Mirroring the Self-Giving Love of the Triune God

reclaiming jesus

2 Corinthians 13:11-13 NRSV

We Americans are often guilty of trivializing things that are important. Consequently, survivors of loved ones who gave their lives for their country often struggle during the Memorial Day Weekend, and rightly so. For it can sometimes be difficult to tell if Americans truly know what Memorial Day is about.

Is it about the end of the school year and the beginning of summer? Is it about going to the beach, the river, or the lake? Is it about playing golf, having a cookout, or opening the backyard swimming pool? Is it about red-tag sales at the mall or some other self-fulfilling activity?

No, it is about sacrifice. It is about self-denying, self-expending love. It is about people giving all that they had to give, for they so loved their country more than self.

This weekend is about honoring those who died for us, and it is about praying for those they left behind. It is also a time to recommit ourselves to those who continue to selflessly fight evil in our world, evil that demeans, devalues and destroys human life and sometimes does it in the name of God.

May God forgive us for forgetting what this weekend is all about or watering it down for our own selfish gain.

I am afraid that we have done the same thing to the Christian faith. Consequently, followers of Jesus everywhere struggle, and rightly so. For it can sometimes be difficult to tell if Christians really know what the gospel is about.

Is it about judging and condemning others who believe and live differently? Is it about pure beliefs and possessing an attitude of superiority? Is it about having the right to discriminate and treat others who differ from us as second class citizens? Is it about banning people of other faiths from our communities? Is it about depleting our natural resources because we believe the Lord is returning and the world is ending in our lifetime? Is it all about going to heaven one day or on some other self-absorbed venture?

No, our faith is about sacrifice. It is about self-denying, self-expending love. It is about a God giving all that God has to give, for God so loved this world more than God’s self.

Thus, faith is about honoring a God who died for all. It is about recommitting daily to continue to selflessly fight the evil in our world, evil that seeks to demean, dehumanize and destroy human life and sometimes does it in the name of God.

Monday is Memorial Day. May we remember what it is truly about. And everyday is the day the Lord has made. May we remember how God is made known to us, relates to us, and loves us, and how God calls us to make ourselves known to, relate to and love the world.

This is where I believe the doctrine of the Holy Trinity can really help us—Three persons in one. Throughout the centuries, people have been trying to explain this complexity in simplistic language.

You have probably heard that God is like a pie. You can cut a pie into three pieces, but it’s still one pie. Or God is like many of us. I’m a brother, a father, and a son, but I am still one person. Or God is like water, and water has many forms: steam, ice, and liquid, but it is still water.

However, I believe each of these descriptions only scratch the surface of who our God truly is. It is only a watered-down, version of who our God is. Furthermore, it is defining God based on our understanding of the world, instead of allowing our understanding of God to define the world.

God, the creator of all that is, the power behind our universe, gave God’s self, emptied God’s self, poured God’s self out and became flesh and dwelt among us through Jesus Christ.  And Jesus Christ, while he was on this earth, gave himself back to God by becoming obedient to God even to death, even death on the cross. But before he left us on this earth, he promised not to leave us orphaned, he promised to be with us always by giving himself back to us through the Holy Spirit.

Do you see the one characteristic of the Holy Trinity which stands out?  God gave God’s self through the Son. The Son gave himself back to the Father. And God once more gives God’s self back through the Holy Spirit. God is a self-giving God. God is a God who loves to give to others the very best gift that God has to give, the gift of God’s self.

God is a giver. That means that God is not a taker. For givers are never takers.

Isn’t interesting that many Christians, often characterize God as a taker? Again, I think it is because we like to create a God in what we want our image to be, instead of allowing the image of God to define and guide us.

For example: How many funerals have we attended and heard the phrase: “God took her home or God was ready to take him?”

We have all lost loved ones to death. But the Trinity teaches us that Lord did not take them. For givers are not takers. A more accurate way of describing what happened to our loved ones when they breathed their last on this earth is that God wholly, completely and eternally, gave all of God’ self to them.

