Thursday, June 7, 2012
Sermon for June 3, 2012 John 3:1-17
June 3, 2012 Scripture: John 3:1-17 Sermon Title: “From Darkness Into Light” Rev. George N. Miller In the spirit of Pentecost, I feel moved to do something different. Before opening with a prayer, I’d like to share with you something I overhead the other day. I was at the Garden Café and there were these three men. By the sounds of it, one was Russian, one was American, and the other was a politician. They were arguing over who was the greatest. “We,” said the Russian, rather proudly, “Were the first to go into outer space.” “Big deal,” said the American, rather smugly, “We were the first to go to the moon.” “Who cares; that’s old news,” said the politician. “I’m working with some people to land on the sun.” “That’s preposterous,” the Russian said, “The sun’s too hot.” “You’ll burn up before you even touch down” said the American. “Don’t worry,” the politician said, rather cocky, “Not gonna happen: we’re going at night.” Let us pray… According to John 19:38-42, it was one those moments. A moment in which a person can no longer worry about what others may say or do. The sun was still out. The crowd was still there. Nicodemus and Joseph did not care. After Jesus died on the cross, after the soldiers made sure he was dead, Joseph of Arimathea asked if he could have the body. Usually the bodies were left on their cross for the wild animals to eat, sending a message to other troublemakers. It was unusual for anyone to associate with, let along put in a request for, the body of a crucified man. Yet that’s what Joseph did. Nicodemus was right there with him, carrying a 100 pound mixture of myrrh and aloe. It was a testament to his wealth. It was a testament to his love for Jesus. And before the sun set the two began their work. Usually a man such as Nicodemus would never touch a dead body right before the Holiest Day of the year, but that did not stop him. Nicodemus and Joseph took the spices, applying it to Jesus’ hands: hands that healed the sick, fed the hungry and reached out to the lonely. They took the spices, applying it to his feet: feet that traveled from Nazareth to Jerusalem, from mountaintops to water wells, proclaiming the Good News. When done, Nicodemus and Joseph wrapped Jesus in a linen cloth, filling it with more spices, and then, while still in the sunshine, they placed him inside a brand new tomb. Somehow, even after the violence of the cross, Nicodemus seemed to have lost his fear of what others may say or do. Somehow he was very much in the present; he boldly stepped into the sunshine of righteousness; showing radical hospitality to the body of a man he once visited under the cover of night. And in his actions, Nicodemus helped to set the stage for God’s greatest miracle of all: the resurrection. How did Nicodemus’ story, how did his song, get to this place in time? How did he get to play such a role in our faith? I’ve been thinking this weekend about the notion of change and transformation. About who we are is not who we were, but more often then not who we will be, and who we are becoming. In fact, that notion of transformation, of change, is my favorite aspect of being a minister. Sure, I enjoy preaching on Sunday, I enjoy getting to visit folk and share in a good meal. But what I enjoy, what really seems to feed me, is watching the transformation that takes place in people’s life when they begin to develop a deeper relationship with God. Be it those who attend worship, Council, Bible Study, Sermon Writing classes or the liturgist meetings, I enjoy witnessing the ways in which someone’s life changes because of their experience of Christ, because of the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. But change, good, healthy, real change, does not happen overnight. True transformation is a slow, organic process. It’s subtle, barely there, most especially to the person going through those changes. But week after week, month after month, year after year, it’s exciting to see just how much an encounter with Christ can make all the difference in the person’s words, in their actions, in their very demeanor. In that way, Nicodemus holds a special place in my heart; a hero, if you will. Even though we know very little about Nicodemus, even though he only appears three times in the Bible, it is very easy to see that the man he starts off as is not the man he becomes. So journey with me as we explore the transition Nicodemus makes from darkness into light… The first time we meet Nicodemus is in John ch. 3. We are told that he was a Pharisee, one of the religious power players of his day; a man with a reputation to uphold. Jesus, the new kid on the block, has been stirring up trouble, hanging out with unclean folk, driving vendors out of the temple. What would he do next? Nicodemus wanted to find out, so he pays Jesus a visit. He comes to him at night, a time when the masses would be fast asleep, when no one else would see or know. “Rabbi,” he stated, “We know you’re a teacher who has come from God...” It seemed like straightforward comment, but Jesus responded with what sounded like a riddle. “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born anothen.” Anothen was a word that had two meanings: it could mean “from above” or “again.” Either way it made no sense to Nicodemus. He took his best shot at trying to understand. “How can an old man be born again?” he asked. Jesus replied, saying that no one can enter God’s kingdom without being born of water and Spirit. Apparently this still didn’t make things clearer for him, so Nicodemus asks “How can this be?” Jesus responded in a way that was perhaps off putting “You’re a teacher, and yet you don’t understand?” For Nicodemus it must have been an odd, uncomfortable moment, one that left more questions then answers. I imagine he left that night, with the moon still in the sky, pondering his secretive meeting with Jesus. The words Jesus used had given Nicodemus no easy answers; it must have left him scratching his head. Anothen? Born from above, born again? Just what did Jesus mean? Yet this late night meeting must have had an affect on him, filling his days with deep religious introspection about Jesus and about God. Though his encounter with Jesus did not provide easy to understand answers, I sense that it was enough to begin replacing his nighttime fears with sunshine fearlessness. Why do I say that? Because the next time we encounter Nicodemus is in chapter 7. He’s no longer operating alone or under the cover of night. The Good Ol’ boys are ticked off at Jesus; they’re working with the police trying to get him arrested. But who is the one person who is willing to stand up for Jesus and speak on his behalf? That’s right: it’s Nicodemus. He finds his voice; he speaks up to his peers: “This is wrong: we don’t have the right to judge people without a fair trial.” Clearly, he no longer feels the need for the masses to be asleep for him to make risky remarks about fair and honest justice. But it’s not easy, because the others quickly turn on him, accusing of being “one of them.” And we all know what that means. Truly, a ray of light was entering into Nicodemus’s life, a beam of sunshine that was a turning point for Nicodemus in which he could never be the same. That can happen when we have an encounter with Jesus… Just like nightfall must transition into the early dawn before the sun can fully come out, our transformations in Christ usually take awhile. After all, Nicodemus didn’t find his own strength overnight. It took 1-3 years for him to go from a secret meeting in the dark to speaking up in public and to anointing Jesus’ body in the day. Just as our own spiritual transformations take time. Sometimes those transformations begin in the sun filled moments of our lives: when we fall in love, when we experience the birth of a baby, when we experience that there is a place for us to belong. Sometimes these transformations begin in the dark moments of our existence, at those points in our lives in which we turn to God, we turn to Jesus and we ask the difficult questions like Why? How? When? Like Nicodemus, we may end up feeling like our questions have gone unanswered or we’ve just received a bunch of jibber jabber. But even if we do not realize it, usually a ray of light has broken into the darkness, a change has begun. These changes are a testimony to the wonderful working ways in which God enters into our lives and changes things around. The ways in which God says “Who you are now is not who you will be or who you are becoming.” The way in which even if we don’t understand, God is speaking to us and we are transformed and ushered into the sunshine in which we have “enough” and we are the recipients of eternal life. …In conclusion, like Nicodemus we all have opportunities to encounter Christ in which we may not fully understand everything, in which no easy answers are revealed. But just like Nicodemus we also have the chance to be born anothen, and over time we find that our lives are transformed, changed, and empowered, making us into who we were always meant to be. Until we take our final breath, our stories are never complete; our songs do not end. For in Jesus Christ we are always growing, always learning, always adding new chapters, always adding new lyrics into our lives. In Jesus Christ we are always moving forward, from darkness into the light. Amen and amen.