Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
This morning, I would like to introduce you to Nicodemus, a Pharisee and friend of Jesus, who is featured in today’s Gospel lesson from St. John.
(At this point, I put on a Nicodemus robe and hat and began to preach in first person as Nicodemus).
Hello, my name is Nicodemus, but you can call me Nick since I understand your time in 2015 is much more informal than my time in the year 32.
I am a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin of Jesus’ day. That makes me a leader of the Jews in Jerusalem, a scholar and teacher of my day. I am a wealthy man as you can see by my fine robe and hat.
I also am a secret admirer and follower of Jesus Christ. I was a little too timid to appear with Jesus by day, so I first spoke with him at night as recorded in your Gospel lesson today from St. John.
St. John’s Gospel also includes two other stories about me in addition to the one in your lesson today. The first took place when we Pharisees were arguing about Jesus and his ministry. I tried to get them to see the truth in Jesus’ teachings, but was quickly dismissed. They even accused me of being a Galilean, an accusation that, I am now very sad to say, made me shrink back from my support of Jesus. Being called a “Galilean” was like saying I was ignorant and worthless! Then, I must admit, I watched in horror as Jesus was captured, tried and crucified and said nothing. I only surfaced again publicly in the second other story in John’s gospel about me when I helped Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus to his tomb and prepare his body after he died on the cross. I so wish I had stood up more publicly for Jesus.
But, your Gospel lesson today is the most important lesson for me and is, perhaps, the most important text in the entire Bible, but I will get to that in a moment.
As your Gospel lesson suggests, I first came to Jesus undercover, at night, so that my fellow Pharisees would not know I was visiting with Jesus. I confessed that I knew that Jesus was sent by God and that Jesus had showed us signs of God’s love for us.
Jesus confused me more than a bit by his answer to my confession of his importance. He spoke with me about becoming “born again,” something I did not understand at first. I thought Jesus was speaking literally and even wondered out loud how a person who was grown could go back into his mother’s womb to be born a second time.
That was not what Jesus meant. What he meant was a rebirth in spirit, that those of us who follow Jesus’ are to be reborn every day as his beloved children.
I missed this point. That’s probably why John has me fade away as this gospel story continues. I was looking to Jesus for a sign, perhaps another miracle, but Jesus spoke to me about faith. I did not understand this at first, all this birth and rebirth language. Seemed more than a bit too down and dirty for a man of my stature in the community!
But, you Christians do seem to understand what Jesus is saying. You Christians have the right idea when you baptize children. The love of God in Christ Jesus is so strong that it even comes to little ones who may have no idea of the presence of God yet in their lives. I love the dichotomy in baptism – the strong power of God’s love in sprinkled water and helpless babies.
And, that is why, perhaps, that John’s Gospel ends with those often-quoted words, “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.”
Aren’t those wonderful words? I understand you see them often on your television during that sport you call football? That there is always someone in the stands holding up a big sign that says “John 3:16” which is this verse? Is that correct? I am not much of a football fan. We Sanhedrin were more into soccer. Goal! Sorry, I digress….
There is nothing more said of me in the Gospels and very little written of me in history. Legend has me baptized by Peter and John and that sounds wonderful. Other legends have me leaving Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen. Both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches call me Saint Nicodemus – I have to admit that I like that sound, Saint Nicodemus. I sure sound important.
But, perhaps, that is the point. I am not at all important. I am a minor figure in the Gospels and in your Christian history. I appear in John’s Gospel to make an important point about God’s love for people, all people. John concludes your Gospel today with words that may be even more important than John 3:16. Those words are John 3:17 – “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
You see, Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it, but to save us all. You use baptism as a tangible way to show God’s love for us all, his salvation for all. That God comes to a child being baptized and to us all, to save us and not to condemn us.
I like the fact that I am remembered by association with the wonderful words of John 3: 16 and 17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but 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.”
I hope you will not be as timid about your faith as I was. I hope you will tell everyone about Jesus and his love for the world, even as I did not.
I am long gone now. You still have a chance today and tomorrow to tell the world that Jesus has come to us to save us, not to condemn us, and to give us eternal life with him.
Well, thanks for the chance to talk with you this morning. I am Nicodemus, Jesus’ too timid friend. I hope you, too, will be Jesus’ friend today and all days for Jesus was sent by God to love the world, every one of us, and to grant us eternal life with him.
Thanks for listening. I am Nicodemus, Nick, a Pharisee, Sanhedrin, leader of the Jews and, most importantly, a follower of Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Nicodemus – Helping Jesus to Save the World
Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
May 30 /31, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California