When we experience the heartache and heartbreak of this fragmented world, there is one thing of which we can be certain, God is here with us, not taking, but giving us all that God has to give, the best gift of all, the gift of God’s self.  If we don’t know anything else about God, we can know this. For it is God’s very nature.

As we renew our discipleship mission as a church, let us renew our commitment to mirror our God by living not as takers, but as givers.

For I believe with all of my heart that mirroring the self-giving love of God that is revealed to us in the Holy Trinity can help us reclaim the gospel that has been high-jacked by people who prefer to live in this world on their terms instead of on God’s terms.

Mirroring the self-giving love of God can help us recover our faith that has been co-opted by takers, by people who have used and misused the name of God for their own selfish gain

For if we mirrored the Triune God as self-giver, think of how everything would change.

Think of how our Christian faith would change. Our faith would not be about what we can take from God—healthier marriages, stronger families, deeper friendships, peace, security, comfort, a mechanism to overcome trials or to achieve a more prosperous life, or even gain an eternal life.

Our faith would be what we can give back to the Holy Giver—namely all that we have and all that we are, even if it is costly, even if it involves risk, danger and suffering, even if it involves the loss of relationships, stress on our marriages, sleepless nights, a tighter budget, even if it involves laying down our very lives.

Church. Church would not be about what we can take from it. It would not be about getting fed, experiencing some peace, attaining a blessing or receiving some inspiration to help us through the week.

Church would be about opportunities for self-giving. Church would be about feeding the hungry, working to bring peace, being blessing to our communities and inspiring the world. Church would no longer be a place that we go to on Sunday, but who we are every day of the week, the body of Christ, the very embodiment of holy self-giving love in the world. Church would not be a way to for us to get some Jesus. Church would be way we allow Jesus to get us to love our neighbors as we were created to love.

And our neighbors. We would look to our neighbors, not for what they can give us, not for what we can take from them, or how we can use them, but for what we may be able to offer them, especially those things that others are constantly robbing them of in order to support their dominance and superiority over them—their dignity, their equality, their value as human beings created in the image of God, their hope, their freedom, their justice.

We would look to our city, our state and our nation, not for what we can selfishly take from it, but for how we can selflessly give to it to make it a more just place for all.

The environment would not be something for us to take from, plunder and exploit for our own selfish wants, but something for which we sacrificially care for, respect, nurture and protect.

I believe if we would truly mirror the triune image of our God as givers instead of as takers, God’s kingdom would fully and finally come on earth as it is in heaven.

Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers can rebuild a broken world.

Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers can correct a distorted moral narrative.

Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers can heal sick religion.

Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers can bring down walls and break the chains of injustice.

Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers will erase racism and sexism. It will end sexual harassment and assault.

When we mirror the triune image God as givers, all hate, bigotry, and violence will pass away, and all of creation will be born again.

When we mirror the triune image of God as givers, liberty and justice and peace will come, and it will come for all.

When we mirror the triune image of God as givers, the words of the prophet Isaiah will be fulfilled:

Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
…[Then] they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:3-4).

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Let’s Dance

old-guy-dancing

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

2 Samuel 6

Modern Trinitarian thought uses a word spoken by Gregory of Nazi-anzus and Maximus the Confessor to describe how three can be one. These ancient thinkers referred to the inner life and the outer working of the Trinity as peri-co-reses. It means literally in the Greek, “to dance,” suggesting a dynamic, intimate relationship shared by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

C. S. Lewis once wrote:

All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love.’ But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ has no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, [God] was not love…

 

And that, writes Lewis,

is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity, God is not a static thing—not even a person—but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, a kind of dance…

Lewis continues:

And now, what does it all matter?  It matters more than anything else in the world.  The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this Three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: (or putting it the other way around) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his [or her] place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made.

I want to assert that the the problem with most churches today is that there is just not enough dancing. For some reason, maybe it is from our Puritan roots, church people are too reserved and rigid. Most of us prefer to keep our faith personal, private, than let it all hang out for others to see.

There’s a great dancer in our Bible that I believe the church could learn a thing or two from. We read about him in 2 Samuel 6.

