Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus 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.” (John 3:1-2)
In the stillness of the night he's risking his life, status, world, testing the ground to see if Jesus it's worth it. He's a learned man, a scholar, a thinker. He is a man of reason, rationale and facts. But he is also a man of faith.He has studied the scriptures, the Torah, Pentatuech, Talmud and midrash of various teachers. He has read between the lines of scripture to understand the way of life and found himself in alliance with the Pharisees; legalists who believe the letter of the law the literal word as written. Yet something deep within tells him that everything he has learned and everything he sees in this Jesus is somehow colliding. He must be sent from God!
And so he takes his questions, his ponderings and his yearnings to know the truth, he hides in safety of the shadow, under the cover of darkness, protected and sheltered until he can come to see Jesus. But even in the quiet of darkness, Nicodemus is unable to see clearly.
“How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” “How can these things be?” (John 3:4b, 9)
His questions cloud his vision and he stays on the surface, while Jesus draws him in further to the refuge of the womb, that protected place of life, creation,and love; that place where nurturing and nourishment come without effort, that place where we've all resided, that place we all fought to get out of. Jesus draws Nicodemus into the womb, to see if he can ask the question that will give him life, nourishment and new birth. Nicodemus “knows” that Jesus is sent from God, but he just won’t ask the question: Are you the Messiah? Immanuel? God come to be with us?
Scholars of Disruption, I wonder how many of us are asking the superficial questions, hiding in the shadows instead of leaping into the darkness? How many of us look for life-altering answers in these superficial questions, instead of pausing, to listen for the question being born in the depth of our soul? How often are we so busy protecting our status or resting in our own knowledge, that we neglect to recognize we are face to face with God?
The shift from the first Sunday in Lent to this second Sunday and those that follow is a brusque one. Matthew's gospel is grounded in the law, not unlike Nicodemus and the other Pharisees. The Gospel of John is not concerned with the letter of the law. The Jesus of the Gospel of John isn't even really concerned with sin. Jesus, in The Gospel of John, cares about your heart, your belief, and tells us repeatedly that that is where we find true relationship with Him. The task of the Disrupting preacher this week is to help the people hear that transition as well. For Nicodemus it is a challenge. He struggles with it deeply, but Jesus stays there with him continuing to draw him in, to the glorious and beautiful haven of the deep, dark womb.
If you wear an alb that is white to lead worship and symbolize the purity of Jesus and His glory, this week is a wonderful opportunity to wear your black cassock, in order to invite people to see God's glory in the windowless womb, hidden in the shadows. Point the people to God with us, Immanuel, in the pitch black of night. Dim the lights of your sanctuary and invite your people into the shadows with you, to leave behind the letter of the law and to find the spirit of Truth that resides in belief in Jesus. Allow Jesus to speak to you and your people in the silence, the silence to which Jesus invited Nicodemus, the silence of a womb that gives New Life.
“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. (John 3:16-17)
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