Read John 3:1-17 and Romans 8:12-17
Last week was Pentecost, which is relatively straightforward for a preacher, it’s all about the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. Hoorah, Happy birthday Church!
One week later and it is Trinity Sunday, which is a whole different ballgame, as the New Testament doesn’t mention the Trinity as a ‘thing’. It was a mysterious concepts that appeared in the early centuries of the Church when its leaders were trying to get their heads around the connection between God the Creator, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. There was lots of controversy, heresies even, and arguments galore for the first almost 400 years of the Church until they came up with the concept of the Trinity that we hold to, namely that God is known in three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, all divine, all equal, Three persons in One. And ever since Christians have tried their best to use diagrams, triangles and shamrocks and the like to picture what is meant by the word or phrase, and never really found one that really hits the nail properly on its head.
Our readings both talk about God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and I think rather than worrying about getting the connections absolutely perfect between the three (in one), it’s interesting to see how they connect in real life, as understood in these Scriptures and in our own Christian experience.
So, let’s start briefly in John’s Gospel and that well-known story of Nicodemus. In fact, let’s focus in on that idea of rebirth that Jesus talks about, which has nothing to do with physical birth, but everything to do with a spiritual rebirth, that moment of realising who Jesus is and what he has done for us, our humble and grateful response and the blessing we receive.
Jesus talks of no one entering the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Now water is the biblical symbol of cleansing. When we accept all that Jesus Christ has done for us on the Cross, when we love him with all of our heart and soul, then the past with its sins is forgiven and forgotten.
But even that’s not enough, because we’re only human and quite capable of repeating the mistakes of the past. So enters the Holy Spirit into our lives, to strengthen us, to be our guide and mentor. And yes, that is difficult to explain other than by the day to day experience of so many. But this experience of God’s saving and sustaining power, says Jesus, is what it’s like to be welcomed into the kingdom of God, which is the very life of God.
So it is that we find ourselves experiencing all that God is, without all those theological arguments of the past. We experience the love and grace of God, the creator, through his presence on earth in the life of Jesus, and within us for all time through the Holy Spirit. You can’t really separate the three because they are all part of that continual historical connection and relationship between Creator and creation which is still being written in the hearts of people throughout the world.
And yes, that is not something that’s easy to explain. If you struggle with some aspects of faith then you are in good company, because Nicodemus also struggled to work out what Jesus was on about in this conversation, and he was a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish council and well versed in the Scriptures.
That, says Jesus, is where faith comes in. He uses a picture of the wind, something which anyone living in Wales would know something about surely!
You can feel the wind, says Jesus, you can see it in the way it causes things to happen, like leaves moving on the trees, even if it’s actually invisible. You’ve no real idea where it came from, or where it’s going but that doesn’t stop you from believing in it.
So it is with anyone who experiences this new birth, this being ‘born again’ in the Spirit. You don’t need a theological degree or to be a scholar to see the effect on someone’s life, you just need to see the difference and listen to how that life has moved, in the wind of the Spirit, from where it was to where it is now. It’s as much a mystery as the wind, but no less real.
And that’s worth doing something about, says Paul in our second reading. That life changing experience is not something to hide away. That’s not how the church of God grows, by pretending nothing has changed when you know it has. Think about Pentecost, which we celebrated last week. What would have happened if, when the Holy Spirit settled on that group of ordinary, but still scared people gathered in a room, they pretended nothing had happened?
It doesn’t really bear thinking about, and I guess that Jesus knew them well enough before he went to the Cross ,to believe that they would not react in that way. That group of folk, with a love of Jesus still in their hearts, now empowered by the Holy Spirit would open the door effectively for millions of others to be welcomed into the kingdom of God, to know the love and grace of God seen through Jesus, and to feel his presence through the Holy Spirit.
To know that ‘new life’ should be the start of a journey of knowledge and intimacy with God. Listen again to the Message version of Paul’s words to the Church in Rome, and see how Father, Son and Spirit is actually more than a Trinity, because their relationship also includes the believer, you and me.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!