After David led a great army to get possession of the Ark of the Covenant to return it to Jerusalem, David and his army were so overcome with what was going on that they engaged in festive rejoicing and dancing. They were seized by what James Newsome, New Testament professor of Columbia Seminary calls “a spirit of prophetic ecstasy.”

The scriptures say that David sang and danced before God “with all his might.” He sang and danced before God with all that he had and with all that he was.

You might say that David was God-intoxicated. And when you become God-intoxicated, so filled with the Holy Spirit of God, there’s just know way you can keep it private.

When David and his wife Michal arrived home from the party and began preparing to turn in for the night, David, if he was anything like me, was probably hoping to hear some words of affirmation from his wife. Something like, “Honey, you were so wonderful today. As I listened to you sing and watched you dance in the streets, you just don’t know how proud I was of you! You danced your heart out! And why shouldn’t you have, you brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem where it belongs!”

However, the words David hears are something like: “David, you looked like a drunken fool.”

Perhaps David did act like an intoxicated fool. Uninhibited and unrestrained, he lost all self-control. Seized by “a spirit of prophetic ecstasy,” David held absolutely nothing back. David surrendered to the Spirit which had filled him.

David danced, charged by the rule of God. David danced, electrified by the justice of God. David danced a dance of total self-surrender. David danced, holding nothing back. David danced giving all that he had and all that he was to God. And there was absolutely nothing personal or private about this dance. This dance caused a scene. This dance created a fuss. This dance got people’s attention. This dance challenged the status quo. This dance disturbed the peace.

And Michal despised David for it.

This is what happens when one drinks what Paul calls in Ephesians “huge draughts of the Spirit of God.” This is what happens when one becomes God-intoxicated. There is no way to control it, temper it. There is no way to conceal it. There is no way to regulate it to two hours on a Sunday morning. When one becomes drunk with the rule of God, the love of God, one’s feet will inevitably move to the dance of the gospel, and one will be despised for it.

The truth is: the dance of the gospel is a dangerous dance. The dance of the gospel is a disturbing dance. Because the active affirmation the rule of God does not set well with the Michals of the world.

The dance of personal, private piety are easier steps to follow, aren’t they? The message of false prophets watering down the gospel of Christ as nothing more than a little dose of “chicken soup for the soul” is much easier to swallow. If we just get ourselves right with the Lord, if we pray right and live right, if we are good moral people, if we don’t drink, dance, smoke or chew or go with girls who do, then God will bless us and one day send us to heaven.

The dance of the gospel is radically different. The dance of the gospel are steps to the beat of a different drum. If we get right with the Lord; if we pray right and live right; if we lose all inhibitions and all restraint; if we completely surrender ourselves to the rule of God; if we love others as Christ loves us, unconditionally, unreservedly; if we question the status quo, if we disturb the peace; if we dance to the beat of this drum, then we will invariably upset some folks.

That’s a good question for all of us who are attempting to follow Jesus, is it not? In your walk with Jesus, are you getting any push back?”

The answer should always be “yes,” for the dance of the gospel is a dance of self-surrender to a radical beat. It is a beat of sacrifice. It is a beat of selflessness. It is a beat of self-expenditure. It is a beat of a scandalous love and an offensive grace. And to world, as the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians, if we let go and dance to this beat, we are certain to look like fools.

And as Luke warned us in Acts chapter 2 last week, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit of God, we may even be accused of public drunkenness, even if it before 9am in the morning.

We will be called drunken fools when we offer our friendship and our food to a group of people on a late Sunday afternoon who can offer us nothing in return.

We will be called drunken fools we spend valuable time volunteering at the hospital, visiting a nursing home, serving lunch in a soup kitchen, or spending a week of your hard earned vacation as a counselor at church camp.

We will be called drunken fools when we offer love and forgiveness to our enemies, when we give the shirt off our backs to complete strangers in need.

We will be called drunken fools anytime we love anyone with the self-expending love of Christ—whenever we love someone without inhibitions, without restraints, and without any strings attached.

