Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the Undivided Unity! Today is trinity Sunday. It’s marked by saying the Athanasian Creed. It’s a celebration of who God is. In the creed, we talk about who he is – and that discussion is a discussion of what he does for us. In the Apostles and Nicene Creed, the three articles talk about the Holy Trinity in terms of what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit do for us. The Father creates, and sends His Son, who redeems us, and then the Father and Son together, send the Holy Spirit, who gives us faith to believe the promise. This is the great gift of salvation. To speak of who God is as Holy Trinity is to speak of the salvation he gives us. Attempts to talk about God apart from Father Son and Holy Spirit, working to save us, are interesting philosophical exercises, but they don’t have much to do with who God is.
The Athanasian Creed seems repetitive and abstract, but it really is talking about who God is and how he brings salvation. “this is the Catholic – that is, universal – faith, whoever does not believe if faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.” That doesn’t mean “You do this, or you don’t get into heaven”, Rather, it means “this is how God comes to us, according to who he is, and that is how he saves you. And if you don’t have that, then you aren’t part of salvation, because you have rejected not just who God is, but the salvation that he gives through His Son.
And this “how to be saved” thing is the conflict between Jesus and Nicodemus in the Gospel reading. Now, to be fair, one of themes of John’s Gospel is that Jesus speaks, people misunderstand him. Sometimes because he speaks of God’s grace, and people are still under law, so they only hear words of condemnation. But Sometimes because they don’t understand words themselves. Nicodemus such a case. And the challenge is, that modern translations often translate it not as Jesus said it, but as Nicodemus would have misunderstood it.
Ambiguity about language used in the Greek. Jesus says, “You must be born again”. “Born again” two words, each word can mean two things.
Word for born – what happens between mother and child. But it can also mean begotten. Relationship between father and child. Father’s beget, mothers bear. From your Father you were begotten, from your mother you were born.
Second word – again. Also mean from above. Now problem in translating is with Jesus saying something and Nicodemus repeating it, you have to pick one and go with it. But lose intent of what’s being said. Translations choose to match Jesus words to Nicodemus understanding. That way the conversation makes sense. But the beauty of salvation as Jesus describes it is muddled.
Jesus says that you must be begotten (that is from the Father) from above. That is, new life given by heavenly Father, and as we will hear, that is by water and sprit, through Holy Baptism.
Nicodemus hears born again, and so wonders about how that work logistically.
Exchange, translated as meant by each speaker would be :
Jesus said to him, “Truly truly I say to you, unless a man is begotten from above, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old, can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Jesus answered, “Truly Truly I say to you, unless one is begotten of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Now, in English, the conversation doesn’t make much sense. But that’s pretty much how Nicodemus felt. “What is he talking about?” Without the spirit to enlighten us, to bring us faith in promise, and to bring us to even understand the promise, we hear word of God and it just confuses or makes angry.
Jesus talking about baptism. Spirit given through the Water and the Word. Because Jesus continues – and again, we hear the translation from Nicodemus perspective. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but do not see where it comes from or where it is going.”
But, the word for spirit is the word for wind or air or breathe. And sound can mean a voice. So, Jesus is saying this:
The Spirit spirits where God wills, and you hear the voice – that is the voice of Jesus – but you do not know where he – that is Jesus – comes from or where he – that is Jesus is going.
And then, Jesus says, “I came from heaven. I will die on the cross.” 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.
This Father-Son-Spirit thing is so that you would have life. Not so God can confuse us with abstract concepts. But so that Jesus would die for your sins, and so that the Spirit would bring you faith in the promise.
That’s why Jesus says, “Begotten of Water and the Spirit.” Baptism talk. In Baptism you are given a new life, a new birth from above. When you were born into this world, you parents name was given to you. They chose a first name, and then your last name was inherited, for good or ill. When you are begotten from above in Holy Baptism, you are given a new name. The name of God is put on you. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is whose you are now. And that name saves you.
As we heard in the last verses of our Gospel reading – God loved the world in this way – that he gave his only-begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
The idea if a loving God who sacrifices for those who have disobeyed his will is unique to Christianity. The argument is sometimes raised, “How can God exist bad things happen in the world?” That’s a question that only applies to Christianity. No other religion is especially interested in presenting their god as loving. We have Holy Scripture to teach us about the love our heavenly Father has for us, as shown in the sacrificial death of his son.
Pick any other religious system, and it isn’t God loving and dying to save you, it’s you sacrificing, and possibly dying to appease your god.
We know of the Love of God only because he tells us. And we see it in the death of His only-begotten Son Jesus. Who died for you so that you would not be condemned, but have eternal life. The life given you in Baptism, when God named you as his own.
Blessèd be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us. In Jesus name, and for His sake. Amen.