningful relationship without having faith in their love? It is no less in your relationship with God. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Many times, people will say that it is not possible to know whether you are right with God and have heaven as your home. This would be true if we were basing our relationship with God on our ability to be good. But we are not trusting in our ability to be good, we are trusting in God’s goodness – this grace and his love for us. It we are trusting ourselves, then we will never be sure, but if we are trusting God, then we are full of assurance. God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:11-13). If it were not possible for us to know that we are right with God the Scripture would not make this wonderful promise. God is expressing his love to us in countless ways and wants us to receive it and respond to it.
Saint Augustine, who was a leader in the church some 400 years after Christ, was not always a saint. He lived a life of lewd debauchery prior to his conversion. Not long after his conversion and his new relationship with Christ, he was walking down the street in the city of Milan, Italy, where he lived. As he walked, he came across a prostitute whom he had known intimately. She spoke to him, but he would not answer and continued to walk. She was surprised and called after him, “Augustine, it is I!” He did not look back. He did not break his stride, but simply said: “Yes, but it is no longer I.” He had the assurance that not only did he now have an experience with God, but that he was a new man. A change had taken place. The old was gone because the new had come.
So today as you come to receive Holy Communion ask God to cleanse your heart and make you new. Ask God to give you a heart that will love and follow Him. Tell God you believe in Him and trust in Him; and that you give him your Love and everything that you have and are in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.