Trinity 2018, First Sunday After, Mark 2.23-3.6

A sermon given by Revd Victoria Ashdown, at All Saints Church, on the first Sunday after Trinity 2018. Mark 2.23-3.6 Who shall be Lord of the Sabbath?

Trinity 2018

Sometimes I feel like I don’t know anything. Do you know what I mean? Sometimes I feel that the more I explore, read, study, discover, and experience the world—the less I actually know. I think the Trinity can be a bit like this, whatever way you try and describe it: it's like Water, Ice and Vapour; or the fact that I am Daughter, Wife and Mother but all the same person, just leads into various heresies!

Trinity is not human and therefore cannot be explained in a human way, we just have to feel it, and somehow deep down know it...

For historical context you might be interested to know:

The observance of Trinity Sunday began in England while Thomas Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury and at his request. Becket was a devotee of the Holy Trinity, and he made the anniversary of his consecration a day for the English church to give the Trinity special honour and remembrance. After his murder in 1170, Becket quickly became the most popular saint in the Western Church, and Trinity Sunday became a feast day throughout all of Europe.

Let's look at today's Gospel reading...

We love to travel as you know, to meet people of different cultures and backgrounds; I love to learn new things. But as I do that, I often feel that I actually know very little as I said a moment ago. Perhaps I agree with historian Will Durant, who once said: Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance. Life can certainly feel like that sometimes. Maybe some of you are in that place today.

Perhaps there are things going on in your life that you just cannot explain. The more you try to understand, the less it makes sense. You scratch your head in agony over not knowing what to do.

  • Should I take this new job?
  • Should I move?
  • Will my sister / mother / friend ever speak to me again?
  • How long do I have to feel this loneliness and emptiness?
  • Why did this person have to die and why did this person live?
  • Why do people kill children in Syria, in the Yemen in Africa?
  • Is there a God?
  • Does this God really care? Who knows?

Maybe this is where Nicodemus was. An devout follower of the law but not finding fulfilment in it. So who is this Nicodemus? The name Nicodemus means “peoples’ victory” and is a name of a man who was a member of the Sanhedrin, or the ruling Council in Jerusalem at that time. He’s also called a Pharisee and a leader of the Judeans, which means that Nicodemus was part of the group that didn’t care for Jesus too much.

Actually, the Pharisees and Jesus had a lot more in common than we think. They were avid students of scripture and people of prayer. The problem for the Pharisees was that they loved the status quo and the religious institution. People like Nicodemus were kind of torn between two worlds. On one hand, this Jesus of Nazareth made some good points in his sermons and teachings. But he was just too risky and threatened the dogma and doctrine of their religion.

Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. This is John giving us a clue, because remember that in this the 4th Gospel, Jesus is the light of the world. John borrows a lot from Isaiah of the Old Testament—contrasting darkness with light. You see, we live in this world and oftentimes things can seem pretty bleak. We walk in darkness, so to speak, when tragedy, violence, injustice, guilt, and despair overwhelm us. When you try to walk in the dark, you stumble and fall down quite a bit. You cannot see anything. So light, breaks through the darkness and illuminates people with love, grace, and truth. Nicodemus came at night. He came from a place of confusion; he stumbled over to Jesus. He came to Jesus with his assumptions and his proud knowledge of what he thought he knew.

Jesus really blows Nicodemus’ mind. He says “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above”. I can imagine the look the Nicodemus gives Jesus and I can also imagine the Nicodemus was probably thinking “Maybe this guys really is nuts.” Nicodemus doesn’t understand what Jesus is talking about because Jesus and Nicodemus are thinking on different levels.

Nicodemus has spent his entire life focused on the physical world, specifically the law and order of this world. Jesus, on the other hand, is speaking of a different animal altogether, the spiritual realm.

Jesus mentions the Kingdom of God to Nicodemus. We remember that on Palm Sunday the people cheered Jesus because they thought that he was the new David sent to reclaim the kingdom of Israel on Earth, but in fact he came to usher in a new kingdom of God, a kingdom not of the physical but of the spiritual. The same thing was happening to Nicodemus, when Jesus said kingdom of God, Nicodemus probably thought Jesus was talking about the kingdom of Israel on Earth. Nicodemus thought when Jesus said “born from above” or another translation is “born anew”, he meant a physical birth. Nicodemus was imagining his mother giving birth to him now as an old man and was greatly perplexed. His mind was on the physical but Jesus was talking about the Spiritual.

