Trinity Sunday – Bodil Skjøtt

John 3:1-17, Isaiah 6:1-8 and Ps 29

Today we are going to do something you are not supposed to do: Eavesdropping

– listen in on a private conversation between two people, Nikodemus and Jesus.

Nikodemus even tried really hard to make this a very private conversation –

coming to Jesus at night time. At least we often think that is why he came at

night. Perhaps it was just the culture among disciples of rabbis to seek out the

master at night. Maybe Nikodemus is actually treating Jesus with respect – as a

rabbi – by coming at night. For sure, Nikodemus does appear to be a very

respectful, honest and even open person, addressing Jesus the way he does and

quite different from other pharisaic leaders we read about in the Gospels

Listening in on two people’s private conversation is, however, not very respectful.

But what can we do? John wrote it and it is the gospel story assigned for this

Sunday, Trinity Sunday, where we begin on a new journey in our church calendar.

I think we have to assume that Nikodemus himself actually is the one to leak the

conversation and share the story with John later on. We know that the

conversation that started that night led to Nikodemus later becoming a follower of

Jesus – and therefore also a friend of John.

Before we get further into our eavesdropping let us pause and notice where are

in the church calendar. As mentioned, today is called “Trinity-Sunday”. The three

big church holidays are now all behind us. No big feasts to look forward to. From

now on it is all about putting into practice what we have learned so far. We´´e

now been told the whole story about Jesus: His coming into our world – the

Christmas story; His death and suffering on the cross, culminating with the

resurrection, the Easter story and we have just celebrated his ascension and with

that the completion of what he came to do. He has returned to his father and sent

us the Holy Spirit which we celebrated a week ago with Pentecost Sunday. We

have been told what we are to believe in. Now the focus is on how to live in that

story so that what we know with our heads and believe in our hearts can take

shape in our lives with each other and in society – as the people of God. The

God we have come to know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity.

What does this life look like? A key word for Christmas could be light. A keyword

for Easter could be life – even from the dead. Perhaps a key word for this next

season starting from today could be love – or faith, hope and love. Faith and

hope in Jesus leads to love in action.

Is it not amazing that as we set out on that journey – the journey of faith, hope

and love, that we start with the words from John 3:16 – about God’s love – for us

and the world that is ours – and still remains God´s. Not our love for God but his

love for us. John 3:16 has almost become a cliché. We know it so well – or at

least we can say John 3:16 as if everybody then knows what we mean. Are we in

danger of being num to them? Can we hear them afresh: “For God so loved the

world that he gave his only son”.

A God who loves! Do we realize how unique this is for the Christian faith? Not a

God who is holy, righteous, all powerful, compassionate. But a God who loves –

Yes, even more, a God who IS Love. I have often met people coming to faith in

Jesus from other religions who would say that this is what was so different and

surprising to them. God, as a father who loves his children. And it is a love that

acts – by giving – giving what is most dear to him. God did not just send Jesus –

he gave him, gave him up. A giving that opens the door – for whoever- believes.

Opens the door and gives life – everlasting. It should blow us away! When we

talk about God so loved the world – it is not like when we say, I just looove the

people of HK, or I just looove the Danish people. You can put your own name

there where it says “world.” I can put mine. God so love me, you. God’s love is

measured by what it is giving. We cannot string the beginning and the end of this

verse together and omit the middle part and just say: God loved the world so that

all could have eternal life. God had to give – give up – and what God gives we

get through faith – “whoever believes”. Perhaps it is easier to understand how we

are to respond to God’s giving if we use the word “trust”. Trust in God.

We can know these words so well that we forget the context in which Jesus said

them. It was as he was talking to Nikodemus trying to explain to him what the

kingdom of God is all about – or what “life with Jesus” is – as we have labeled this

season in our church calendar.

So Nikodemus comes to Jesus very respectful, very open, not judgmental at all. I

think many of us have to redefine our understanding of the Pharisees when we

meet him here. He does not fit the stereotype. So, let us not be too quick to put

people into boxes. I sometimes think that Jesus could have answered

Nikodemus a little more friendly. Could he not have given him credit for his good

behaviour, his high morals, his honesty. But it is like Jesus is telling Nikodemus:

All that is good, but with regard to your questions – or what it is you are looking

for, it will not get you there. You will not be able to grasp the Kingdom of God with

more information, more miracles, more good deeds. You have to be born again.

