Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, May 26, 2024

YEAR B 2024 trinity sunday

Trinity Sunday, 2014
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, I have this friend I’ll call Steve.  Now Steve is a really great guy, and we’ve known each other a long time.  As with any friendship, there are things that start to bug you after a while, and here’s the most maddening thing about Steve:

When he is convinced that something is true about you, he will take out a billboard if he has to, so that everyone else will also know it’s true.  Now, you know, personal secrets aside, the worst thing about this is that Steve isn’t exactly the best listener, and he tends to generalize into big statements of so-called “truth.”

So, if I were to say, I’ve never really liked any of the Beatles’ songs written by George Harrison, Steve might say, “One thing I know about George is that he doesn’t like the Beatles because they’re British.”  If I said, “I prefer to live in a city,” Steve would say, “One thing I know about George is that he thinks people who live in the country are stupid.”  

And there’s really no arguing with Steve on this kind of stuff.  Because as soon as you start trying to explain that he misheard you, or misinterpreted what you said, well Steve will just smile knowingly, because you are clearly just trying to cover your tracks for being anti-British and hating farmers.  And the more you explain to Steve, the worse it gets.  Until eventually you learn that Steve goes through life “One thing I know”-ing everyone all the time, and that is just the way things are.  One thing I know about my friend Steve is that if he meets you, he will one day start a sentence about you with the phrase, “One thing I know about you is . . .”

Today’s gospel reading comes from the gospel of John.  And at the risk of sounding like my friend Steve, one thing I know about John is . . . There’s a lot of talk about light.  You remember how John’s gospel opens?  All that stuff about in the beginning was the Word?  We read it on Christmas day, and that section culminates with “a light has shined in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  Remember hearing that?

Okay, well in today’s reading, a Pharisee named Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night.  Now you can view that as meaning Nicodemus came to Jesus some time after sundown, sure.  But in a gospel book that opens with all that talk of the power of light, it’s far more significant to consider that Nicodemus is coming in darkness, in ignorance, in a state of not understanding.  John’s gospel is packed with symbolic language, so it makes sense that this man coming to Jesus by night means more than just “after sundown.”

Anyway, he gets there and the first thing he says to Jesus is, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”  Let’s turn that into a my-friend-Steve-ism, shall we?  Nicodemus comes to Jesus in darkness and says, “One thing I know about you Jesus is that you are a teacher who has come from God.”  Or, put another way, Nicodemus, who comes in darkness, is telling Jesus what he can see.  (Get it?)

And Jesus says to him, No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.  To which Nicodemus says, “One thing I know about you Jesus is that you think a man needs to be born a second time.”  Now, okay, we can give Nicodemus a break here because the Greek word “AN-o-then” can mean both “from above” and also mean “again.”  So, I wouldn’t try to say that Nicodemus was intentionally twisting Jesus’ words.  Just like I never accuse my friend Steve of intentionally misunderstanding what I say.  In the case of Nicodemus, he comes in darkness with what he thinks he knows.  Jesus tells him that he cannot understand unless he is led by the Spirit, unless he is given a new way of seeing.  

Jesus explains a little more about how the Spirit moves people and gives them new insight and understanding, and Nicodemus still doesn’t get it.    He asks, “How can these things be?”  And now it’s time for Jesus to be shocked.  “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”  It’s like saying, you’re a Regional Manager and you don’t understand where the product we sell comes from?

This story opens with this: “There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.  He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘We know . . .’”  You can see now from the opening sentence that this is going to end badly.  A leader comes in darkness to tell Jesus what he can see.  He comes in ignorance to tell Jesus what he knows.  He hears Jesus talking about where babies come from when Jesus is telling him where the Spirit comes from.  I mean, you want to talk about two people talking past each other!  

Jesus says to him, “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”  And so Jesus goes back to basics.  Jesus goes back to what we all think we know about Jesus.  You know, John 3:16, right?  One thing we know about Jesus is "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

In fact, not only do you and I know this, but everyone who’s ever watched the Superbowl knows this.  People who don’t know the first thing about Christianity can quote John 3:16.  One thing we know about Jesus is . . . 

See the trouble?  See how we’ve just walked ourselves into the danger of being like my friend Steve?  One thing we know about saying “One thing I know” is that it’s probably going to be wrong.  Right?  Because there is nothing in this world that can be boiled down to “One thing I know.”  When someone starts a sentence with “One thing I know” it means that they have already stopped listening for a second thing to know.

“One thing I know” is code language for “I come to you in darkness.”  I do not understand earthly things, so I certainly will not be understanding heavenly things.  But you know what may help?  Having some kind of connection between earthly things and heavenly things.  Because, on some level we do understand earthly things.  We do understand some basic facts of life.  If only there were a way to make the connection between the earthly things and the heavenly things.  Let’s put John 3:16 in the context of the verse before and after it and see if that helps us at all . . .

Jesus said, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

Nicodemus would know the story of Moses in the wilderness with the serpent.  Remember that one?  The people were getting bit by snakes, and God told Moses to put a snake thing on a pole and whoever looked at it would be healed?  Okay, so the one who comes in darkness knows that story, and Jesus connects it to his being lifted up on the cross.  And the reason Jesus is available for us to put him on the cross is because of the sacrificial love of God.  Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

That is the context of John 3:16.  One thing I know about Jesus is . . . Well, is more than one thing, of course.  But these three things are certain:  Jesus brings healing to those who are being bitten by the snakes of life, and he does so because God loves people, and not because God condemns people.  And maybe this is where we really can count on using the phrase from my friend Steve.  Maybe just this once we can boil it all down to one simple sentence.  And that sentence would be this:
The one thing I know about Jesus is that God loves you.


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