Second Sunday in Lent 16 March 2014
(Genesis 12:1-4a Psalm 121 Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 John 3: 1-17)
“Loving In the Light!”
Stealth meeting. Secret gathering place. Nocturnal rendezvous. Late night conversation. Is this not yet another tag line for a thrilling Hollywood blockbuster.? Sorry…..only the Second Sunday of Lent.
Here’s the scuttlebutt on Nicodemus.
He’s a leader in the community. A lawyer trained in the tradition of the people. The senior partner in a leading firm in Jerusalem, with lots of posh perks; a candidate to be a character in a new John Grisham novel. A major political leader in Jerusalem, all the lobbyists working in his favor. Despite having half a column in Whos Who in Judea? something isn’t sitting right with him.
He’s heard enough about what this Jesus is up to in Jerusalem to make him think he ought to pay him a visit and find out more. Better to be safe than to be sorry, so he waits until his neighbors are all asleep, or at least that what he thinks.
But someone was following him because, it is reported: “He came to Jesus by night.” Make sure you get the picture: big-time Nicodemus and Jesus.
It must have been awkward, but Nicodemus speaks first. He says to Jesus, “Master, I have heard about you. I have heard about your water-to-wine miracle, and I have heard about your teaching. What you are doing is weird and odd…..and very special. And it sounds to me like the presence of God, but that can’t be right, because we are the temple leaders; we are the ones who are in charge of God and what God does!”
Then Jesus hones right in on Nicodemus, disregards his dossier and his portfolio, his résumé, and says: “You’ve got to be reborn. You’ve got to be born again. You’ve got to be born from above. You’ve got to do things differently! You’ve got to think differently, let go of your social position, your achievements, your wealth, your churchy reputation.” And Jesus says again. “You have to start over. It’s like the wind. It blows where it wants and you cannot stop it.” And then Jesus makes the big move: “I am the only one who has come from God and I, the Son of Man, will be lifted up” [v.14].
In John’s Gospel, “to be lifted up” means to be lifted up on the cross, the crucifixion.” The Spirit is the power of God that enables us to contradict the world and all the world’s expectations….and to sign on for the freedom that only Jesus can give. Nicodemus is being empowered to become someone he had not been, someone newly made free for God’s way in the world, someone not held captive to the dictions, pressures and demands of the world
Enter Nadia Boltz-Weber.
It’s hard to spend a day with Nadia Boltz-Weber and not quote her at least once as part of my sermon this morning. Nadia Boltz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor who has been causing quite a stir these past few years. She is unorthodox with her tattoos and the way she speaks and writes, yet extremely orthodox in her grounding in the Lutheran Confessions. She was the keynote speaker in our Synod’s Congregations Together In Mission event on yesterday. Several members of St. James spent the day with her yesterday.
One of the last things Nadia said at the end of the day was something like this: “every church has the right to make their members uncomfortable!” When she said that, I don’t think she was talking about the kind of uncomfortableness when you put the wafer in your mouth and then quickly try to take it out to dip it in the wine, and when you drop your wafer into the grape juice as you’re trying to dip it. It’s okay; we’ll give you a second wafer!
No, I think the uncomfortableness Nadia was talking about is when you hear the words “I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins” but you don’t feel forgiven because of something you can’t forgive yourself for. Or when you hear today’s Gospel words “God so loved the world that he sent his only son” but you do not feel loved because of what someone once said to you.
God works on us; God works within us just as in Nicodemus, making us free for God in a way we might never have imagined!
(Nadia) Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me, to you is that our brokenness is not the last word.
It’s God saying, “I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.”
It is meeting Jesus in the darkest sickest places of our lives.
What a perfect text for the Second Sunday of Lent because many of us stand alongside Nicodemus in our confusion, our uncomfortableness with these odd words pounding in our heads: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” [v.16].
This is no easy mantra. Yet, it is the invitation to be the church in such a way that we forgive all the sinful people, love all the wrong people, heal all the iniquitous people, and allow ourselves to be led by the untamed Spirit. God is empowering each one if us to make the journey to meet Jesus in a new way, to become someone we have not been.
The moral of the story is simply this: it is time to give up being overly fond of ourselves long enough to know we are loved. Then we go and love as the Spirit pushes us to do! Amen.