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Rest In God

John 3:1-17

The Rev. Jon Roberts

3 June

2012

Grace Episcopal Church

Monroe, LA

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, H.H. Franciscanos de Cruz Blanco, Hermano Leon, Venezuelan c. 21st C.

Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.[1]

On this Trinity Sunday, we are going to hear about three holy men whose hearts were restless, yet eventually found their rest in God. We’ll work our way backwards in time. We begin, with the story about a Bishop. Soon after his consecration he went to an old downtown church. There, he parked his car and paused for a minute. He took a deep breath then briskly climbed the steps leading up to the sunny verandah. On a bench near the front door sat an old grey-haired priest, seemingly in silent meditation. The Bishop approached him slowly, carefully studying his heavily lined features, with clasped hands and closed eyes. Then he stood beside him and spoke softly: “Father, may I sit a while?” The old priest looked up at the man dressed in a purple shirt, wearing a large, jeweled pectoral cross. He smiled and motioned for the bishop to sit beside him. “Forgive my intrusion,” the bishop said, “But I have a story I must share with you.” The old priest nodded quietly and waited.

The bishop began: “Quite some time ago a group of rather boisterous young lads, fresh from an afternoon’s session of drinking, were walking past a little church. One of them drew the attention of his companions to a notice on the door, listing the times of confession. Amid raucous laughter, he suggested “Why don’t we have a bit of fun? Let’s make a list of the worst sins we can think of, and then draw lots as to who should go in for confession. It’ll be a lark seeing how the priest reacts.” “I’ve got a better plan,” jeered one of his companions. “Seeing it’s your bright idea, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is? I bet you twenty dollars you don’t have the guts to do it yourself.” The young man tensed a bit but rose to the challenge. “Right,” he said, “let’s get working on the sin sheet.” Picking the worst on the list, this young man proceeded inside. It wasn’t long after when he emerged from the church beaming, holding up a slip of paper, his proof of doing it. “What’s that?” asked his companions. “It’s my penance, handed to me by the priest himself.” “What did he say?” the other asked. “He didn’t say anything, just handed me the slip.”
“Well,” said one, “have you done your penance?” “Don’t be silly. I don’t go for that nonsense,” he replied. “Then I don’t have to pay you the twenty bucks”, said his challenger. “No penance, no confession.” He was adamant. Seeing all of them were unyielding, the young man went back into the church, reading the priest’s note as he went. “In front of the altar, kneel before the crucifix and repeat this ten times: Father, all this you did for me, and I don’t care.” “That’s no hassle,” he thought, making his way to the chancel. He reached the altar, knelt down and looked up at the crucifix. He looked at the marks on Jesus’ hands where the nails went. He looked into the eyes that seemed to stare right back at him. Weird, he thought. Then he looked down at the text on the sheet the priest gave him. He began his penance, “Father, all this you did for me and I don’t care.” He paused. “Father, all this you did for me and I didn’t care. Father, all this…you…for me.” About a half hour later, his friends impatiently went into the church to find out what he was up to. They found him at the altar rail sobbing profusely. “Well, that’s the story,” said the bishop. “Except for two things, I was that restless young man and you were the priest.” [2]

Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.

It’s interesting where this quote comes from. It comes from the holy man in our second story. Further back in time there was another Bishop, who lived in Africa and went by the name Augustine. He was like the young man, the bishop in our first story. His heart was restless, and in his early years, he did not seem to care too much about God. It was a priest named Ambrose, who mentored him, and his mother, Monica, who prayed incessantly for him that helped him find his way to a confession of true faith in the glory of the Triune God. Augustine knelt down and confessed how he never really cared for God, because he never cared for His Son Jesus. At the foot of the altar, at the top of the cross, he had always thought it was foolish to believe God could exist in the lowly estate of a human being. God, after all, was in heaven, “Way up there”, and Hell was “Way down there” in the opposite direction, and in the meantime everyone else sort of lived in between. But something happened after making his confession. The lights came “on” for him. He saw the Father, the Spirit and the Son as One. Like the bishop in our story, and like St. Augustine, there is a third holy man who saw the light of the Trinity. We go back even further in time.

It is the story of the priest in our Gospel, named Nicodemus.[3] Coming by night, in secret where no one could see, he asked Jesus how one might be born again. His heart was searching to find rest in the ongoing quest to find God. He was searching for signs. What does Jesus tell him? It is impossible to be born again, unless one cares about the three distinct persons to whom we direct our Sanctus. Holy God the Father – Holy God the Son – Holy God the Spirit. It is the loving closeness of their relationship keeping them as one. It is this relationship that we search for our entire lives. The heart does not ever want to be alone. It does not want to be removed from the body. Where have you felt bound to such closeness? That is the beauty of God. His love allows himself to reach deep into His creation giving himself as the Son to those with true faith, so that they can live by, with and in Him.

Can anyone honestly kneel down before the Cross and say to God, “Father, you did this for me, and I don’t care?” Do not let your heart be restless. Be born again and rest in God.

[1] St. Augustine, Confessions 1.1.1.
[2] Story via “The Searchlight”, Diocese of Port Elizabeth. Published in The Anglican Digest, Pentecost 2009 AD.
[3] John 3:1-17

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