2014 13 March

Lenten Study 2 – Nicodemus by Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United


(Editor’s note: We’ve heard from a number of you using the Moderator’s Lenten video reflections in your congregational groups that you would like the video segments posted earlier. Thank you for that suggestion. Below is the Moderator’s video reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent, March 16. For the remainder of Lent, we will post the Moderator’s video each Monday, a week in advance of the Sunday it is reflecting upon. The upcoming video reflections can also be found on the United Church YouTube channel. The discussion schedule for the “Turn Around Take Off” Facebook group will remain the same. Thank you.)

Lenten Study 2 – Nicodemus)

It’s good to be connecting again, in this second week of Lent.

We’re moving now into the gospel of John, where we’ll be spending the next four weeks, exploring moments of encounter between Jesus and, today, with Nicodemus. (John 3:1-17.)

He’s a lot like many of us within the United Church, methinks, committed to the religious routine, a conscientious Pharisee, a good person trying to figure out what is the right and proper thing to do. But I wonder if he, again like so many in our times, has lost his zest, whatever it is that makes a person excited, even passionate about God.

Hard to tell, really, about Nicodemus, but the good thing is that man is still willing to ask questions. He’s heard about this Jesus – a teacher, who is rumoured to have done some amazing things. And Nicodemus wants to know more.

On the other hand, he’s not sure how much he wishes to risk. Certainly not his reputation; he doesn’t want to burn any bridges, and get in trouble with his fellow religionists. So he steals away at night – which is not a bad thing. Better to go at night than not at all, eh? And the night, well, it’s a good time for questions, when boundaries are more fluid, when it’s easier to slip off the straight and narrow. Personally, I do some of my more serious thinking in the middle of the night, sitting up in bed, not able to go back to sleep; the questions that surface at 3:00 a.m. have real power. And besides, it’s easier to catch a glimpse of the light in the middle of the night – star-gazing, for instance. And it’s amazing how one candle can capture and hold attention in a darkened room; contrast is everything.

So imagine the scene as if it were painted by Rembrandt, all shadows and light; maybe place yourself in the scene, listening, when Jesus starts talking about being born again, or is it “born from above” – the Greek works for either interpretation. Though I’m not sure it matters that much .

What is clear is that Jesus is inviting Nicodemus, us, to be changed, to be transformed to such an extent that it feels like a rebirth of some sort. Radical change, a new person.

“How can this be?” cries Nicodemus. Though I sometimes wonder if that’s the real question – maybe it’s more about whether we actually want to be changed. (I can remember working with a spiritual director, as I confronted a part of myself that needed to change, and I confessed that I wasn’t really all that certain that I wanted such a transformation. So, my director invited me to pray for the desire to be changed. But even that felt a bit iffy… and so I ended up praying for the desire to have the desire to have the desire to be changed. I wonder if that might have been a fit for Nicodemus?)

Jesus is clear that this rebirth stuff is not something we accomplish on our own, just as we can’t take much credit for our first birth. This time round it’s the work of the Spirit… which blows where it will, which may not be all that convenient – God’s time, rather than ours; now, rather than later on. What seems to be on the table is the offer of some spiritual power, that can work within us, upon us, through us, that will in fact change us. We can be, must be, reborn.

Now “reborn” is a charged word of course, since whenever it got taken over by conservative Christianity. But I think it’s a word that we need to reclaim. One way, is to talk about being reborn, and reborn and reborn… affirming that whatever this change is about, it’s not just a one-time thing, after which you can sit back and boast. No, it’s ongoing, a lifetime’s work, a journey, to use the old metaphor; if you’re Methodist in background, you might talk about ongoing sanctification. Or you might sing a verse of, “Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me, Melt me, mould me, fill me, use me,” or “Breathe on me, breath of God, fill me with life anew….”

What John is convinced of, and is using Nicodemus as his foil perhaps, is that this life-changing Spirit power comes through Jesus, as if he were the conduit, the channel. Hence the classic gospel summary:

For God so loved the world (and just pause there for a moment and remember that it’s the world that God loves) that he gave his only Son (that’s incarnation, that’s Christ embodied in Jesus) so that everyone who believes in him (a tricky phrase to get a handle on, “believes in,” not dogma and doctrine, but maybe trust, openness, a willingness to grab onto the power source) may not perish but have eternal life (another phrase often misunderstood…not heaven and hell, what happens in the afterlife, but what is happening right now, here, this world).

We don’t know what happened to Nicodemus, though the fact that he shows up at the end of the gospel, helping Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus’ body off the cross, suggests that something happened. But in truth, the real question is aimed at us – what would our lives look like, feel like, if we were filled with the kind of Spirit energy that seems to be flowing in and through Jesus? And what would our United Church look like if it were reborn?

You are invited to join the “Turn Around Take Off!” discussion group on Facebook.


Gary Paterson | March 11, 2014 at 1:24 pm | URL: http://wp.me/p2RwbK-mk