Readings from Scripture (CEB) John 3:1-17
There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”
3 Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”
4 Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?”
5 Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ 8 God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said, “How are these things possible?”10 “Jesus answered, “You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? 11 I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. 16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
Nicodemus, a man with a Greek name (meaning victory of the people), is a teacher and leader of the Jewish faith. He’s caught between two worlds. This confusion spreads as he hears about the person of Jesus. And Jesus meets Nicodemus in the midst of his turmoil.
It’s not unlike our confusing as our current lockdown state that lifts this week – that we’re no longer under lockdown, but the opening plan doesn’t start until June 14. What about the inbetween time? What is it then? It has, and continues to be a confusing time. Confusion breeds anxiety. Anxiety festers into fear. And left unchecked fear leads to anger…anger leads to hatred…hatred leads to suffering.
Seeking to break that cycle before it begins, Nicodemus arranges to meet Jesus at night, to understand better who he was. He had been feeling alone for awhile now – not really fitting in, not really understanding his fellow Pharisees, and desperate not to become some crutch for his religion. Nicodemus wants to understand more deeply, live more faithfully, trust more honestly. So he seeks the one who stands within the darkness.
We’ve been Nicodemus. Maybe this is even too close to home for some. Those feelings of wanting to live lives that have a greater impact in our world yet feeling cooped up and contained. Overwhelming shadows and confusion in which we wish a little light would shine. Craving answers to unanswerable questions. We’ve gone to great lengths to get the answers we seek, from one teacher to the next, yet nothing scratches that itch. This past year has been the long, dark night of our souls, listening more, learning more – trying to understand. Yet feelings of confusion and loss persist. They’re inescapable.
I’ll tell you, when it was announced this week that over 200 remains of children were found at a former residential school in B.C., I felt lost. I don’t understand. I don’t understand how children as young as three can be the victims of a faith where Jesus says, ‘let the children come to me.’ I don’t understand how faith leaders taught to “love God and love their neighbour as themselves” can run a school like that, that was only closed the year I was born. I don’t understand how my denomination, the United Church of Canada, that in other moments have stood up in the face of injustice participated in those and other deaths. Stories like the one out of Kamloops, B.C. create Nicodemuses of us all – lost and looking for answers. For when you shine a light, everything comes into the open. And being church is often painful, and chaotic and difficult. Being church is this confusing combination of the deep awareness that we’re human, bolstered by a faith in God. But that doesn’t eliminate our mistake making, as we too often drift into judgment and play God, pretending like we understand it all. We are defensive…we’re defensive of what we believe…we’re defensive of our church over another, let alone atheists…defensiveness plays into our confusion…anxiety…fear…but we’re not alone in the darkness.
In the darkness, we meet Jesus.
In the darkness, we question and search together, and admit our shortcomings.
In the darkness, we confess.
In the darkness, judgment doesn’t persist – only salvation (salvation from ourselves…)
In the darkness, unimaginable love embraces the vulnerable.
In the darkness, the light shines…and the shadows did not overcome the light.
In the darkness, our perspectives shift – no longer able to see Jesus illuminates the path.
In the darkness, fumbling and stumbling –
we choose to trust the one who goes before us.
In the darkness, where we feel most alone, God is.
For the very nature of God draws one to another.
I’ll admit that I don’t preach very often on Trinity Sunday – I know this because when I went looking for a sermon I had preached before to somehow make this Sunday a little easier, I came up with very little. The Trinity, that is the traditional pattern of viewing God as Father, Son, Holy Spirit – or any other description like those in the Opening Prayer or others yet…describes the indescribable. It’s often a confusing subject that prompts less understanding no matter how you talk about it. I believe C.S. Lewis talked about the Trinity in terms of lines – that the complete picture of God comes when we move from a one dimensional understanding of God, to a more complex, three dimensional (seen and unseen) view of God. And I like that, knowing that in that third dimension, it takes more than just 3 lines to create the cube, more than three faces, as the picture of this multifaceted God comes into better view. But if your eyes have glazed over – that’s ok – we’re still trying to capture the essence of something challenging as if we were trying to define ‘love.’
Instead, launching from the word ‘love’ – if we look at the Trinity as relational – that God: Creator, Son, and Spirit, cannot be separated from one another – then we believe that God’s very nature is to be in relationship. God draws us into relationship. God invites us into something bigger than ourselves. God pulls us into community when in the darkness, we feel alone. God unites us in suffering and lamentation and tears and sorrow when human hands destroyed the beauty of God’s creation. God is the strength in our lungs when we cry out for those who are dead and buried. God coaxes us to dwell in mystery, long before understanding – with both answers and not, allowing like the candle for both darkness and light to coexist.
Within the Trinity as our pattern, we are invited to live in relationship no matter how mysterious, complicated and problematic that can be. We are invited to be people of faith no matter what horrors have been done in the name of faith. We are invited to live in the tension of learning from the past in order to find a future together. This pandemic year has reminded us that our whole lives depend on one another, just as the divine fire of creation blazed, and the flame of Jesus’ life just would not go out, and the light that still gives us hope in the darkness of this time. We cannot separate fire from flame from light, just as we cannot eliminate our need of one another.
That’s what has made this year the more difficult. By design, we are relational beings, kept separate by our need to keep one another safe.
But I know, not long from now, we’ll walk together in the light.