A Strange Birth – Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Trinity

Trinity Sunday is one of those Sundays that can sometimes lead to sermons that cause people’s eyes to glaze over—especially if a preacher attempts to make sense of something that has tested the mettle of the greatest minds down through the ages. That isn’t to say that the Trinity isn’t something we shouldn’t wrestle with. It most definitely us. The more we wrestle with what the Trinity is, though, the more we come to understand that the Trinity is less about who God is, but instead what God does. God is in the business of doing things…Not just being. Throughout the whole history of God’s relationship with creation, and that means with us along with all creation, God has been doing things. God is busy. In the beginning God creates. God sustains. And God recreates. God is always doing, doing, doing. And God does this all on our behalf.

The Trinity is yet another revelation of who God is as an active participant in the life of what he has made. It’s one of the reasons that at our baptisms we are baptized in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God’s name is laid beside our own, and we are taken into the mystery of relationship with him—a relationship that is inherently one that creates, renews, and sustains. We who are claimed by the love of the Father, marked with the cross of the Son, and sealed by the power of the Holy Spirit—we are likewise called to created, renew, and sustain love, compassion, mercy, and grace in a world beset by strife, jealousy, dissension, and factions. We are called to be God’s hands and feet, the very body of Christ, in a world that desperately needs Peace. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains,” St. Paul writes to the Romans, “and not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly.” This longing we have, this groaning for rebirth that we experience along with all the earth—this was handed down to us when God claimed us as his own, and promised us that nothing would ever separate us from relationship with him. Freed in the knowledge that God is always with us, we are freed to love as we were first loved. This is just one tiny truth the mystery of the Trinity conveys to us. There’s so much more. But as we go into the sermon today, I want you to consider it means for you to be a child of God, a member of a family with a shared name—a name that points to not only who we are, but also what we do.

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Jerry came running home from school one afternoon. He rushed into the kitchen and immediately asked his mother, “Mom, where to did I come from?” His mother, who didn’t want to get into the details of conception and childbirth with her third-grade son, decided she’d punt on the question said, “Well, a long-legged, sharp-beaked bird known as a stork brought you to your Dad and me in a cloth bundle dangling from its beak. The stork left you on the front porch and flew away.” Jerry scrunched up his nose in confusion. “A bird?” He asked. “Called a stork?” “Yes,” replied his mother, obviously exasperated. “Is that where you came from too?” asked Jerry. “Yes, that’s where I came from too. Now run along to the living room and talk to Grandma.” Jerry ran in and sat down beside his grandma. He asked her the same question. Like her daughter, she didn’t want to really deal with the nitty-gritty of the birds and the bees, so she too opted for the stork story too. Jerry, obviously befuddled, just said, “huh,” and that was that. The next morning, he got on the bus and sat down with his friend Maggie. Maggie had explained the day before to the whole class that her mom was pregnant and going to have a baby. Maggie’s parents hadn’t left out any details, and neither had Maggie when she told her classmates. When Jerry sat down with Maggie, he said, “You’re not going to believe this, but there hasn’t been a normal birth in my family for three generations!”

Birth is an interesting thing, when you take a moment to step back and consider it. It’s a miracle, in many ways. And there all sorts of ways that it happens, but however it happens, it’s a truly remarkable event. The birth of another human being…A new person, born of another person. From the moment of conception, when sperm and egg meet, to the moment of birth, myriad myriad processes happen within the gestating mother’s womb. First cells divide. Then they specialize. Heart cells. Nerve cells. Bone cells. Eye cells. Then finger nodes and then fingerprints. The lungs develop late in the process, preparing the baby to take its first gulps of air when it’s born.

And the birthing process is remarkable as well. The woman’s body prepares itself to deliver, to bring forth, to give life to a new human being. Her water may break, signaling that labor is imminent. Better rush to the hospital! And once you’re there…those of you women who’ve given birth—I don’t have to tell you that it’s an event. The struggle of labor…the pain, the shouts, the sweat. And at the end of it all, the sound of a newborn infant’s cries ring through the air. A new person is born. Life once more finds a way.

