The Feast of the Holy Trinity (6/3/2012)

Lessons:Isaiah 6:1-8 Psalm 29 Romans 8:12-John 3:1-17

Prayer of the Day: Almighty Creator and ever-living God: we worship your glory, eternal Three-in-One, and we praise your power, majestic One-in-Three. Keep us steadfast in this faith, defend us in all adversity, and bring us at last into your presence, where you live in endless joy and love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

3:1 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?" 10 Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 "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. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 "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. 17 "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.

St. John 3:1-17 New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Nicodemus: Transformed by the Triune God

This Sunday is “The Feast of the Holy Trinity” — a festival in our tradition that first began to emerge in the 5th century, and was not fully embraced by the western church until 1924. Martin Luther himself is said to have spoken these words in his Holy Trinity Sunday sermon of 1522:

Today we celebrate the festival of the Holy Trinity, to which we must briefly allude, so that we may not celebrate it in vain. It is indeed true that the name “Trinity” is nowhere to be found in the Holy Scriptures, but has been conceived and invented by man. For this reason it sounds somewhat cold and we had better speak of “God” than of the “Trinity.” [from “The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther; Volume 2” (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), pages 406-407]

As Luther states, this feast celebrates the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which is grounded in two creeds formally accepted by the church: the Apostles’ Creed (which may have origins as early as the late-second century) and the Nicene Creed (adopted by the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325). The word “Trinity” (a conjunction of “tri” meaning three, and “unity” meaning one) is the orthodox way of testifying to our paradoxical belief that God is three and God is one.

With Luther, I am reluctant to allow Holy Trinity Sunday to become an excuse for a theological dissertation on the trinitarian nature of God. (If that is what you need, I would commend to you pages 55-72 of “Professing the Faith” by Douglas John Hall — ©1993 by Augsburg Fortress.)

Instead, our attention turns to the third chapter of St. John and the remarkable story of Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee and a leader in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. The first half of his story is told in today’s Gospel lesson: how he is interested enough in Jesus to seek him out and visit with him, but afraid enough of being associated with him that he only sneaks out to see Jesus under the cover of darkness. The conversation actually seems unfulfilling: Nicodemus misunderstands Jesus, and asks Jesus, “How can these things be?” Jesus responds with a tougher question: “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”

The rest of this story is told later in St. John’s Gospel: when chief priests and Pharisees are plotting to do away with Jesus, and Nicodemus argues that it is not right to judge people without giving them a fair hearing (St. John 7:50-52); and when Nicodemus risks his life to go with Joseph of Arimathea and ask Pilate for the body of Jesus, so they can bury him (St. John 19:38-42).

In between, something happens. We don’t know what, but what we do know is this: the man who first was afraid to be seen in public with Jesus eventually comes to love him so much, that he risks his life in order to give Jesus a proper burial.

Perhaps the best way to celebrate The Feast of the Holy Trinity is to lift up faith stories like these. Stories which recall the transformation that can take place when God enters into our lives. Stories which remind us that the God we know as Father, Son and Spirit transformed the life and faith of Nicodemus, and continues to transform lives today. May God do so with us!


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why was Nicodemus, at first, only willing to meet with Jesus at night?
  2. What could have happened to a religious official who was identified as being associated with Jesus?
  3. What might Nicodemus have experienced, that transformed his life?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I been reluctant to be identified as a follower of Jesus?
  2. When has God given me the strength and courage to share my faith?
  3. What else needs to be transformed in my life?