notre dame montreal


Sermon for Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday - Nicodemus

The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

Trinity Sunday - It’s not what you know but who you know…

The final of University Challenge this year seemed to have some particularly hard questions, but in some ways, they are not as challenging as the questions Jesus poses to Nicodemus when they meet together – or perhaps as challenging as trying to explain the Trinity!

The exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus is one of the well-known exchanges in the bible.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night to find out more about what is going on.

Nicodemus is a man of the Pharisees, part of the establishment, probably the Sanhedrin comes to Jesus to speak about the Kingdom of God.

As a teacher Nicodemus is a leader and secure in who he is and what he believes.  He probably (and rightly) thinks he understands just about as much about God’s engagement with the world as anyone but has seen something in Jesus he can’t quite work out.  Whether he’s come on his own or on behalf of the Pharisees is not clear.

The conversation starts with an air or respect but with Nicodemus clearly thinking he’s the one with the authority and understanding, as he comments to Jesus that it appears Jesus is connected to the Kingdom of God.  Effectively asking how Jesus fits in with what he understands

So it must have been somewhat surprising when Jesus answers him as he does.  He doesn’t.  No one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again, born from above.  Almost saying, ‘I’m not sure what you are seeing but unless you are born from above you can’t be seeing the Kingdom of God’

In contrast to Nicodemus’ ‘knowing’, Jesus responds quite ambiguously, almost about ‘not knowing’.

Jesus’ way is not concerned with acquitting great wisdom and knowledge over the years, but a way which entails openness and becoming like a child again, starting again, having a fresh start.

Nicodemus can’t understand this – how can anyone be born from above, born again.  This isn’t what Nicodemus has been learning all these years.

Nicodemus and others like him have spent years getting to where they are now, they are in positions of authority, they command respect, they know the rules and regulations, they set then, they know how it is, they are in control.

Jesus simply challenges him and says, it’s not what you know but who you know.  It’s not a matter of being in control, but out of control.  Letting the wind of the spirit blow where it will and see what happens.

There is a clear contrast between the certitudes of power and knowledge on one side and the seeming openness, and love on the other.  For whatever reason, Nicodemus can see the kingdom of God in Jesus, perhaps more than he can in himself of his fellow Pharisees but doesn’t understand what is happening.  It’s one of those conversations we see people having with Jesus where they wonder, ‘How did we get here?

Jesus speaks to Nicodemus again and puts what is happening in a context that Nicodemus might understand.

The gift of the spirit had been promised and foretold by the prophets.  Ezekiel had spoken of those who believe having a new heart and the spirit being put I them.  (Ez 36 v 25 – 26).

Joel speaks about the spirit being poured out on all people when the Messiah will come.  (Joel 2 v 28).  Had Nicodemus forgotten these, and other scriptures like them. 

Nicodemus had become so tied up with all the certainties and rules of the law he couldn’t see what was staring him in the face, until Jesus reveals and explains it to him.

Belief and the Kingdom of God is not about trusting and adhering to some abstract doctrine and set of laws but believing and trusting in the person of Jesus and His words

The belief and trust that comes when people see Jesus doing and saying things no one else can.  They realise, as Nicodemus has done, that He comes from God.  Almost without knowing it, Nicodemus has started out on his own journey of faith.

Jesus is explaining that what he offers is open to anyone who will accept it, the spirit will move where it wills.  It’s an encounter with the Trinity which is far more than an academic or mere theological understanding.

It’s a different way of understanding the Kingdom of God and through Christ, His new vision for humanity.

It’s a fresh start, a new life which grows the more we acknowledge who Jesus is.

It was the disciples’ story
It was Nicodemus’ story
It can be our story

Jesus can spell it out no more clearly to Nicodemus – if we believe and trust in Jesus we will have eternal life

And it’s not just something for the future.  What Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus is that as we believe and trust in Him, part of the eternal one is with us and comes to be part of us as we are born, not of the flesh, but of the spirit, the new understanding of the way God is working and living in his world in and through us.  That’s the life which Jesus was offering to Nicodemus

This was very different for Nicodemus!  To have the life of the eternal one flowing through someone was a very different understanding of how religious life should be done.  That doesn’t smack of control, it smacks of being completely out of control and letting the one who is in control have free reign in our lives.

Which is exactly what it is.  And as we allow this to happen, so we see the world, circumstances and people as Jesus sees them, and it’s in a very different light.

Sometimes we too can be a bit like Nicodemus, blinded by our own knowledge and understanding that we’ve acquired over the years.  And there is nothing wrong with knowledge and understanding, structures and certitude

But when what we believe takes over from who we believe in then the Kingdom of God becomes more obscure for us and for those who look at us.

Nicodemus looked at Jesus and saw the Kingdom of God.  He saw that with all the uncertainty and lack of supposed authority, here was something of the Kingdom of God had never witnessed before.  And it was compelling and attractive, so much so he was willing to go out of his way to find out more.

Nicodemus was truly seeking illumination and understanding.  As we follow our own journey of faith we need to ask ourselves, ‘Do we still seek that same illumination and understanding of what God might want in our lives or do we think we perhaps have nothing left to learn?’  Have we forgotten that there is always something new God is looking to do in our lives?  How he might want to show and reveal His Kingdom to us?

In a world which is forever seeking but never finding, Jesus has the answers, even if the world, like Nicodemus, doesn’t quite know how or what to ask, but sees in us and in the church, perhaps very dimly, something that is of the work and Kingdom of God.