2nd Sunday in Lent—Year A—March 16, 2014
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh Lord, our strength, and our redeemer.
I have passed out various translations of the Bible and I want you to hear these various versions on v. 3
– NRSV & NET: “from above”
– KJV & NIV: “again”
Read various v.3
When this happens, when various translations choose one of a couple of options, it is a sign to us that the meaning of the Greek in uncertain, or has a couple of various meanings. In the case of this word in v. 3 “anothen,” we know it can mean, “again” “anew” or “from above,” we just do not know which one Jesus meant.
We do know however, at least, which one Nicodemus thought he meant by his response in verse 4.
Read various v.4
But then Jesus responds with a confusing, convoluted, diatribe in v.s 5-8. Is Jesus trying to correct Nicodemus’ understanding of that word, the whole point, or is Jesus reinforcing the translation Nicodemus has understood and simply answering his follow up question?
Nicodemus seems to be left confused—“how can these things be?” And to be honest, so am I.
But this isn’t the last we hear about Nicodemus in John’s gospel (the only Gospel where he appears). In chapter 7, Nicodemus tries to stick up for Jesus when his fellow Pharisees and the chief priests are conspiring to arrest him, but he is quickly over ruled. Then in chapter 19, he makes one last appearance at Jesus’ burial. Nicodemus brings over 100 lbs of myrrh and aloes and helps Joseph of Arimathea prepare, wrap, and lay his body to rest in the tomb.
Both of these follow up appearances begin with a reminder that Nicodemus first came to Jesus in the night. So this tells us that this is an important fact. What could Nicodemus coming at night represent?
– He didn’t want anyone to know he was going to see Jesus—he was a Pharisee remember.
– The darkness could point out that Nicodemus is “in the dark”—when he arrives, and still when he leaves
But even with all this seemingly working against Nicodemus, he confesses that Jesus “came from God,” he might not fully understand Jesus and his teachings, but he confesses the faith (here and indirectly in chapter 7) and then shows up when everyone else has left for the Jesus’ burial. His name remains great—we know his name—parts of his story are recorded in the Bible, even though he did not get it!
Even when we don’t get it. Even when we do not defend Jesus to our death in public. Even when we just keep asking questions or stop even showing up to ask them, we too have the promise of verses 16 & 17.
Read various v 16 & 17.
We cannot know or control where the wind blows and the water flows. The Spirit of God can illusive to our perceiving and our understanding. However, we are reminded that it keeps blowing “where it chooses” to the whole world…not just among the leaders—the Pharisees—but not just apart from them either.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that it might be saved.”
Unfortunately, this does not mean that we will never die—we look around us and see people dying everyday (our loved ones, our neighbors, our selves). And the alternative is not just the eternal life that comes after death. Daily we die and rise to new life. The Spirit blows in sermons (hopefully), in sunrises, in devotions, in conversation, on mountain tops, in valley experiences, in the dark…anywhere. Through God we are reborn (a new, again, or from above…does not really matter) and given a glimpse, made to see the kingdom of God.
I wish I could explain what this would be like, or tell you how to be sure to see it, but I cannot, for I do not control the flowing and blowing of the Spirit. All I can do is share with you the assurance that it is happening somehow, somewhere at this exact moment. Someone is experiencing a moment of rebirth and glimpsing the glory of the kingdom of God. I pray that that is reassuring to you.
But if it is not…let me put it this way: “You can fix a fixer upper with a little bit of love” (#Frozen).
Okay, maybe you are not all as obsessed with the newest Disney movie as some LCFers are, so let me explain. There is a song in the movie about how in relationships usually one person (if not both) are a fixer upper, but love makes that not matter. But I do not think this is only true of romantic relationships (as the trolls are singing about) or even just human relationships. I think the song also applies to our human relationship with God, especially when they say:
We’re not sayin’ you can change him,
‘Cause people don’t really change.
We’re only saying that love’s a force
That’s powerful and strange.
People make bad choices if they’re mad,
Or scared, or stressed.
Throw a little love their way.
And you’ll bring out their best.
It is the Disney way of saying John 3:16-17. It is the sing-along version of the basic gospel. We are fixer uppers—sinners—but God’s love makes that not matter, God saves us, grants us eternal life, makes us able to see the kingdom—it brings out our best.
So I pray this week that you might feel the Spirit move in a new way or in a new place—be reminded that you are now alone, not forgotten, not unloved. I pray that God might illuminate for you a time or the ways that you have experienced daily dying and rising, where you have glimpsed the kingdom of God. I pray that you would experience not only your need for fixing up but also experience the love that does that fixing up. #Amen.