We will be called drunken fools when we continue to challenge the status quo, question immoral systems of injustice, and disturb the peace.

For the Michals of the world despise this dance. And they will do everything in their power to stop this dance.

We have all heard their voices: loud echoes which discourage such dancing. “Don’t get too close to him. Do not give your heart to her. You will be sorry. They will only let you down.”

“Don’t love that man. He has done absolutely nothing to deserve it and will never reciprocate.”

“Don’t love that woman. She is too needy. She never does anything to help herself. She will demand too much.”

The voices of Michal say: “The system is not that broken. The poor get what they deserve. Most minorities have it pretty good in our country, and they are the real racists. Public education is not worth fighting for. Healthcare is not a right.”

The voices of Michal say: “Keep your faith private, personal. Keep it between you and God. Don’t stir up trouble. Just sit on a pew and look forward to going to heaven. Sing behind stained glass. Forget about being missional. Don’t worry about your neighbor. Don’t waste your time giving yourself away to strangers. Loving like that is crazy. It is too risky. It leads to too much pain.”

However, there is another voice, a Divine voice that was heard by David: “These are serious times, so let’s drink large draughts of the Holy Spirit, until we are all God-intoxicated! Let’s sing and dance in the streets with all we have.” It is a voice which says: “Let’s Dance!  Hold nothing back. Give yourself away. Surrender yourself to the beat of the heart of the gospel. Love. Love honestly and deeply. Love courageously and graciously. Lose yourself. Empty yourself. Pour yourself out. Question the systems of injustice. Defend the powerless. Stand up for the marginalized. Challenge the status quo. Disturb the peace.”

Will this love cause pain?  It will cause enormous pain. But the joy of God which will consume you will be so immense the suffering will be well worth it.

You’ve heard me quote the great Oklahoman theologian, Garth Brooks’: “I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to have missed the dance.”

Dancing the dance of the gospel will inevitably bring pain. However, never truly following in the steps of Jesus to avoid that pain is never really living. There is no joy being a wallflower on the wall of life or being a Sunday morning pew-napper.

So, let’s get our backs up off the wall! Let’s drink huge draughts of the spirit of God, and let us dance!  Let’s go out and dance in the streets of Enid and have seizures of prophetic ecstasy!

Now, be warned! We will look like drunken fools, and we will suffer for it. But the immense joy of God, the joy of abundant life, now and forevermore, is well worth it.

Holy, Holy, Holy

trinity

2 Corinthians 13:11-13 NRSV

The Bible calls God “holy.”  I used to think that “holy” meant that God is good and perfect in every way.  But “Holy” is actually the designation for the distance of God, the hallowedness of God— “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

It is the designation for God’s awesome mysteriousness, God’s divine otherness. God is a peace beyond understanding, a love that can never be contained. As C.S. Lewis once said, God is a “dynamic pulsating activity, a drama, a life, a dance” that is larger than our mortal minds can comprehend.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the understanding that God is one but is experienced as Father, Son and Holy Spirit reveals just how awesome and mysterious our God is.

Three persons in one— Throughout the centuries, scholars have been trying to explain this complexity in simplistic language, but such explanations only scratch the surface of who God truly is.

You have probably heard that God is like a pie. You can cut a pie into three pieces, but it’s still one pie. Or God is like many of us. I’m a brother, a father, and a son, but I am still one person. Or God is like water, and water has many forms. Steam, ice, liquid, but it is still water.

However, no matter how simplistic we try to make it, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity will always underscore the complexity, the sheer largeness, the wonderful otherness, the richness, and the wonder of God.

My good friend and pastor, the late Warren Carr, used to be fond of saying he has never believed in Children’s Church or Children’s messages.  He said the reason that churches have children’s church or children’s messages is because they want to make sure that the children understand something while they are at church.  Carr used to say: “Maybe it is better that they don’t understand everything that is going on in church. Because when they come to church and don’t understand, they learn something very valuable about the sheer mystery of God.”

