Holy Trinity Sunday—Year B—May 31, 2015
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Chesapeake, VA
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer.
I have passed out various translations of John 3:1-17 and I want you to hear these various versions on v. 3
- NRSV & NET: “from above”
- KJV & NIV: “again”
- ASV & WEB: “anew”
Read various v.3…Did you notice anything?…They use different words…again, anew, from above.
When this happens, when various translations choose one of a couple of options, it is a sign to us that the meaning of the Greek in uncertain, or has a couple of various meanings. In the case of this word in v. 3 “anothen,” we know it can mean, “again” “anew” or “from above,” we just do not know which one exactly Jesus meant.
We do know however, at least, can be sure which one Nicodemus thought he meant by his response in verse 4.
Read various v.4
But then Jesus responds with a somewhat confusing, convoluted, diatribe in v.s 5-8. Is Jesus trying to correct Nicodemus’ understanding of that word, the whole point, or is Jesus reinforcing the translation Nicodemus has understood and simply answering his follow up question?
Either way, Nicodemus seems to be left confused—“how can these things be?” And to be honest, so am I.
Which led me to think about the literal translation of “anothen”…”from the top”. When you hear it translated that way, you can hear how the misunderstanding comes about…does top refer to a place “above” or does does it refer to time, as it does in the popular saying “let’s take it from the top”…go back the beginning, start over, start again, start anew.
When it comes to relating to God’s people, God has taken it from the top a number of times since it all began.
- In the beginning, God related directly to humans–adam and eve, noah, etc.
- but when people got more plentiful and some were even frightened by direct communication with God, God took it from the top, and tried something new by just communicating with a leader–Moses for example.
- but when the Israelites made it to the promised land, they were more dispersed than they ever had been before, and so God took it from the top and raised up local Judges just when there was a problem to be solved
- the people grew weary of this inconsistent leadership and demanded a king, to which God reluctantly agreed and took it from the top by raising up Saul, David, and many others (some successful, some not so much)
- In the midst of the flawed age of monarchy in Israel, God took it from the top by raising up Prophets to be a voice for justice and righteousness when there was a lack
- but ultimately none of this worked out–no one wanted to listen to someone who was telling them they were wrong and needed to change, trying to lead them back to God, when they were enjoying their lives just as they were.
Which led God to the ultimate example of taking it from the top–Jesus. A direct relationship between God and God’s people was restored, along with a real chance for eternal life, righteousness, and holiness as had been in the beginning.
And after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, God did another new thing and sent the Holy Spirit into the world to be our guide, our advocate, our comforter, one to come alongside us on our journey through this life and relationship with God.
It is because of the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on God’s people and God’s church that we as the ELCA are able to use the tag line for our anniversary “always being made new.” With each of us, collectively and individually, God is always taking it from the top. Daily renewing us in the promises of our baptism–those articulated so clearly in John 3:16-17–and guiding us through the various seasons of our lives.
I know that that is what has been happening here over the last couple of months. As Grace LC has been heading into a new chapter of their story, God has been at work in this place, the Spirit has been blowing where it chooses. We do not know where is will lead, but we know that it is a gift from God. With God’s guidance and encouragement, you have taken time to reflect, refocus, and remember what God has formed you to be. A new pastor will part of the outcome, will be part of taking it from the top, but they will only be part–each of you has been made new, are daily made new, and will part of the taking it from the top that God is calling Grace to right now.
Some experience one of God’s taking it from the top moments in an extreme all at once way, as we read about in Isaiah’s experience, but for others it is more subtle. but no matter your experience, I pray that you would know and trust that you are truly loved by God, you have been claimed and called a child of God, you are full of the Spirit, which daily renews you and sends you out into the world to be part of what God is up to–the old thing of being in relationship with creation and the new thing of doing that in this ever-changing society.
Even when we don’t understand exactly what Jesus is talking about, know that you have been born again in the waters of Baptism, you have been filled with the Holy Spirit from above, and you are part of God doing a new thing. So let’s take it from the top. Amen.