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A Cold Wet Nose

John 3:1-17

The Rev. Jon Roberts

31 May

2015

Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicode′mus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicode′mus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ 8 The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicode′mus said to him, “How can this be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

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Holy Trinity by Heinrich von Balen, 1620

Holy, Holy, Holy!
Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee:
Holy, Holy, Holy!
Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity. [1]

“Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;” Did you rise early this morning singing a song of the Trinity? If so, probably not the same song by the angels in this hymn. Still the lyrics in this tune resonate. This particular song charges you up to do something great, something mighty, something holy. It’s kind-of ‘catchy’ don’t you think? There is something about the repetition of those words, “Holy, Holy, Holy”, that gives us a feeling of great commission, especially to those who sing it early in the morning. This hymn is familiar and joyous because it has been a favorite of the Church on this special feast day we call Trinity Sunday. Certain hymns just have to be sung on certain days. This is one of them. It’s like going through Christmas and singing “Joy to the world;” or Easter when we sing, “Jesus Christ is risen today;” or Pentecost when we sing, “Hail thee festival day.” “Holy, Holy, Holy” is our Trinity Sunday hymn of praise, but more importantly it reminds us of the central truth of our Christian faith. The God we worship is a personal God, a relational God, and this gives us great comfort.

Let me tell you of a person’s discovery of God’s comfort.[2] It happened during a point in time when this one woman needed to feel the mightiness and the mercy of God at the same time. She was in the midst of her grief after losing her husband and she found it most difficult to rise early in the morning. Forget singing. She shares her story simply by this random admission, “I never wanted the dog in the first place!” She goes on: “My husband insisted I get him to replace the dog that had died recently. Soon, he was “my dog,” a friend and faithful companion; not asking for any more than I was willing to give, a daily meal, a kind word, a warm bed. But not my bed! No dogs were ever allowed on my bed. The night after my husband died, I lay there, staring into the darkness; my pillow soppy wet with the unending flow of tears. The bed seemed so big all by myself. I was wondering how long it takes for a good case of “loneliness” to heal when I first felt it move. It was cold and clammy and creeping at a very slow pace into my open hand dangling outside the covers. The solidified jelly-like mass was followed by prickly hairs and just before I screamed, a muffled but familiar whine came from the creature that was forcing its cold, wet nose into my trembling hand. “Oh, Sunny! What are you doing in my bed?” I threw my arms around his thick hairy neck and hugged and hugged.

In the days and months to follow, I came to realize that this dog I hadn’t wanted was a gift of love from God. He was a warm reminder on my bed every night; a companion always willing, wagging, and available to go for a walk when I needed to get out of the house. Twice, he snapped at me as I wailed loudly and out of control, as if to reprimand me to be strong and of good courage. Sunny taught me all about love and acceptance and forgiveness. That crazy dog loves me just as I am. And so I’ve learned to be a warm reminder to those around me who are hurting and to approach them gently, loving them just as they are. Like my dog curled up by a warm fire, I just want to be there in case I’m needed. I thank God for providing a friend when I felt alone, and for the comfort of a cold, wet nose.”

We acknowledge this reality every Sunday in our liturgy. In our opening acclamation we say, “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the Sanctus as we begin our great prayer of worship we say Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts. These are the first words we hear as we are baptized into our Christian lives. The God we worship is not one, not two, but three… in one. Holy Father, Holy Son, and Holy Spirit. These words used in our expression of worship are those things that remind us of the fundamental relationship that was passed down to the disciples and then in succession passed down through the Church. To live into them and truly sing them, we must understand they come out of struggle and out of grief. It is the angels who sing them. The Seraphim and Cherubim, as described in the book of Isaiah are the chosen choir members in heaven who raise their voices and sing when the Son of God descended into Earth, into Hell with all its grief and struggles, and rose victorious. [3]

Our Gospel this morning is about Nicodemus, one who struggles with the grief and loss of Jerusalem as an occupied city and a religion that no longer could comfort the afflicted by the Torah alone.[4] There must be a sign. We must be delivered once more by One who will set us free, he began to wonder. Jesus intrigued him like no other. He was mysterious. He received his power from another place, not from going to seminary. Not from years of distinguished service as a well-respected rabbi. He spoke with might and with mercy. How? Furthermore he began to ask, “Could he be the One to deliver us from our grief and trouble?” Jesus tells Nicodemus that a man must be born again. “How can a man re-enter the mother’s womb,” was his reply. Long ago on that first Easter, it took some time for Resurrection faith to dawn in the hearts of the disciples. Not so much that they did not believe, but because they could not understand. Often times we ourselves do not understand the unexpected things that are going on in our lives and we doubt. That is normal. God knew that when he created us. He knew that some would experience a hard time understanding who he was, what he does, and how he does it. That is why in John 3:16 we have the assurance of God’s promise. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” This is our comfort. The source of our hope. We have been made for Eternity. We belong to God, and he will never turn away from us. We have all felt alone and hurt in life. And needed the comfort of a cold, wet, nose.

My friends, the promises of God are true. We have not been left alone. We do not walk alone. And we are to reflect God’s love to those around us, even if all we have to offer is a cold, wet nose. Somehow, most mysteriously, we are enclosed within the abiding love of the God who created us, the Son who redeemed us, and the Spirit who enlivens us. Comforted we are by that catchy saying, each morning we awake. Holy, Holy, Holy, let our song rise up to thee.

1980 Hymnal #362 “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
Barbara Baumgardner
Isaiah 6:1-8
John 3:1-17

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