Carr understood that a great hindrance to the church has always been people who think they have it all figured out. For them, God is not a mystery. They understand God completely. There’s nothing complex and confusing or even Holy about the Trinity. When it comes to faith and theology, they know it all. They have all the answers. And, unfortunately they are usually the ones who are very quick to speak on the behalf of God

When Lori and I lost our first child late in the third trimester, these people came from everywhere to share their insight.

“Jarrett, God is just not ready for you to be a father.” “God has some reason for taking your baby.” “God doesn’t make mistakes.”

Although I remained quiet, I wanted to raise my voice and say back to them, “But God is ready for children born every day out of incestuous relationships, and God is ready for children to be born every day to abusive parents or parents strung out on cocaine or heroin!”

During that most difficult time in our life, people said some of the most hurtful things to us, and they said those things in the name of God—in the name of the God that they have all figured out.

The truth, is when it comes to God, with our human limitations, all of us are quite ignorant. The Apostle Paul was right when he said while we live on this earth, we will always see as through a glass dimly or darkly.

When it comes to theology, I have learned that one of the most intelligent things a person can say is: “I don’t know.”  And when you are trying to comfort someone who is grieving any loss, oftentimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. A sincere hug or even a simple handshake, a holy kiss on the forehead will express the wonder of God’s presence and love better than any words.

However, and it’s a big however, although God is holy, complex and mysterious, although we are limited by our human finitude, the good news is that God is not entirely unknowable.

This mystery, this wonderful otherness, this wonder we call God constantly reaches in and out to us, and continually seeks to encounter us as the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And here’s some irony. The same doctrine which reveals God’s mysterious distance is the same doctrine which reveals God’s intelligible nearness. The Holy Trinity is how we know the mysterious, distant, yet intelligible, intimate ways of God.  The Holy Trinity teaches us how God moves and works, what God wants, and where God is moving and working in our world.

Listen carefully, because what I am about to say is all I believe we need to understand about the Trinity. Forget all about the three slices of pie. Forget all about me being a father, son and a brother, and forget all about ice, steam and liquid.

  • God, the creator of all that is, the power behind our universe, gave God’s self, emptied God’s self, poured God’s self out and became flesh and dwelt among us through Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus Christ, while he was on this earth, gave himself back to God by becoming obedient to God even to death, even death on the cross.
  • Before he left us on this earth, he promised not to leave us orphaned, he promised to be with us always by giving himself back to us through the Holy Spirit.

Do you see the one characteristic of the Holy Trinity which stands out?  God gave God’s self through the Son. The Son gave himself back to the Father. And God once more gives God’s self back through the Holy Spirit. This is what we can know about this mystery, this wonderful otherness that we call God. God is a self-giving God. God is a God who loves to give to others the very best that God has to offer, the gift of God’s self.

Even when we rejected and nailed God to a tree and crucified him between two criminals, God gave God’s self back to us in the resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing in heaven or on earth which prevents our God from giving all that God has to give, the greatest gift of all, the gift of God’s self.

God is a giver. That means that God is not a taker. For givers are never takers.

Isn’t interesting that people, many of them Christian, often characterize God as a taker?  Do you remember the song, “O where, o where can my baby be? The Lord took her away from me.”  How many funerals have we attended and heard the words, “God took her home; God was ready to take him.”

Our first child died, but I do not believe God took him. We have all lost loved ones to death. But the self-giving nature of the Trinity teaches us that God did not take them. For givers are not takers. A more accurate way of describing what happened to our loved ones when they breathed their last breath on this earth is that God fully, finally and eternally gave all of God’s self to them.

When we experience the heartache and heart break of this fallen and broken world, there is one thing of which we can be certain, God is here with us, not taking, but giving us all that God has to give, the best gift of all, the gift of God’s self.  If we don’t know anything else about the complexity and mystery of God, we can know this. God is a giver. For it is God’s very nature.

This is a very important concept for us to grasp as Christians because God has mysteriously called us share this self-giving love with all people. Like the dynamic activity of the Holy Trinity, God calls us to give ourselves back to God, die to self. And then ask God to give God’s self to us, come into our hearts, fill us with God’s love, so we can share it with others.