There is a big difference between the physical world of the flesh and the heavenly world of the Spirit, Jesus calls this the Kingdom of God. This might seem an unnecessary statement but so many times we fail to fully understand what Jesus is saying because our minds are locked in the physical world and so we do not understand things spiritually. The Kingdom of God is a new way of thinking and a new way of seeing. The physical world is fully of violence and hatred. The physical world is fully of injustice and sorrow. We see the effects of the physical world, everyday on the news. Those in the physical world are programmed for selfishness. They believe that the only thing that is important is themselves, their close family and friends and their own happiness, with no concern for others. The result is that the physical world is full of conflict and war.

When Jesus tells Nicodemus he needs to be born again by water and the Spirit , he is saying in order to be an authentic disciple you have to stop this gestating – such as you did in your mothers womb, safe and warm, cocooned in your own private world and come out and let God work in your life.

Being born again (a phrase unfortunately hi-jacked in the 1980s and given rather bad press) just means to start again fully with Christ. It means putting aside all those worldly temptations that pretend to be gods, the mix and match religions that people sometime claim makes them spiritual – a dream-catcher, a bit of woodland fairies, some yoga, crystals and all that is false. And instead to turn to Christ as the one and only …

Now whether this happened to Nicodemus, or indeed to any of us, in a blaze of glory a one time event, or whether it happens in a gradual dawning or enlightenment, there has to come a time somewhere along our journey that we can say ‘Lord my life is yours, use me as you see fit’. And until you have done that with your whole heart and your whole mind and with all your strength, you are still gestating.

Now no-one said it was going to be easy to say these words, because in saying them you are giving everything over to God, your house, your relationships, your job, your finances, everything is up for possible change and thats scary. But what I can tell you, if you trust in him, the rewards will far outweigh the losses, because through Him you are promised Salvation.

So how do we live as authentic disciples in our everyday life? How do we live the Christian life at work as well as at home? Whether work is staying home and looking after the children, whether it’s travelling to London each day, or volunteering locally most of us have a parallel life. One part is with God and one without. One bit fits because there are other Christians around and another doesn’t because it is devoid of Christians. So how do we live that life authentically?

If we are to integrate our faith with our working life (paid or unpaid) we need to recognise that God is already there and asking us to live that part of our life as Christians.

A key verse that I find useful at the beginning of the day is ‘whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’. Colossians 3:17

‘ Do everything’ means the way we do our work honestly, the way we relate to people with kindness, the way we look at moral issues responsibly. You’re doing all those things already, but its easy to do all those things without considering God. You may remember a few years back it was all the rage for young people – many of them not Christian to wear those funny rubber wrist bands with WWJD written on them. ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ they were everywhere but those words are actually very useful to remember, but you don’t have to wear a wrist band.

It takes Nicodemus a long time to come out of the darkness and into the light – it takes until John 19.38-42. No doubt it was difficult, even dangerous for Nicodemus to follow Jesus publicly, during the bright of the day, he was after all, someone who was part of the Jewish establishment, for whom Jesus seemed to be a first only a nuisance but later a political problem and threat. But eventually he stands up and walks into the light.

But there is good news for us too: statistics say that if you are a regular church attendee: you are:

  • more likely to give money to charity…
  • more likely to do voluntary work,
  • give money to a homeless person,
  • give excess change back to a shop assistant,
  • donate blood,
  • help a neighbour with their shopping,
  • spend time with someone who is depressed,
  • allow another driver to cut in front of you,
  • offer a seat to a stranger or help someone find a job. I
  • It goes further than this; frequent worshippers are more active citizens… they take a more active part in local civic life, they are disproportionately represented among activists for social and political reform.

Active church attenders are more likely in short to turn up, to get involved, to graciously lead.

So it seems we are quite good after all at being authentic disciples; just don’t forget to ask God into all that you’re doing and to listen, because we never know what God might be trying to lead us to next.

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