"Nicodemus"

John 3, 1-17

Lent 2 A, March 16, 2014

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester and Zion West Walworth United Methodist Churches

 

John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 

 

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

 

Prayer.

 

In darkness

much can be hidden.

In the absence of light,

one is able to act according to Free Will,

without the prying or judgmental eyes of others watching.

Where there is no light,

the Will can lead one to do great and good things.

A brisk walk under a starry night sky

is good for the heart.

A police officer working the 3rd shift

can use the cover of darkness to catch a thief

or prevent a crime.

A midwife can deliver a baby

at three o'clock in the morning.

Good things in the dark

are usually the exception.

All too often,

darkness has another

modus operandi.

 

Free Will

under the cover of darkness

is susceptible to the assaults of temptation.

Darkness works as Sin's camouflage.

It is the black cloak that conceals the engines of Evil,

turning and churning out its diabolical work.

Spies meet in the shadows,

in the isolation of fog filled deserted parks and streets.

Thugs lay in wait under the cover of darkness

to spring upon unsuspecting victims.

Pushers and pimps find comfort

when the sun sets and all traces of twilight

retreat from the western sky.

Darkness enables sin

far more

than it encourages righteousness.

Perhaps there is good reason

to be afraid of the dark.

 

Darkness can be a metaphor for secrets.

We talk about keeping selected people “in the dark.”

You've heard it before,

“Don't tell mother that Johnny is in jail. It would just break her heart,”

or

“Jill doesn't need to know that her mother had an affair

and Jack isn't her real father.”

From a parish pastor's / spiritual advisor's point of view,

almost without exception

family secrets are destructive and hurtful.

Darkness and denial go hand-in-hand.

But neither changes

the underlying reality

of human depravity and sin.

 

The Gospel of John begins in utter darkness.

This is an intentional schematic

that serves the Gospel author well throughout the book;

darkness vs. light

– in a great bipolar,

cosmic struggle for the soul of humankind.

“In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God. ...

in him was life,

and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness did not

overcome it.”

(John 1:1, 4-5)

 

In John,

Jesus prays in the garden at night (John 17)

and is arrested in the dark by torch carrying soldiers (John 18).

That same night, Peter warmed himself around the charcoal fire (John 18:18)

and denied Jesus 3 times.

Betrayal and denial come in the dark.

 

Rooted in our doctrine

is the Apostle's Creed,

which tells us that his Spirit descended into darkness,

where it lasted for three days. 

Yet, his body

– his broken, bloodied, physical body –

was removed from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea,

who together with Nicodemus

- “who had first come to Jesus by night” - 

placed it in the garden tomb

and prepared it

with “a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about a hundred pounds

(John 19:38-39).

 

Ah, the Pharisee, Nicodemus.

A leader of the Religious Right of his day,

the Moral Majority of his time,

a lay leader

who espoused moral and ethical family values on the one hand,

yet, on the other,

came slinking and crawling to Jesus under cover of night.

If the conflict was so cut and dry,

why the secretive cloak and dagger behavior?

 

One can only speculate what the true motive might have been.

Often times agendas remain hidden in darkness

just under the surface,

disguised by flowery words

or insincere platitudes.

Nicodemus slobbers it on thick.

His mind begins in darkness,

and it looks hopeless that he'll ever understand anything

other than the darkness of earthly realities.

He is showing everyone

just what kind of a doorknob he truly is.

 

But Jesus isn't speaking the same language;

he's using Kingdom language!

He isn't talking about child birth and wombs.

He doesn't answer him regarding miracles,

nor does he highlight his latest sermon.

Jesus is talking about making a change;

making the intentional effort to take a step

from the darkness

and to walk into the Light,

to move from repentance to renewal,

stepping into the emerging Kingdom of God

right here,

right now.

 

Jesus is talking about shedding the old skin,

the flesh we're born with,

and being delivered by the Spirit

into a new relationship with God.

“Are you born again?” today’s Evangelicals like to poke.

If you have the Holy Spirit in you,

Then YES!

Yes, you are born again.

Jesus is talking about

pouring new wine

into new wine skins.

How or where or why the Spirit blows?

we don't know

– but blow it does!

simply because of his love for us.

 

Let's face it.

Most of us would like to live in Brigadoon,

the Utopian life

of light, purity, and righteousness.

All of us talk about moral and family values

like we know them and live them first hand,

as if the handbook was written based on our autobiography.

But the reality of the issue is that all of our lives are tainted

with places and times

of shadows and darkness.

 

Every single last one of us

has walked by on the other side of the road

to pass up someone who's beaten up and left for dead

- in violation of Matthew 10

and the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Every single last one of us has struck out in greed

and ignored the hungry, the widow, the prisoner, and the orphaned

- in utter contempt of Matthew 25.

Every last one of us has conducted business

after hours,

under the table,

hiding behind a cloak of darkness.

 

How do I know this with such certainty?

Because you and I are here this morning.

We’ve come to worship.

Part of this is confession.

I'm not just singling you out;

I'm indicting all of us.

We attend church during Lent

because we know that we prefer the darkness more than the light.

Penitence works because all of us have something to repent from.

We desire discipline,

because the chaos is wearing us out.

We seek the light

because the hangover from darkness 

has become more than we can stand.

 

Life is more than just praise and sunshine.

We have to bury the alleluias during Lent

if ever we are going to get off our righteous stump

and face up to who we really are

– fallen, failing, fugitives

Fleeing from the hounds of God.

We know in our heart of hearts

that the only way to get to the joy of Easter,

is to walk with Jesus through low these 40 days,

to suffer the passion he suffered,

to endure the embarrassment of being betrayed and denied by friends,

to hang with him on the cross,

and to carry his remains

and seal them in the garden tomb.

 

We come sulking and slinking

in with Nicodemus this morning

and knock on Jesus' door

under the cover of darkness.

It's a good thing that Jesus kept evening hours.

 

And much to our surprise,

the door is opened to us.

“God so loved the world.”

You want to talk about light?!

God loves the world,

you and me,

and everyone else

who is playing this game of belief.

“God so loved the world

that ... everyone who believes in him

may not parish but may have eternal life.”

The light isn't dim.

There are no shadows of

In-between gray area

or legal fine print.

The light of God's love knows no limit or condition.

It is ours to receive.

And God's light and love

is ours to give away.

 

There is no Divine intent to condemn.

There are no sub-surface motives

by God

to somehow send us all to hell,

just because we've lived so much of our lives in the darkness.

After all, we are given a Savior.

The light of God's love offers us hope,

and it reveals to us

the promise of the new world order.

 

We know that our future

is not in returning to the darkness,

where the door is closed

and there is gnashing of teeth.

We come because

we know that this is not where our future lies.

We were given a glimpse of

the future Kingdom at our Baptismal waters.

We see the flash of Light

in the bread and cup of the Sacrament.

We taste tomorrow when we experience the Word,

Divine flesh dwelling with us

And in us.

We know God's Kingdom is emerging,

stretched to every corner of the earth,

and that in it there is

no darkness at all.

No shadows,

no darkness,

only light,

a beacon,

omnipotent Illumination.

 

The door is opened to us.

The light pours forth.

Come join me.

Come in from the darkness.

Let' us walk through the door,

and never look back.

 

The Word of the Lord,

as it has come to me.

Thanks be to God. Amen.