When people face a crisis, I have said that it is oftentimes better to be present and silent. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.  A hug and handshake will suffice. Giving the gift of yourself, as God gives God’s self, through a hug, a handshake, or a holy kiss is more than sufficient. However, there are many of us who just have an innate problem keeping our big mouths shut.

So, if you have to open your mouth, remember the Trinity. God is a giver, not a taker. Therefore, always focus on the self-giving God instead of on some false taking god.  In ignorance, instead trying to explain why something bad has happened to someone, remind that person that God is there with them, not away from them. God is there for them, not against them. God doesn’t take. God gives. God is there giving all that God has to give, the gift of God’s self.

If you have open your mouth, you can never go wrong in pronouncing upon them the great Trinitarian benediction of the Apostle Paul—“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.”

And you can promise them this.  Mysteriously, yet certainly, that gift of God’s Holy Triune self will be all that they will ever need.

The More You Know…

Buechner Blessing and Healing

John 3:1-17 NRSV

Our church has always believed very strongly in education. This one of the reasons that we have a graduate recognition Sunday.

Our church also believes it is very important to always ask questions. Our church has never been the kind of church that expects its members to “check their brain at the door” before entering on Sunday mornings. Like our forefathers Barton Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell, we encourage free-thinking and open minds here. We believe that God created our minds to ask questions—even the hard questions of life and faith.

I know of some churches where people are taught never to question anything.  They are expected to go to church with the sole expectation to be indoctrinated with whatever the minister says. Not here.

Believing very strongly in the historic principle of the “Priesthood of All Believers,” our church encourages and even expects free thought and the free expression of ideas. You are your own priest. No one here is expected to agree with everything that is said from this pulpit. You are always free to examine, to mull over, and perhaps, even seek an entirely different word from God.

One of the reasons we encourage such questioning is that we do not believe anyone here, including the one who does the most talking on Sunday mornings, has, or will ever have, all of answers. We come to church recognizing that we will never be able to get our hands on, wrap our arms around, all there is to know about this mystery we call God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

During a Wednesday night supper, an eight year-old little girl came and sat beside me. She said, “Dr. Banks.”

Not many people address me in that manner. I kind of liked it. Made me feel smart, scholarly, intellectual! “Yes, how can I help you?” I responded.

She said, “I’ve got a lot of questions about God.”

I thought to myself, “Well, my dear little one, you’ve certainly come to the right place.”

She then asked, “Where exactly do dogs go when they die?”

I thought for a second or two, and responded the only way I knew how. I just looked at her—in dumbfounded silence

A little impatient, she asked, “Do they go to doggie heaven or to regular heaven with the rest of us?”

It was then I had to admit it, “I really don’t know.”

I could see the disappointment on her face. But she quickly moved on to her next question: “How old are people in heaven?”

Again, dumbfounded silence.

Frustrated she asked, “You know, if you die as a baby will you be a baby when you get to heaven? Or if you die as an old lady, will you be an old lady in heaven?”

Again, I had to say “I really don’t know?”

It was then she said, “You know something? For a doctor, you sure don’t know much.” She didn’t ask me any more questions.

No, the truth is, for someone who not only has a doctorate, but someone who has hardly missed a Sunday in church for the last forty-eight and a half years, I really don’t know that much.” All learned after spending a few moments with an eight-year old.

That is why I love ol’ Nicodemus.  For Nicodemus also discovered that he didn’t know that much either after spending just few moments with Jesus.

The very educated and esteemed Nicodemus, a leader of the Jewish Pharisees, came to Jesus full of questions. “Rabbi,” how can a man be born when he is old?” and “Can you enter the womb a second time and be born?” and “How can this be?”  And through all these questions, Nicodemus is asking another question, “Who are you anyway Jesus?’

When it all comes down to it, isn’t that THE question? Isn’t that the reason we are here every Sunday morning? We come asking, “Who is this Jesus anyway?”

