On the Power of Three
May 31, 2021
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
John 3: 1-17
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “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.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 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.”
Our sermon is titled On the Power of Three. Three is my favorite number. Three seems like a very stable number to me. When I think of three, I do not imagine the Arabic number “3” I imagine instead the three points on a triangle like this .
I think of a sturdy three-legged stool and I remember how much fun it was to ride a tricycle because I was not afraid of falling over. When I think of three I see trillium flowers in my mind and the Holy Trinity in my heart; God as parent, Jesus as son, and the Holy Spirit as the invisible force of love that connects all of humanity with the Divine.
In our reading from John this week, Jesus is trying to explain to Nicodemus what it means to be ‘born from above,” to be “born of the spirit.” In pondering this week what it could mean to be born of the spirit, I began to think of it in terms of another dimension, an invisible but distinctly different place we can experience. There are four dimensions in our physical world; 3 dimensions of space and one dimension of time. This pencil is not flat; it’s three-dimensional. I learned recently that if young children are not allowed to ever put things in their mouths, they will be delayed in their perception of three-dimensional reality. We have to internalize the three dimensional reality before our brain can accurately interpret it through our vision.
The dimension that continues to be so difficult to understand is time. We experience time as linear, moving along from one minute to the next, but at the turn of the century, Albert Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity and forever changed the way we think about time. In this theory, he mathematically fused the three dimensions of space with the dimension of time; the result was the startling truth that both the measure of time and the measure of length are not constant, they are relative; they change, depending on the motion of the object. In very fast moving objects, the rate of time actually slows down and the object appears to be smaller and compressed. I could go on and on about this, but my point is that even the things in our world that we think are measurable and consistent are When we come to matters of the Spirit, things get even more difficult to grasp. Einstein not only joined the dimensions of space and time mathematically, he also joined the words so now physicists speak of spacetime, one word. Today I will take the liberty to add another dimension to the model, and join the words to form Spiritspacetime.
Spiritspacetime…this is another Trinity of sorts and one that I think accurately describes what Jesus is trying to describe to Nicodemus in our reading today. Jesus is trying to describe how we can live in the world but seek our guidance from something greater, something deeper, something wiser, something I can only call God; I have no other word.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that to even see the kingdom of God, you must be “born from above;” you must be “born of the spirit.” To even see the kingdom of God, to even be a witness to the mystery, we must begin again with a new way of seeing, with a new way of being in the world where we are present in the world and present with one another, but we seek guidance from the Holy Trinity, the three-in-one. Author JoAnn Post theorizes, “The whole mission and purpose of God in Christ is to rescue humanity from being deeply embedded… in a physically-absorbed life.” In other words, Jesus came to into the world to show us what a life lived in Spirit looks like.
Jesus was fully present in the world, attune to the injustices of his times. He spoke the harsh truth to those in power and he gave a voice to the oppressed. Jesus shows us, through his life and ministry, that a life guided by the Holy Spirit of God will likely run up against the ways of the world. There are times when God calls us to be more than we are and in those times we have the chance to say, like the prophet Isaiah, “Here am I, Lord, send me.” Here am I, Lord, send me.
That is the message sent by the actions of an eighth-grader in Albuquerque, NM named Dylan Duran who, shortly after the start of the school year, began asking his mother to pack extra food in his lunch box. It turns out that Dylan had noticed another student who always sat alone during lunch and all he ever had to eat was a fruit cup. Dylan began to share his lunch and then Dylan’s mother started packing two separate lunches for most of the school year until circumstances improved and the boy was able to bring more food from home. “Here am I, send me, I am born of the Spirit,” say the actions of Dylan Duran; I see someone who could use my friendship and I’m not afraid to extend myself. I won’t let what others may think stop me from doing what is right.
In the book of John, chapter 3, Jesus calls us “…to be born from above…to be born of the Spirit.” He uses the analogy of the wind, saying, “…you do not know where it comes from, or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The ways of the Holy Spirit don’t always align with what the world tells us is normal, what is appropriate, what is wise, or even what others agree is “real.” Take the story of three-year-old, Brian Glen. He was crushed under the weight of a garage door for several minutes before he was found, unresponsive, by his mother. A neighbor performed CPR and an ambulance rushed the young child to the hospital. He did not suffer any permanent damage, but it took him many months to fully recover. Just a month into his recovery, little Brian told his parents and siblings the following things he remembered:
“The birdies came. They made a whooshing sound and flew into the garage. They took care of me.”
“One of the birdies went to tell Mommy, and then the birdies took me on a trip far away where there were lots of birdies. Then I saw a warm, bright light and I wanted to touch it. I reached for it and the person in the light said, ‘I love you but you have to go back now.’ The whooshing sound came again and the birdies flew away. I knew I would be okay.”
It can be so difficult to really believe such things, right? We are usually so quick to jump right into deciding whether we will hold on to something as fact or fiction, and then stand in defense of our position. We are trying to compartmentalize our experiences and the experiences of others into the familiar dimensions of our physical world, but some of them just do not fit, so we are prone to discount them altogether. Why do we do this? I suppose the root cause is fear.
At our very core, we fear so many things. Fear of not knowing, fear of not being good enough, fear of death, fear of lack, fear of people very different from ourselves, and experiences of others we can not fathom; these things shake us and render us feeling vulnerable. Being born of the Spirit and being a child of God requires us to sometimes live our lives by different standards than the world teaches us. It means we have to look past our fears and learn over and over how to live in trust. It means we look to the life of Christ, his teachings, and his examples of right living. It means we strive to see God in everyone, from everywhere, every gender, every ethnicity, every political party, every broken one of us, everyone.
In closing, I want to affirm that each and every one of us can access the dimension where the Holy Spirit of God moves with a love both tender and fierce. This Divine love is the only thing greater than fear. How do we access this? We pay attention, we listen, we make ourselves ready to respond. But be forewarned, Friends, the more we live in the dimension of Spiritspacetime, and the more we engage our faith in making our decisions, the more likely we are to go against what may seem logical and rational to the rest of the world. To skeptics, we may seem like the wind itself; they will neither be sure exactly where we are coming from, nor where we are going. The important thing, my Friends, is that we know. We know we are children of God, born of the Spirit, and the power of the Trinity within us. And when the Spirit of God beckons, I pray we have the strength to answer, “Here am I, Lord, send me.”
In these moments of stillness, Lord, we thank you for all of the events of our lives that have made us who we are, and who we are not. Help us to recognize the profound influence we have in the lives of others; remind us to be careful with one another and help us to speak our truth in a way that encourages others to speak their truth, as well. Remind us, God, that our words can carry within them your infinite goodness. Guide us to use words of encouragement, words of kindness, strong words that really say what we hope to offer to one another. And may we never underestimate the power of our sincere prayers, for through them we build bridges of light between ourselves and the very source of love we call God. Please join me in the Lord’s Prayer… Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these words from Paul to the Colossians, chapter one, verse 10: “May you walk worthily of God, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in knowledge.” Amen.