Says Jesu and he does so three times. Had it been about moral deeds –

Nikodemus could already check that box. Nor is it about great miracles that he

had seen or heard Jesus perform. It is a whole new beginning. To explain what

he means Jesus then refers to a story familiar to Nikodemus – the story about

when God’s people were poisoned by snakes in the desert and Moses was told

to make a snake out of bronze, hold it up high and have the people look at it. By

doing so they would live. In the same way, says Jesus to his polite and open

guest, the Son of Man must be lifted up and in looking to him you can find life.

God has to do something for you – not you for him. And God still has a remedy

for broken and dying people in a broken world. We are not to look to a snake

raised on a stick, but to the Son of Man, Jesus, God’s only son, raised up on the

cross. For so – so much and in this way – God loved – and continues to love – the


Words and phrases can be used so much that we no longer can hear them. As

we said this can be the case with John 3:16.

Other words can be taken captive by certain groups so that others no longer feel

they can identify themselves with this label. I think many feel that the label

“evangelical” has become such a word. It has been stolen – at least from me –

and politicized. It no longer stands for “trust in the Bible, a desire for unity or

mission and a conviction that the gospel should be shared with all people.”

I think the same can be true for the phrase “born again” that some people will use

to describe themselves, saying: “I am not just a Christian – I am a born again

Christian”. The phrase was made famous when it was used by the former US

president Jimmy Carter back in the last century and also used as the title of his

biography. When Billy Graham then wrote a book about “How to be born again”

the phrase was almost made identical with the evangelical movement – and to a

certain extent trivialized. But whether we like the phrase or we think it sounds as

if the person is saying “I am a better, more serious Christian than others” – the

text today begs us to consider what Jesus means when he – three times – uses

the phrase “born again”.

Perhaps we should rather talk about being “born from above”. It is not a physical

re-birth, it has nothing to do with a program for moral upgrade. Nikodemus did

not need a moral upgrade. What he needed was something from “above”. It is

something that God does. It starts with God! It starts with “For God so loved the


None of us have ever done anything to be born. Birth is something that happens

to us. We cannot initiate it, or add to it. When it comes to our own birth we are

totally on the receiving end. Birth happens to us. And the same is true when we

talk about being born again – or born from above. It is like the wind – you feel it,

you know it is there but you can’t see where it comes from or where it is going.

However, it does not make us totally passive. We can respond! Respond to

God’s love for us. Jesus talks about being born of water and spirit – Repentance

and believing in Jesus – looking to Jesus – like the Israelites were told to look at

the snake in the desert. Looking to Jesus here means looking to Jesus – at the

cross. For so – in that way – God loved the world.

And the world is you and me. God loved you, loved me – not just the big

impersonal world. But you, me. How can we hear this afresh – or again. It is like

the phrase “born again”- or evangelical.- Just because the word has been stolen

from us does not mean it is no longer relevant for us to ponder what it means to

be born again and what it means to believe in the gospel the eu-engalicon.

And in a similar way, just because we have heard Joh 3:16 often does not mean

that we now can put it behind us and move on. As we start this season in our

church calendar with a focus on living out the gospel we need to be reminded of

this fundamental basis for living out the Jesus story. The story that we know now

because we have celebrated Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. This is a story we

can live in and we can do so, because God so loved us that he raised up not a

snake in the desert but Jesus on the cross as the remedy not for snake-bites but

for the bite of sin and death in our lives.

Our response to the new birth – the born again – or rather born from above – for it

is God’s doing and we are on the receiving end – is – if we take the answer

Nikodemus got from Jesus that night – to look to Jesus. There we see how God

loved us. Can that make us stand in awe like Isaiah did in the temple? He

realized that God is holy, holy,holy, – notice the three holys – and his own

situation? And can we then respond as he did. He realized that he was in the

presence of God, but also in need of God to make him clean, heal him from the

snake bites in his life. When God did that, gave him a new birth, a new identity,

his response was: Here I am – send me!

May we see that we are loved people – people that are loved by God. And may

God’s love for us make us people who love. Love the world, our family, our

neighbor, the stranger. Love with the love with which we ourselves have been

loved – the love that gives – everything, so that whoever – no exceptions –

believes in Him – or with a less “religious” word: Trust in him – will not perish but

have eternal life. That is why Jesus came – not to condemn but to give life.

Let’s not withhold that love of God from anyone. May we like Isaiah be

overwhelmed overjoyed, again by this love so we too respond: “use me, send

me” May we start this season in our calendar – as church, as God’s people

soaked in the love of God, by setting our feet firmly on this as the foundation on

which we stand and from where we move as we are sent. May we then go out

and into the world. And remember, the big world is made up of my family, my

friends, my colleagues, my neighborhood. This Is where we as loved people are

to love and to give – that people will not perish but live.