We, like Nicodemus, have heard some rumors about the amazing things Jesus has done. And we have been listening to his teachings and have heard just enough to be confused. And we’ve got questions. Can we really believe everything we have heard about Jesus? How can he be both an earthly human being and God at the same time? How can his spirit be both ascended into heaven yet still here with us?

Notice that although it is Nicodemus who begins the conversation here, by the time our passage ends, it is Jesus who is doing most of the talking. Nicodemus appears to be just sitting there in dumbfounded silence.

For you see, Nicodemus thought he would be able to go to Jesus and grasp Jesus. Nicodemus thought he could go to Jesus and figure Jesus out, get his hands on Jesus, wrap his arms around Jesus—understand, define Jesus.

Nicodemus learned what most of us already know: Sometimes when we come to Jesus with questions, Jesus doesn’t give us easy answers. I’m not sure if Nicodemus got any of his questions answered that night. However, the good news is that Nicodemus got something better. Nicodemus went to Jesus hoping to understand him, put his hands on him, wrap his arms around him, but instead, it was Jesus understood Nicodemus. It was Jesus who put his hands on and lovingly wrapped his arms around him.

So this morning, I want us to take Nicodemus as our model. While you are here this morning in the presence of Christ, I want you to ask Jesus whatever is on your mind. Go ahead and use all of your God-given mental capacities, use every ounce of intellect to try to think about Jesus this morning. Listen to what he has to say. And then, simply enjoy being with him.

Give thanks that we have the sort of God who wants more than anything else to be with us, who descends to us, who speaks to us, who shares truth with us, even if we cannot comprehend the wholeness of that truth.

There are a lot of people who have a great disdain for us church folks. Because they erroneously believe that Christians are those people who have it all figured out. They believe church goers are people who have had all of their questions about Jesus answered. And I am afraid they have good reasons for believing that.

I heard one pastor describe a member of his church who was convinced that he had all the answers. He said: “He is very stubborn and close-minded about everything!”  He said, “If he gets to heaven and discovers that things up there are a little different, he is the type that would get mad and ask for a transfer!”

No, the truth is, as William Willimon has said, “Jesus is that illusive, free, sovereign and living God who makes sense out of us, rather than our making sense out of him.” Every Sunday we risk coming to him, listening to him and following him, even when we do not always grasp what he’s talking about and know precisely where he’s leading us.

Notice that Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about wind and birth. For what in our world is more mysterious than wind and birth? In meeting Jesus, we come face to face with a living God. And we cannot define him. We can’t put our hands on, wrap our arms around him. The good news is that it is he who defines us.  It is he who puts his hands on and wraps his arms around us—And beckons us to follow him even if we do not always understand him.

This is exactly what happened to Nicodemus. We meet Nicodemus again sixteen chapters later in John’s gospel. When Jesus was crucified, when most of his disciples deserted him, Nicodemus was one of the few people who were there to lovingly bury Jesus.

I’m sure Nicodemus still had even more questions on that Good Friday. How could it be that this one sent from God, this Savior of the world, be so horribly crucified?

But there, at the foot of the cross, Nicodemus doesn’t ask questions. He simply does what is right. He simply followed. By being associated with Jesus, a condemned criminal, Nicodemus risks his reputation, and even his life. He proves, in the most loving of ways, that one does not have to have Jesus completely figured out to follow Jesus.

If we take Nicodemus as our model, the question for us then is this, “Will we follow Jesus even if we cannot put our hands on him, even if we don’t always understand him?” The good news is that if we say yes, if we promise to walk with him, Jesus promises that he will walk with us forever. For faith is not in the understanding. Genuine faith is in the following.

Frederick Buechner has written: “You do not need to understand healing to be healed or know anything about blessing to be blessed.”

I would add that you do not need to understand the miracle of life to breathe. You do not need to understand the marvel of love to be loved and to share love. You do not need to comprehend the gift of grace to receive it and to offer it to others.  And you never need to figure out the holy wonder of the Trinity, the divine relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be an eternal part of that relationship. You do not need to ever grasp Jesus to follow Jesus and have Jesus grasp you.