Jan. 28, 2018 Sermon

[John 3:1-21 RSV] 1 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. 18 He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.


            Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

            Since Reformation Day many of us have been doing the reading the Bible in a year.  Today is day 89 which is almost but not quite 1/4th of the way done with scripture.  We will have read a full fourth of the scripture when we hit 91.25 days.  For me the reading has been very good, but I have to admit a little tiring.  I have read through the Bible before, but never this publically.  Each day after I read, I post the reading to our website.  I have challenged myself with saying something about the readings we do.  Some days what I post is very interesting and powerful, and other days it is less so.  Doing this so publically has been a challenge because everyone knows if I got to my reading late or if I missed yesterday.  My mother who is reading with us one day called me and asked if I was going to post soon!  If I am up to date on my Bible reading it is knowable to all by checking our website!  I try my best to have my reading done and have it posted online by 8:30 each day. But depending on my day and how things are going it may not be up there at 8:30. Sometimes it is closer to noon or 1:00 p.m.  The other thing I have found is trying to say something every day is tiring. After all, I post it for all of you but it is also on the internet meaning anyone, anywhere can read it.  So I want my comments to sound thoughtful and insightful.  Some man in Australia who will never meet me in real life may find our blog and develop an opinion about me and us based solely on these posts.  Talk about pressure!

            That is why I am really enjoying the Wednesday night discussion groups.  We meet each week at 5:30 and just talk about what we thought about the readings and what we did or did not understand.  It has been helpful for me to be able to think through different questions without having my thoughts be posted to the entire internet.  At times during the Wednesday night group I have said things like, “I just don’t know about that, can I look into it for next week?”  Or, “I don’t know who Melchizedek is… here are the theories… but that man is a mystery to me”.  By the way any are welcome to join those Wednesday nights—because it is an opportunity to say, I just don’t get this and then talk about what it may mean.  There is a difference between what you know when you are an expert and a public leader and what you know when you are just talking with friends. 

            That in essence is what Nicodemus is doing today.  He is coming in the night, away from the crowds and saying to Jesus, “I just don’t get it!”   In many ways it is quite refreshing because how often do we have the experts in our lives admit that there are lots of mysteries and things that we cannot yet and may never be able to explain.  Yet here is Nicodemus in the middle of the night telling Jesus that he doesn’t understand what is going on with Jesus.  On the one hand Jesus does these mighty works of power and on the other he seems to do things like healing on the Sabbath that break the words of God.  What is Jesus? Is he a great prophet or a heretic? Or is he both at the same time?  However notice how Nicodemus asks it, because he did not say, I don’t understand these things.  He actually tells Jesus that “we” don’t understand.  In other words lots of the Pharisees have been questioning these things, they have whispered about it in the backrooms but only Nicodemus is here to ask Jesus about them. 

            I actually feel a little bad for Nicodemus because he comes to Jesus and asks these questions, and it just leads to more and more questions.  At times it feels like Jesus first has to humble Nicodemus before Nicodemus will be able to hear Jesus.  Jesus leads Nicodemus through a great many questions—about being born in the spirit, about the wind, about what should the qualifications be of the leaders of the Jews.  Each of these Nicodemus seems powerless to talk about and his questions are just, “wait what?” and “what do you mean?”  When Nicodemus has finally realized that he doesn’t understand it at all, that is when Jesus gives him the famous verse of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Notice it is not until Nicodemus is humbled that he gets this nugget of truth.  This is a mini recitation of the whole Gospel of John.  It is the one verse that tells us about the entire Bible.  If the Bible had a topic sentence it would be right there in John!  Notice it is given to a man who questions and seeks answers even when it seems like Jesus has shown him that he doesn’t understand enough to be a leader of Israel. 

            Which is of course why almost every reading of this chapter stops right there. In fact I could tell you the whole Nicodemus story up until verses 16 and 17 without looking at a Bible, but when I read the verses following, I barely remembered them.  Yet how important are they19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.”  John here says judgment is letting your deeds see the light of day.  Judgment is letting others know what you have done.  In one way this seems like a further critic of poor Nicodemus who comes under the cover of night to ask his questions.  It is like one more jab in the wound that poor Nicodemus felt, yet I don’t think so.  I believe it was a challenge to Nicodemus, after having been humbled by Jesus, Jesus now challenges him to come into the light with his questions, and answers so that people might see his is a leader of Israel and that his testimony might be heard.  These questions have happened in the dark, but let them be talked about in the light.  They obviously were talked about because we know about the questions; so obviously John heard about them later.  And because by the end of John’s Gospel Nicodemus is a follower of Jesus.  He has come out of the shadows and confessed his faith.  What was in the dark came out and Nicodemus instead of being condemned by his actions is lifted up. 

This year seems like it is filled with revelations.  Every time I read the news it feels like another horrible deed has been brought to light.  Whether it is what someone said in private, or how an authority figure was acting behind closed doors.  The revelations are startling and it is no wonder that trust in authority and institutions have fallen so far.  It turns out that these powerful people and institutions loved the darkness because it hid the deeds they were doing.  A wall of silence allowed them to continue to behave in evil ways, and get away with it.  When it finally comes out they act with outrage that people would remember what happened in the dark of the night.  Yet remember all of what you do will someday come to light.  We are told right here in John that is what Judgement is.  

We are challenged then to not pretend we are better than we are and put on airs about knowing everything or being better than we are but being honest with ourselves and with our God about whom we are and then confess our wrongdoings and seek God’s knowledge and forgiveness.  That is after all one of the reasons we baptize infants. We lift them up and say this is about what God is doing for baby Lucas. He has done nothing to deserve it but through Christ’s working in his life he will be saved.  If we each humble ourselves like Nicodemus and like little Lucas being baptized today then we will let God work in us and do deeds worthy of being proclaimed in the light.  Amen.