Nick at Night
Sermon by Rev. Seven McClelland on John 3: 1 – 17. The story of Nicodemus and what it means to be Born From A. Check out Rasaan Bourke & The choir as they sing: It is Good to Rejoice!
I’ve always assumed that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because of fear, but John’s Gospel also uses the contrasts of dark and light to speak of understanding and not understanding so in all likelihood Nic comes to Jesus at night for a mixture of reasons and in that way he represents all of us. Each one of us is searching for that thing that will give our lives meaning. So the question is: How do we find it? And our answer is: by not finding it.
Lucy once said to Charlie Brown,
“Discouraged again, eh, Charlie Brown? You know what your whole trouble is? The whole trouble with you is that you’re you!”
Charlie Brown asks, “Well, what in the world can I do about that?”
“I don’t pretend to be able to give advice…I merely point out the trouble!”
And that’s our problem too; we’re very good at pointing out the trouble, but pretty light on sharing useful advice.
And so if we’re honest like Nicodemus we’re all asking his question, (“How can I be born anew?) in one way or another. How can my life be fuller, more meaningful, more significant? And the answer Jesus gave then is the answer he gives now.
“Nicodemus, unless you are born anew you can not see the kingdom of God.” Now this is probably one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented sayings ever uttered by Jesus. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
When Jesus speaks of being born anew he isn’t speaking literally. He’s speaking about becoming a new person one who is clothed in and guided by the Holy Spirit. When he speaks of being born anew, he’s speaking about an action that God undertakes on our behalf.
The religious folks who have co-opted the phrase, “born again,” have flattened its meaning by emphasizing a decision-for-Christ that results in a new birth with the emphasis being on our action, but being Born from above or being Born anew moves in a very different direction. God is the primary player in this passage. The action is God’s.
And Jesus goes on to make this very clear. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” We’re far more than our bodies. Our bodies only allow our true natures to move about, but who we are as human being resides in our minds, hearts, and our souls. It’s what we remember about one another after we’ve gone. That’s who and what we really are.
Now sensing that Nicodemus is completely stumped and dumbfounded by what he’s saying, Jesus proceeds to blow his mind even more by saying, “Don’t marvel that I said to you, “You must be born anew. 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 everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Don’t try to understand this Nicodemus, just live it. You know that the wind exists, because you can feel and hear it’s movement, but just like the wind you will not be able to control its directions, or predict it’s arrival or departure. “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
“How can this be?” It can be because it’s God who makes it so. And if that’s too hard to grasp then look to Jesus. How can sin be transformed into righteousness? Look to Jesus. How can hate be turned into love? Look to Jesus. How can death be turned into life? Look to Jesus.
Do you want to live in the power of God? The power of his kingdom? Do you want to have your life transformed? Then choose to follow Jesus’ way, accept his truth and you’ll experience his abundance of life.
It almost sounds like a formula but it isn’t. It’s an adventure to be lived.
I remember going to seminary thinking that I would learn all about God there, but I didn’t. I learned about what other people had thought about God. I read their books, wrote papers on their thoughts, but never actually met God.
Where I met God was in my encounters with other people through out the years of my ministry and life. I met God through my own failures and losses. I met God when I went through my divorce. I met God when I was in a depression, but I never met God because of what someone else said I should believe about God.
I like how Alice Walker put it: “…have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.” ― The Color Purple
I really think that’s the way it is for everyone. We come to know or experience God when we are most in need of that experience. If you have not had that experience then it’s hard to explain it just as it was hard for Jesus to explain it to Nicodemus. It’s like trying to explain the taste of an orange to someone who has never tasted an orange. All the words in the world will not convey what the taste is like. It can’t because only experience gives it to you. And I’ve found it’s something you experience or are given when you most need it.
I remember a few years ago when I was teaching a Bible study and I said, “The reason for studying the Bible is to see if our experiences are similar to our ancestor’s experiences with God.” I asked the class if they had ever experienced God and if so under what circumstances. In particular I remember this woman, who said, “I don’t think I’ve had that experience that you’re talking about. How do you get it?”
It was a great question, because it meant that she was on her search the journey that would take her there, but it wasn’t a question I could really answer for her. All I could do was share my experiences of God in my life, which I hope was helpful, but it wasn’t the same as having had that experience.
A couple years pass by and still no experience that she can point to as being an encounter with God. Until this one day when she comes to me barely able to contain her tears or panic. Her life as she knew it was coming apart at the seams, her security was being threatened by forces beyond her control. Everything she had believed about the way life was supposed to work wasn’t working anymore.
It was like she was being stripped of everything and it was terrifying.
I know what that experience is like to be terrified and panicked. So what do you say to a person at such a moment as this? How do you give hope? You give hope by speaking of your own experience with terror and panic, and even though the circumstances that gave rise to them may be very different, the feelings are still the same.
And the reason you give hope at such a moment as this is because you’re speaking as one who has come out the other side. And when you’ve come out of the other side you have met God along the way. And then your testimony rings true and offers hope because deep down we all want to believe that we can really trust God with everything, especially our lives.
Hope isn’t found in being different it’s found in being a like. So Nicodemus’ story reminds us that when it’s all said and done it’s about entrusting our lives to God whose objective is nothing less than saving the entire world, which means God wants to save the likes of us. Amen