Birth is an interesting thing, a miracle in many ways. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews, a “teacher of Israel,” Jesus calls him—he’s confused. This notion of being born again is strange. Some Bible experts have tried to explain this away by telling us that what Jesus meant was to say that we must be “born from above”—because, yes, this word for “again” that Jesus uses can also mean “from above,” and, yes, Jesus does likely mean to play on the double entendre, but no matter how you slice it, Jesus is saying that someone who’s part of God’s kingdom must undergo a second birth, a birth different from your natural birth from your mother. “Very truly, I tell you,” Jesus says, “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” This is no normal birth, but a second birth—a birth of water and the Spirit, as Jesus says. A birth not wholly unlike our first birth, but different. It’s a strange birth.

When we are baptized into Christ Jesus, we are baptized into his death and resurrection. Like our first birth, we come to life through water—but instead of rising from the water of mother’s womb, we rise from the water of the rebirth in Christ. In that water, all that stands in way of good relationship with God is washed off us. We are birthed again, raised up to new life in Christ—in a second birth. A strange birth. We are born again.

And like our first birth, our second birth, our baptism into Christ—that second birth is an interesting thing, a miracle to be sure. It’s a sign of God’s gracious love for us. Because like at our first birth we are born for the first time, at our baptism we are born again. We are born. Someone births us. Like at our first birth, at our baptism we’re delivered from everything and anything that would stand in God’s way to have an intimate relationship with us, we’re brought forth from the darkness of misunderstanding into the light of wisdom, and we’re given new life in Christ. Like infants who don’t choose to be born, we don’t choose to be born again.

God, in infinite mercy, who loved the world so much to enter into life with us—God chooses to give birth to us again. God who created all that is, even unto our very selves, God who came down from heaven for our sake to reveal to us the true scope of his love for us, God who daily sustains us in life—that God chooses to give birth to us again through water and the Spirit. For as often as we see it, we are reminded that something as simple and abundant as water is how God chooses to give life. Life is a gift given us at our first birth from our mother. New life is a gift given us at our second birth in baptism. Just as birth to life is a gift, so too is baptism to new life a gift.

When a baby is born, often someone is given the permission to accompany and support the mother-to-be as she gives birth. Often, it’s the father. Sometimes it’s a friend. When my sister and I were born, Grandma went into the delivery room with our mother. The privilege of going to the delivery room when a child is born is an opportunity to witness something that not everyone will have the chance to see—the moment that a new life is birthed into the world.

Yet today, each and every one of us was in the delivery room. We all witnessed as Steve was born again—born again of water and the Spirit. And like anyone who goes along into the delivery room when a baby is born, we were in this delivery room to accompany and support Steve as he was born again. We made promises to support him in his new life in Christ as he joins in the mission that we share with God—Christ’s own mission, to reconcile the world to God in love, mercy, and grace.

But what’s more fundamental to all that, we who were in this delivery room today were reminded once again of our own second birth, of our strange birth. We were once again reminded, as the water splashed against Steve’s head and the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” were spoken over him—we were reminded that those words are words of promise not only for Steve, but also for us. We all share with Steve in Jesus’ death and resurrection through the water of baptism. Each and every one of us has been born again through water and the Spirit. Each and every one of us is fashioned in God’s imaged, is conformed to the image of Christ through the water of rebirth, and is daily renewed in strength to love and serve not only one another and all of God’s creation, but ourselves as beloved children of God.

God has looked upon each of us and told us, “You are my child, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Today, as we were in this delivery room and witnessed as Steve was born again of water and the Spirit, we heard along with him the same promise spoken to us—a promise both individual and collective.

Thank you, Steve, for the chance to once again not only hear, but to see, to truly witness God’s love at work—for you and for each of us. And welcome—welcome into this family, our family, your family, the family of God, where there hasn’t been a normal birth for generation after generation!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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