Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lent 2 A homily for 8.00 John 3 1-17

Did you sleep well last night? I hope so…Tossing and turning as the hours tick past can be a wretched experience.
I wonder if that’s what brought Nicodemus to Jesus…Perhaps he had been mulling over something he’d heard and just couldn’t sleep till he’d cleared it up.
Jesus had started a train of thought that had ended with a really burning question…it must have been pretty overwhelming to actually get him out of bed
One question to ask God’s Son…If you had that opportunity, I wonder what you’d choose…what you most long to hear answered….
Think on that.

Meanwhile, though, back to Nicodemus.
Perhaps he's afraid of what his friends and colleagues will say if he's seen approaching this controversial itinerant preacher. Hence his nocturnal ramblings.
After all, he’s a respected figure …part of the establishment with a reputation to protect. He’s not in the same position as that rag tag handful of Galilean boatmen who could just drop everything and go where Jesus lead. He’s immured in his current way of life…
He’s too old for a fresh start…. But still he comes, armed with his deductions, in search of some answers..
You see, he thinks he has worked it all out.
Jesus is undoubtedly a Rabbi sent specially by God.
That’s the only explanation for the signs and wonders he, Nicodemus, has witnessed.
In grasping that, he’s half way there but recognising a heaven-sent teacher is not in itself enough to propel a man from his bed in the small hours. Something more is nagging away but he doesn't know what,- he is just aware of that vague feeling of disquiet which is often a sign that God is trying to get through to us, if only we will stand still and listen.

Nicodemus, of course, has come to listen, to be taught, but he must have found Jesus's response at best discouraging, - positively baffling indeed. Instead of being congratulated on his perception, - he does recognise the presence of God when he sees it,- he is told that he can't even SEE the kingdom, still less enter it. He’s still way off course. He needs to be born again.
"Ah yes, born again" we say, nodding sagely, for this has become a Christian cliche over the centuries, carrying with it all sorts of associations, helpful and otherwise. It is hard to imagine how very strange the phrase sounded to Nicodemus – who is much too adult to consider a new start.
We’re confident that we know much better than him, with his literal vision of re-entering the womb
Actually, though, his confusion has much to say to us, if we really think about a new-born baby. It arrives naked, totally helpless, dependent upon others for food, warmth, love, everything it needs to help it live and thrive. In the same way, Nicodemus and all who seek the kingdom must become totally vulnerable and helpless before God, accepting that without him we can do nothing. This isn’t easy in the twenty-first century, when we tend to feel that we have conquered the world and everything in it,
It wasn’t easy for the cultured, educated Nicodemus either. Total vulnerability never is.
Then, a newborn baby comes without intellectual and emotional baggage, with literally no pre-conceptions. Nothing is impossible, impractical, foolish, beneath that hypnotic newborn gaze
In contrast, when we find ourselves challenged by the Gospel, too often our response is limited by our ideas of what is actually sensible, or socially acceptable. It takes a lot of courage to dump all that we have learned about how the world works, even when we are becoming aware of the shortcomings of the system…but if we are starting from scratch, we can be more genuinely open to the radical implications of the gospel message.
Being born again might look a bit like that

Finally, a baby and its parents in those very first newborn days can become all the world to each other, giving and receiving absolute unconditional love. There are no distractions for the baby: he knows no-one else to love, and has no idea that his parents, brimming with good intentions, will ever let him down.
Absolute unconditional love…Where else do we meet that?
You don’t need me to answer that…
It is offered to us, today and always, by the God Nicodemus yearned for day and night
The God we meet in Word and Sacrament.
the God who loved the world – not just the good, not just the Jews, not even just the Christians - 
the God who loved the WORLD so much that he sent his only Son…


Anonymous said...

Kathryn - love the imagery of the newborn dependency with Nicodemus - a blessing to read!

Serena said...

This came back to me as I was tossing and turning this morning ... not sure I remembered much at the time of the point you were making, but it was a comfort anyway.