Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; .Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17
Good morning. We are going on a journey for the next four Sundays, a pilgrimage if you will, as we firmly enter the world of John’s Gospel. In our lectionary readings we have a three-year cycle which has us currently in Year A (Matthew), with B marking Mark’s Gospel, and Luke rounding out that three-year cycle in year C. John’s Gospel doesn’t have its own year, so it acts as a spoiler of sorts. John comes in and blows up the lectionary cycle in strategic times during Advent, Lent, Holy week, Easter, and Christmas. And the lectionary does this for reasons not always apparent but, hey, that’s John: full of mystery and confusion but with a purpose. And today we have this enigmatic but wonderful conversation between would be disciple, Nicodemus, and the master himself. Jesus does talk like a Zen Master, of sorts, in today’s gospel, and quickly tangles Nicodemus into so many knots that the poor man doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going. But what Jesus is actually saying, in so many words, is that Nicodemus can no longer rely on all of his learning or current understanding of Scripture alone. He cannot go back to where he was before, in the safe, protective womb of his previous life.
Jesus is saying to Nicodemus and to us that he is calling us to become nothing less than entirely new creations. He is referring to baptism - being born of water and the spirit. We must be “born again,” a much-maligned turn a phrase relegated to fundamentalism, but an actually wonderful idea that we in Christ are being made new; we are being given new life in Christ’s name. And Nicodemus, while understandably confused like the rest of us, also isn’t terribly keen on this idea of “new life,” even if he could understand it as a radical re-orientation of life. That is a scary thing. That is kind of like the darkness that Jesus so often refers to in John. It is like the night under the cover of which Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the first place because he is afraid of being exposed as a would-be follower of Jesus. When Jesus talks about walking in the dark he doesn’t necessarily mean sin or worldliness or evil but he just means walking in a confused place; a place where we might not yet be able to see the path Jesus is setting us on. Jesus, his path, is a path of light. His path is not necessarily enlightenment or wisdom that other people don’t have but His path is a highway that lights the way toward God. And what we could probably afford to think a little bit more about is what is that pathway we are called to and how is being made a new creation an important way of firmly setting our way on the pathway to God in this life? That is a question for the day. What is this pathway to God and how do I get on it and what does Jesus’ light have to do with that?
I have been receiving a blog for the last couple of months from a Forward Movement sponsored site called Grow Christians. Grow Christians is intended to be a resource for families (videos, activities, bibles, reflections, etc.) to “grow Christians,” grow young people into more fully formed people in the faith of Jesus Christ, along with the adults responsible for their formation. The blogs are put together by lay folk, not clergy. Last Monday, I received a reflection from an author that is the mother of a teen girl, a young teen boy, and a five year old guy. Apparently, she and her family attempted, as we did here at St. James, to use the Good Book Club’s schedule to read through the Gospel of John during the Season of Epiphany. Her kids, as young people often do when asked to engage scripture, run hot and cold; sometimes complaining and wonder why are they being tortured in this way. But mom, the author, intimates that sometimes the older children have these really wonderful, key observations that only young people can make about scripture.
But the five-year-old, as little people often are, is most energized about doing anything together his family; he loves what they are doing, even if he doesn’t always understand it. He put together, with his mom’s help, a paper “model” of John’s eagle. Now, what is John’s eagle, you might be asking yourself? Well, there are four traditional symbols, one for each of the four Gospels. We have, on the little plaques affixed to the ends of our buttresses, an example of three out of the four. Mark is depicted as the lion; Luke as a calf or bull; Matthew usually has a man’s face, with wings, and John is nearly always depicted as an eagle.
And why an eagle for John you might ask? The short answer is I have no idea. But the author of this blog had a really interesting observation that I had never heard before. She said that eagles are the only bird that can fly directly into the sun. Did anybody know that? Well, I didn’t know that and being skeptical, I did a little bit of research which seemed to confirm that, yes, eagles are the only birds that, in flight, can look directly into the sun. So, eagles are at an advantage over not only other birds but their prey, as well, because they don’t have to hunt with the sun at their back; they can hunt looking directly into the sun, as well. So, the poor, little critters that are running around in the grass can be seen, in flight, from hundreds of feet in the air. Eagles do it all looking directly into the sun. And discipleship is a little bit like that eagle. We are being asked by Christ, the light of all lights, to look directly into his magnificent light. Remember when we were kids and our parents would say, “Don’t ever look directly into the sun! You’ll go blind,” right? But we always were tempted to look, maybe we even tried to, but we knew that we couldn’t or that we shouldn’t.
It’s really that way looking into the light that is Jesus, isn’t it? It’s too bright and we feel we can’t look directly at Jesus; we’re constantly tempted to look away. We are afraid that if we directly engage God in Christ, with His great light, then God will see us for who we truly are: all of our warts and all of our darkness. Our fear is that If we get too close, or gaze too directly into the One, true Light of God, or follow too closely, then we will be exposed. There is also a risk that if we are like Nicodemus, searching for the truth in Christ’s presence, we are going to be overwhelmed, confused and frustrated.
It is not small thing that Jesus is inviting us to: become new creations. The old is passing away and God, in Christ’s light, would give us new names and new life. When we encounter Jesus in any fully realized way, we will come to understand that we can’t go back; we are being asked to be “born again;” to have a rebirth; to be made new creations, in him. And that can be a confusing concept, sometimes, and certainly a scary one. But Jesus doesn’t leave it at that; he follows up His strange talk with Nicodemus with those great verses of John 3:16 and 3:17: “God so loved the world that he sent his only Sun, so that the world might have eternal life.” He adds, “indeed,” “in addition to,” and “moreover, God didn’t send his son into the world to condemn the world - to judge the world - but that in him and through him we would be saved.” Yes, this can be a life of confusion. But fear not, Jesus says, and stand in my light a little while; then you will not understand everything but you will comprehend what you need to. You are important; you that were called into new life in and by virtue of your baptism - spirit and the water – and you are saved.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not being asked to understand all of the mystery of God. But we are asked to engage it full on, without looking away any more than we must. We are children of God. We are children of the light, not of the darkness. Sometimes, we have to bump around in the dark to find our way home to God in Christ. But only way that we can find God is through the life and, dare I say, the light of Jesus.
We walk, today, into the Light of God in Christ and acknowledge that light is always present, even when we feel nothing but darkness. Yes, we are being called by God to do a new thing: to engage our lives in the light of Jesus in a different way; to become new creations. We are not asked to do it alone. We have been given the great gift of Jesus Christ to show us not only the way to walk into God’s light, but to let us know He walks with us.