On the Work of the Trinity

On the Work of the Trinity

On the Work of the Trinity
May 26, 2024
Traceymay Kalvaitis

Isaiah 6:8
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.”

***Today’s sermon is titled On the Work of the Trinity.

I am an only child of an only child whose father was also an only child. Our family tree looks like it has been heavily pruned. As a result, I did not have to compete for the attention of grandparents. Every Sunday afternoon when my father and grandfather were restoring cars, my Grandmother and I would go out. The grocery store was a regular stop, but sometimes we went clothes shopping, too. Wherever we went, my Grandmother never passed up the chance to catch the eye of a baby or young toddler so she could interact with them. She did not pick the shortest check-out line in the store; she chose the line where she could be directly behind a little kid so she could play with them. I say “play” because that’s what it felt like, but it was all done through eyes and smiles, expressions and sounds. My grandmother was always very respectful of their physical space. She could get a young one to smile and even laugh nearly every time. I remember once when the little one started crying as it was pushed out of the store in the grocery cart, its little arms reaching back for my Grandmother.
I think I have turned into my Grandmother. The older I get, the more I find joy in interacting with babies and little kids, catching their eye and sending so much love to them through my expression that they will at least stare, but usually they will smile and send me love right back. It’s embarrassing for my own kids; I think they wish I would just go in the shortest line at the store and keep to myself, but I do it anyway. I remember sometimes being embarrassed of my Grandmother, too, but now I realize she was taking a risk by putting her love out there; it could either be received or rejected. She was taking a risk in placing herself where her attentions may be unwelcomed. She took the risk of looking and sounding ridiculous in the check out line just to have some meaningful interaction with someone she had never seen before and someone she would likely never see again. She took the risk anyway.
In our reading today from the book of John, it was a man named Nicodemus that took a risk. In coming to speak with Jesus, Nicodemus risked rejection and he risked looking like a fool to his peers. Nicodemus was a highly esteemed Rabbi and leader. He was one of only 71 members of the Great Sanhedrin Council which had authority over judicial, religious, and political matters. Nicodemus took a great risk in crossing over the established boundaries. If his colleagues found out that he visited with the renegade preacher from Nazareth, he would likely lose the credibility and standing he had worked his entire life to establish.
Nicodemus took the risk anyway. Nicodemus was curious. He came under the cover of darkness to hear for himself what Jesus had to say and he received an ear full. Jesus told Nicodemus “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” The word “born” seems to be the stumbling block for Nicodemus. If we turn to the translation, we find that the Greek word recorded in the scriptures is γεννηθῇ (gennēthē) which means to “regenerate.” Regenerate can be a verb, meaning to replace what is unhealthy or damaged with new growth, or regenerate can be an adjective, meaning reformed or reborn, especially in the moral or spiritual sense. If we break down the word regenerate, we have re (again) and generare (to create)…to create again. Using this deeper meaning, Jesus’s message becomes “no one can see the kingdom of God without being created again.” Jesus told Nicodemus, to see the kingdom of God you must be made new. You must be recreated. The verse from Genesis 1 comes to mind, “…created in the image of God.” Jesus is saying the old must fall away and give way to the new. All the limits of previous understanding must give way to a new and deeper understanding.
Here is the rest of the story with Nicodemus. In his story, we see the work of the Trinity, the work of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus had already given his life to God, he had already said, in the words of Isaiah we heard this morning, “Here am I, send me.” Nicodemus had risen to the highest ranks. Then Nicodemus heard about what Jesus was saying and what he was doing and Nicodemus had to learn more. He took the risk and came to Jesus saying, “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.” After this conversation, we do not hear of Nicodemus again until Jesus is being accused in the Sanhedrin Council and Nicodemus defends him, urging fairness and justice for Jesus (John chapter 7: 50-51). The final time we hear about Nicodemus is when he comes to Jesus’s burial, in reverence, bringing spices and aloe to prepare Jesus’s body (John 9:39).
In the story of this one man, Nicodemus, we see the work of the Trinity made manifest. Nicodemus devoted his life to serving God, then he made way for his re-creation in becoming a student of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit empowered him to seek justice for Jesus and when that failed the Holy Spirit empowered him to honor Jesus after his death. This is depicted in a sculpture by Michelangelo, the Bandini Pieta, sculpted of marble in the mid 1500’s. The sculpture depicts Nicodemus lowering the body of Jesus into the arms of his mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene. Michelangelo used the image of his own face for the face of Nicodemus.

In closing, Friends, I lift up this story of Nicodemus as a story we should remember. Nicodemus could have easily stayed in his own lane and enjoyed the fruits of his long and successful career. Instead, he took a risk to follow his curiosity and be open to new knowledge, life-changing knowledge. Nicodemus became a voice for justice and an example of true reverence and devotion. May we, too, be willing to take risks as followers of Christ. Look around next time you are choosing a check out line in the grocery store. Maybe you can place yourself behind someone who looks like they could use a friendly smile or a compliment. Let’s be willing to run the risk in order to spread the love and light of Christ, wherever we go and with whomever we encounter, from babies to elders and every age in between. May the work of the Trinity be made manifest in us. So be it. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

God of our hearts and minds, we pray your blessings over all of humanity this morning. We have so much to learn about living with one another. Speak to us and guide us in Your divine ways, that we may in some way become agents of positive change. Remind us, Lord, to start from within, to nurture ourselves without guilt and to make choices that foster health and strength. In the places we are hurting, shine your light of healing. In the places we hold fear, shine your light of assurance. Help us to make room for the Holy Spirit to work in and through us so that in our giving, we give love; in our sharing, we share peace; in our talking, we offer encouragement, and in aspects of our being, we testify to a God who is the source of all goodness. This we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

I leave you with these words from Jesus, his blessing of peace, as recorded in John 14:27.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”