Sunday 11 February 2018 Changes in the Night Martin Baker
We started the Gospel of John with the grand statement about the Word of God, the logos, God’s creation-bringing word, becoming flesh. Flesh in Jesus. The light that shines in the darkness and the darkness’s never overcoming it.
And we learn about what that means in a series of signs.
This huge amount of water being turned to wine in the wedding at Cana. Abundance, celebration, new life in old customs.
Then Jesus turning over the tables in temple. The sacred centre of faith identity, political and financial life. Something needs to be overturned and rebuilt, and we learn about the resurrection, the transformation of faith and hope that that event will bring.
And today is the third sign of the Word coming into the world. A new creation - what is encounter with this light in the darkness going to mean for Nicodemus and those who would follow?
Nicodemus Visits Jesus
3 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus[a] 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.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”[b] 4 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?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born from above.’[e] 8 The wind[f] 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.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you[g] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[h] 14 And just 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.[i]
16 “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.
17 “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. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have 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 people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.
I’d like you to try to recall a time when you changed your mind about something or about someone.
I’ll just give you minor examples from what is almost certainly a memory that has become more distorted over time.
Vogue magazine has declared corduroy the most unsexy fabric of all times.
But, has anyone owned a pair of cords? Corduroy trousers.
I actually can remember a time when corduroys were quite cool. It was about the time when men had big hair, bell bottoms and platform shoes.
I must have been about 10 or 11 at the time, and on Friday night, that was when people did their shopping when I was young, we were walking along Victoria street to the menswear shop. I was looking forward to getting a new pair of corduroy trousers. In brown. Nice and thick.
And I walked into the store with my mother and there serving in the store on Friday night was my teacher. We will call him Mr Cooper. Dale Cooper. My mother insisted that I be measured up for my brown cords. And there was only Mr Copper, my Form 1 teacher, in the store, to do the measuring.
Now, just as a bit of a back plot here, Mr Cooper had just a day or two before, given me a pretty good strapping I have to say for something quite minor. Whistling I think was the offence of the day. And never a big child, I found Mr Cooper in particular to be a thoroughly foreboding presence. But here he was. Earning a few extra dollars. With his little tape measure, pins on a Fridays night the Victoria St mensware shop. Down on his significant haunches, measuring my 10 year old waist and other dimensions.
So after that point, of extraordinary embarrassment, something changed in my little pre- teen brain. As a reasonably imaginative child, the image of Mr Cooper that night, was easy for me to conjure up whenever I encounter him delivering one of his frequent tirades before our class of 10 and 11 year olds.
If someone had simply told me that I need not be too concerned about Mr Cooper because he worked in menswear on a Friday night, that might have been interesting, but it was this encounter that made all the difference.
We talk about those powerful things, love, joy, fear, grief and loss. And we might talk about them like we might talk about snow to someone who has never been to the mountains. But understanding of these things only comes about through experience. Those experiences change us. And even though these experiences are the most difficult to describe to someone who has never encountered them, they are also the most important things. The nature of faith, the truth of God, comes from encounter.
Light coming into the the darkness and the darkness never overcoming it.
Two weeks ago a 13 year old was caught under a rock in the Rakaia River. Two ordinary blokes risked their own lives to save him from certain drowning, according to the police. It started off as an ordinary day for them, and became a moment when all their lives would be changed forever. The men discovered within them a self-less courage that they had perhaps had never imagined existed. And the boy discovered something about the life giving power of human kindness and self-sacrifice. We can read about the story, be inspired by it perhaps, but what we can be certain of, is that three lives have been changed forever.
Nicodemus comes to see Jesus in the night and they have this startling conversation. We can read the story, hear it being told, argue about who is and who is not born again. We can even grab the wonderful headlines words from this encounter. God so loved the world that he gave his only son.
But those things aren’t the main point. This encounter with Jesus is like an encounter with the wind. 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.”
In fact we come across Nicodemus twice more in our scriptures. And it seems that the spirit that wind, had indeed been blowing around him.
Nicodemus reappears a few chapters later, advocating among his fellow Pharisees who have tried to arrest Jesus, encouraging them to give Jesus a fair trial (John 7:49-50). Nicodemus appears to be stepping outside of his own community to defend Jesus. Might he be beginning to see things differently? And third time we encounter Nicodemus in the story is an extraordinary moment. This trajectory when Nicodemus reappears to join Joseph of Arimathea in giving the crucified Jesus an honourable burial. We are left to fill in the blanks, but maybe we are told that Nicodemus walking toward the Light. This is what it means to walk toward the light of Jesus. This is what it means to be born again, born afresh or being born from above. The word means the same thing.This is the change that happens when we encounter the God who so loves the world.
One of the interesting little things here is that the call of God is from the known to the unknown. A journey we can embark upon with a sense of promise. It’s the nature of faith. Everything is familiar but there is something more. One of the big issues we discover in this ancient story for us is a bit of a warning really. The danger of believing that tomorrow is a more familiar place that today. When something happens then I will be happier, better, kinder, more generous. I’ll be all those good things at some other point because today it is just too difficult or complicated or I am too angry or grief stricken. If we want to make tomorrow better than today, today is the day we have to meet the real things that are going on for us. We have to work in the world we know now not in the world of our fears or our fantasies.
God calls to move from the familiar in faith . All birth has a major element of surprise about it.
Nicodemus is on a journey. He comes to Jesus, and with him we come as well. With him we want to know the truth. With ourselves, with each other, with God. One thing we learn from Jesus is that the only relationships worth having are ones based on truth. The truth of what is happening now.
Our Gospels take a strong line on this. Truth is not just what is discovered but it’s what happens. Those who do that is true, Jesus says come to the light. We need to know the truth in order to make the right decisions. And there are right decisions to be made. The gospel and our reformation forbearer claimed claims that we are all heading somewhere. We are all allowing some power or force influence to affect our lives. We all believe something. No one is heading nowhere. We may never consciously decide very much but Jesus tells us that we walk down a path that ultimately brings pain destruction and death or we walk along apathy that leads to abundant hope light and life. You do the truth by making a decision to follow Him. That’s why the Gospel says of Jesus that he is the truth. We cannot find meaning in life as if it was someone off discovery. In our faith we can say that we live lives of meaning.
The truly good news of Jesus, C S Lewis is that "all of the roads belong to God," and that "the Savior can use any road to bring us home." CS Lewis, he reminds us that the God who alls us can even use the wrong roads on our life journey to take us to the right places
This week in our communities, joining conversations and journeying along with all sorts of characters, may we remember Nicodemus’ shining example. Though at first resistant, he pushes against daunting social boundaries, through the darkness that clouded his first visit, moving toward a new way of thinking, illuminated by the Light of the Spirit
We can all know that things exist. Corduroys, Mr Cooper, the Rakaia River.
We can agree that Jesus exists.
As Jaime Clark-Soles describes in her Reading John for Dear Life:
Many of us are less aware than Nicodemus of our desire for connection with the light, because we are comfortable; secure in our status in the community, our reputations ... Will you turn your bulb toward or away from deeper connection with the Source of Power and Light.
Here in the Gospel the story invites us to go from knowledge to encounter. The answer is not in the destination but in the journey, with Nicodemus, coming to Jesus, encountering the work of the Spirit. With all our knowledge something stirs within us. . And we realise it’s time to move on. For the sake of ourselves those love our world our faith. We’ve been hanging around long enough and God has something more in store. AMEN
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