When Will We Learn


Nicodemus is a familiar character. He was a pharisee who snuck off to talk with Jesus in the middle of the night. I wonder what burning question made him take the risk of being seen with Jesus. All we know is that he went to Jesus and affirmed that Jesus was “from God.” Then the conversation just gets weird. And you know what? The Christian church has never made sense of this strange passage in any useful way.

An Invitation to Dance

If Pentecost is a celebration of the Holy Spirit, then Trinity Sunday is an invitation to dance. Yes, I mean exactly what I said. And here’s why… The Trinity is not something we can logically understand. Theologians have tried for centuries and it literally does not add up. We can get trapped in the language … Read More

What Abram and Nicodemus Have to Say

2014-03-13 11.12.32Looking at the bookshelf in my office I see the clutter accumulated over my career. Between my Oxford Bible Companion and my Book of Worship sits the DSM V with a canister of pick up sticks and a candle to keep them company. Books of poetry, theology, and psychology along with hymnals and worship resources line the shelves cluttered with rolls of duct tape, shells, dog biscuits and an odd assortment of other things. Some of these things I’ve had since childhood – the Romeo and Juliet dolls my mother made and a picture of Jesus surrounded by children. Other things are more recent additions – remnants of group therapy activities and other items that migrated from my desk at one time or another. Someone recently pointed out that a person could learn a lot about me based on what is on these shelves.

These items wouldn’t tell the whole story, though. You wouldn’t see the part of me that marvels at Abram’s courage to follow God into a new life by leaving everything familiar behind. You get no hint at the tears that come to my eyes every time I read the passage about Nicodemus going to Jesus in the night, desperate to find answers and understand and accept. Nothing shouts out the gratitude I have for the life I am living nor does anything whisper the secret yearnings of my heart.

Anyone could walk into my office and gain knowledge about me. But not the same knowledge as that gained from meeting me. This sort of knowledge has been the theme of my week. Several people have said some version of “I know all about God. I read the Bible so I’m good. What more do I need to know about God?” The Bible says a fair amount about God, but it doesn’t begin to tell the whole of the story.

God invited Abram into a new life. It was a life that involved a trusting relationship with God, not just knowing about God. Nicodemus knew all about God. When he encountered Jesus on that long-ago night, Jesus spoke of a different kind of relationship. A God-so-loved-the-world kind of relationship that was full of life and more truth than factual knowing could ever reveal.

As I contemplate the semi-contained chaos of my bookshelf and those who came to me insisting that the Bible tells them all they need to know about God, I’ve realized the path that might lead me through Lent this year. It’s time for me to clear out some clutter and some false notions about who God is in my life and maybe satisfy some of those secret yearnings.

I lift up my eyes to the hills from where will my help come? My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth. God will not let your foot be moved; God who keeps you will not slumber.

RCL – Second Sunday in Lent – March 16, 2014

Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17 or Matthew 17:1-9

A Lesson From Nicodemus

RCL – June 3, 2012 – Trinity Sunday, First Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

This week’s gospel reading contains one of the most frequently cited scripture verses. It seems that at every sporting event there are signs with “John 3:16” written on them. To be honest, I’m never quite sure what the point of these signs are. Has anyone ever converted to Christianity because of one of these signs at a football game? Probably not. Moreover, I can think of several other passages that might be much more intriguing to the reader. I mean, why not hold up a sign that says, “Would you marry a prostitute? Come to church on Sunday to find out.” Or “Your neighbor really loves you. Discover your neighbor in worship.” I bet these kinds of signs would at least raise an eyebrow or two; “John 3:16” probably doesn’t do much. Personally, I find this a bit ironic. Nicodemus sought Jesus out in the night because of “signs.” Who is going seek Jesus because of these modern day signs?

Much has been made of Nicodemus through the centuries. I’m not sure why, really. I mean it seems Nicodemus’ reasons for seeking Jesus out “by night” aren’t all that mysterious. He was a man in power who had a desire to know something more about this Jesus of Nazareth who was shaking things up. He wanted Jesus to answer his questions, but he wasn’t willing to risk his colleagues finding out for all sorts of reasons. If every Christian were brutally honest, we’d probably all admit that there have been times when we’ve gone to Jesus in the dark, asking questions that we hope no one will ever hear about. And if we stay in the moment of honesty, we will also admit that sometimes the answers are just as confusing as Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus was, at least when Nicodemus heard it.

I’m not all that thrilled with Jesus’ answer, either. Or, rather, what has been done with it. I don’t think for a minute that Nicodemus was “born anew” in that moment with Jesus. Who would be? The words were so fresh and new and just plain weird. But Nicodemus showed up for Jesus later so they must have sunken in and changed him quite a bit. Nicodemus would likely have given up a lot of his power and social standing to publicly stand up for Jesus. But that night when he left Jesus, Nicodemus was just as much in the dark as when he arrived.

And this is where the hope is for me. I would like everyone in the world to have opportunity to be born “anew,” to have an opportunity to see things from a place of the Spirit. It isn’t that I think everyone has to be Christian, or even should be. I would just like to see people live in a saving place, rather than a condemning place. I truly believe that anyone who has encountered Jesus – in the middle of the night or broad daylight – seeks to save, not to condemn.

For clarity’s sake, let me say that when I say “save,” I don’t necessarily mean it the way many Christians do. Here, I mean it as a way of living that seeks justice, practices love, and works toward peace. Condemnation is not what Jesus offered. Why do so many Christians offer condemnation in Jesus’ name?

On the surface, it doesn’t look like Nicodemus has much to do with current events. But I think this his story could be very helpful in the way we view the world. It is easy to shake our heads and turn away from the problems in the world. It is easy to pass judgment and distance ourselves from conflicts in our communities. It is easy to distract ourselves with busyness and wait for the difficulties to pass. I mean, really, who wants to listen to more news about the increase in violence in Syria? Or shootings in a cafe in Seattle? Or more questions about Obama’s birth certificate? Or concerns about a Mormon being president? Or the fragility of the Eurozone? Or global warming? Or healthcare cuts? Or the poor job market? The list goes on and on and varies very little from week to week.

Do any of these things keep us awake at night? What questions do we whisper to Jesus when no one else can hear? Do the answers require that we be born anew? Are we reluctant to let the Spirit blow where it wills? It isn’t easy. I don’t know about you, but I want to live salvation and share it in a way that yields more justice than apathy, more possibility than destruction. Surely, this is possible. If Jesus didn’t condemn anyone, why should any of us who seek to follow him?

Come, Holy Spirit, Come.

May God give strength to God’s people!
  May God bless God’s people with peace!