March 8, 2020

The Second Sunday in Lent

Contemporary Service:

Traditional Service:

Scriptures John 3:1-17

Nicodemus Visits Jesus

John 3:1-17

3 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 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.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”[b] 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?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born from above.’[e] 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.” 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.


Sermon: “Blown Away

Life is full of questions, some of which are easier to answer than others. See how you do with these five.

  1. What two things can you never eat for breakfast? (Lunch and dinner)

 

  1. What starts with an E and ends with an E but has only one letter in it? (An envelope)

 

  1. How many months have twenty-eight days? (All twelve)

 

  1. What moves faster, heat or cold? (Heat—because you can always catch a cold.)

 

  1. Everyone in the world needs it, but they usually give it without taking it. What is it? (Advice)

 

Nicodemus came to Jesus for advice. He needed help understanding who Jesus was. Even when he tried to sleep, Nicodemus couldn’t. Jesus had his mind racing, and it wouldn’t stop.

One sleepless night, this troubled teacher of Israel took the risk of going out alone after dark to find Jesus and put his troubled mind at ease. Things didn’t start out especially well.

[Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you’re a teacher who’s come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from God’s presence.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 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?” (John 3:2-4)

 

They were speaking the same language, Nicodemus and Jesus, but they were using it to describe two quite different realities.

In a funny sort of way, it’s like what’s going on in this clip, which struggles with another of life’s tough to answer questions, “Who’s on first?”

Abbott and Costello

 

Nicodemus started his conversation with Jesus by telling him what he knew. Jesus let Nicodemus know right off the bat just how much Nicodemus had yet to learn.

Our unwillingness to admit what we don’t know and our need to feel in control can both be huge roadblocks for our emotional as well as our spiritual health.

Dr. David Rosmarin is a Harvard psychologist and the founding director of the Center for Anxiety in New York. Here’s how he described our obsession with control.

People cannot tolerate uncertainty. We constantly need to be “in the know” with minute to minute predictions about financial markets, political trends, professional sports outcomes, and the weather. And even though such predictions are notoriously incorrect, we watch them with bated breath. People would prefer to predict the future and be dead wrong rather than admit they truly don’t know what’s going to happen next!

 

Dr. Rosmarin continues, “If our obsession with control is the primary reason why we’re so anxious, then the antidote is simple. We need to accept uncertainty and give up control.”

Real experts know and are clear about where their ignorance lives. The ignorant are not, and just lie instead. That’s part of the trouble with the world today.

Nicodemus entered this conversation with Jesus confident of what he knew. Facing the limits of what he did not know, and giving up the control that went with that admission, scared him to death.

Nicodemus liked “knowing” who was righteous and who was a sinner. He liked knowing what he could eat and what he could not, with whom he could associate and who was “unclean” in the eyes of the law.

“Don’t be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear it, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:7-8)

 

That whole idea of the wind going where it wants to was probably scariest of all. Even with all of today’s weather forecasting technology, the wind is still unpredictable.

If we let the wind of the Spirit blow through our lives, our church, and our families, who knows what it will blow away and what might blow in instead?

Giving the wind of the Spirit free reign means giving up control. It means admitting, in a culture where everyone claims to be an expert in everything, that we don’t have all the answers.

Did you notice how Nicodemus disappeared at this point muttering, “How can these things be?”

There were more sleepless nights to come, nights Nicodemus spent trying to choose between the world he knew and the world that Jesus offered. Often it’s the most important decisions that we struggle with most.

Being born from above means letting the Holy Spirit do what God wants done at the deepest levels of our lives. That’s a huge decision, one that brings with it a journey from darkness to light.

Nicodemus came to Jesus “at night,” remember, John’s theological way of saying that the light of Christ wasn’t in his life. Think about driving at night.

  • Our depth perception is off. As did Nicodemus, we have trouble seeing clearly.

 

  • Critters jump out in front of us without warning, as do people who, for whatever reason, think it’s a good idea to take a walk along the highway at night dressed in black. Like Nicodemus, we must deal with the unexpected and unpredictable.

 

  • Sometimes we nod off, worn out by the drive, a danger on the road as well as on the path of faith. Nicodemus surely tired of sleepless nights wrestling with his faith as, sometimes, do all of us.

 

  • “Black ice” can send us skidding out of control. People who won’t turn off their bright lights blind us. Nighttime brings road repairs and unexpected detours. Nicodemus faced the dangers that come with giving up a life of privilege and power. No doubt there were detours along the way, tempting turns to take him back, rather than forward in faith. His story, again, is our story.

 

  • We even have to deal with people who decide to drive home after a night carousing with their friends, putting themselves and others at risk. Following Jesus is no easy thing when those around us are a hindrance and a temptation, rather than a source of support and strength.

 

The night can’t last forever. As the sun rises and daylight dawns, the hazards fade. We see the way before us clearly.

“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. Indeed, God didn’t send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

 

The God revealed in Jesus is a God whose love for us knows no bounds, a God who only asks that we receive a gift freely given. If we do, Christ’s love reshapes and redefines our lives. The darkness flees before the light that comes flooding in.

The night gradually faded, and Nicodemus finally saw things clearly. May the same be said of us, friends, as we make our way into the saving light of Jesus Christ, the one who not only asks life’s most puzzling questions, but also gives us, in his very person, the answers we most seek and need.