Nicodemus meets Jesus

Trinity Sunday, 2018, New Melle, Mo. John 3:1-8

Has it ever happened that you laid out plans for talking with someone, imagined how the conversation would proceed and what the outcome would be, the outcome you wanted?   Then the whole meeting veered off onto some gravel road leading who knows where?  You left thinking, “Well that sure didn’t go like I planned.” This morning, in our Gospel, John lets us eaves drop on Nicodemus’ after sunset meeting with Jesus.  Things did not go as he planned. He discovered the truth of a couple familiar sayings: One is, man proposes, and God disposes.  And, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.   When it comes to an encounter with God, we do well to remember the Lord’s word through Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”

Nicodemus was financially secure, an influential member of the ruling council of Judah, a teacher.  He was a person of integrity.  A pharisee who took seriously the words of Psalm 119, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” He was someone who we would value as a member of our congregation.

Now, Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.  He immediately went to the temple and chased out all the people doing business there.  He declared it his Father’s house, not a market place. He spoke of destroying this temple and rebuilding it in three days.  A person could get into a whole lot trouble doing and saying things like that, and Jesus did get in trouble.  He lost his life over it.  Yet, Nicodemus saw that Jesus’ actions fit the expected signs of the coming of the Messiah. The prophet Malachi had said, “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.”  Furthermore, people were believing in him.  Nicodemus was edging that way too.

He had some questions.  So, he carefully planned his meeting with Jesus.  He would begin addressing Jesus as Rabbi, respected teacher.  He would acknowledge that no one could do the things Jesus did unless God was with him.  But we never discover what else he had on his agenda, because Jesus cut him off.

“You need to be born again, born from above, if you want to live under God’s rule.  If you want to see the kingdom of God.” This threw Nicodemus for a loop.  “What? You want me to go back into my mother’s womb and be born again?  I don’t think she’ll be too keen on that idea.”  Jesus clarifies what he means, well sort of. “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  Now put yourself in the place of Nicodemus.  He had never heard anything like this before.  You and I would also join him in asking, “How can these things be?”  Sounds like a question straight out of the catechism.

I wonder if in the early months of 1529, Martin Luther might have been reading our Gospel lesson when he asked in his Small Catechism, “How can water do such things?” How can this be?  He was writing about the water and the Spirit in baptism, “But with the word of God it is…a life-giving water…a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”  Then he quotes Paul, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior…we become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”  That is what Jesus was talking about to Nicodemus.  A life-giving water…a new birth…rebirth…renewal, generously poured out on us.  We’re kind of stingy when it comes to the amount of water we use in baptism, but God is extravagant in dumping a whole bucket full of the Holy Spirit on us.

We need that extravagant gift of the Holy Spirit because as Jesus said, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.”  Back in Genesis, Adam “called his wife, Eve, because she was the mother of all living.”  Every second Sunday in May we honor that birth which we received through our mothers.  But Eve also became the mother of all dying. So, it has been ever since.  By being born we are assured of dying.  Our parents gave us life and gave us death.  Even if we went back and were born two or three times, death would still lay claim to us. We are born mortal.  However, we were created immortal.  When we lost our immortality, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit held a council in the realms of eternity and put a plan into action.  God’s plans do work out, because they are God’s plans.  Thus, we also have a Mother’s Day in December.  Through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, Mary conceived and gave birth to a son, Jesus was his name.  As we confessed a bit ago, “(Jesus is) at the same time God and man, begotten of the substance of the Father in eternity and born from the substance of His mother in this age.”  On December 25th we celebrate that Mary became the New Mother of Life.  And in baptism we are reborn into that new life and becomes brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, children of the heavenly Father, gifted by the Holy Spirit with faith in everlasting salvation through Christ.


Being born of the Spirit is a little bit like what I do, as I go to fill in at various churches, this week here, a couple of weeks ago at New Athens, Ill. Next week at Ruma, Il.  I’ve discovered that not everyone does things the same way.  I need to hang loose and be ready to adjust.  And ask questions like, which end of the communion rail do we begin serving communion. Well, if one is born of the Spirit, and we all are in baptism, Jesus says its like being carried along by the wind. The wind keeps switching directions, and speed.  Way back in the second verse of the bible we read, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”  When the Spirit is present you can expect something to happen, and it did, light, day, night, sky, land, plants, stars, swarming creatures, land creatures and humans.  If we’re willing to let go and let God use us as his servants, then we’re like Abraham whom God told to pick up everything and go where God would show him and in faith He did just that.

There is something in this text I never noticed before.  When we are reborn in the Spirit we become like the wind.  Jesus says, “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  What lies ahead in the future?   As baptized servants of Christ  “What does the Holy Spirit have in mind for us?  Both as individuals and as St. Paul’s congregation.  And if we are willing to be like the wind and be carried along under the guidance of the Spirit, then we can realize that God has plans for us, “plans for wholeness and not for evil to give you a future and a hope.”   But hang on. God’s plans maybe like the cartoon showing a young boy, hair streaming back, in wide-eyed terror grasping the grab bar with white knuckled fingers.  Beside him sits a young lady labeled “Holy Spirit.”  God is saying, “I have plans for you.”  Hang on those plans may feel like an out of control  plunge down a roller coaster ride or a gentle breeze nudging us along.


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