What did you hear and see in this encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus? Did you hear it was night, Nicodemus likely not wanting to be seen with Jesus even though they honour Jesus by calling him Rabbi and saying no one can do what Jesus does apart from God. Jesus’ response challenges Nicodemus, saying no one can see the Dominion of God without being born from above or born again - the original words mean both. Nicodemus questions the physical possibility of re-entering their mother’s womb and being born again! And Jesus goes on, talking about being born of water and Spirit, that flesh is flesh and what is born of the Spirit is spirit; and the wind/Spirit blows where it wills, and so also those born of the Spirit. And Nicodemus can only question, “How can these things be?”
What do you sense or feel between Nicodemus and Jesus? Are you as confused as Nicodemus, like Jesus is speaking a different language? And is Jesus frustrated with Nicodemus, claiming if Nicodemus can’t see and believe earthly things, how can they see and believe heavenly things? Is that true for us too? We can’t see or believe earthly or heavenly things? Is Jesus frustrated with us?
Whatever Nicodemus is thinking, what Jesus says next couldn’t have been clearer for Nicodemus. The Son of Humanity has descended from heaven, and just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness (the story of the people of Israel dying from poisonous snakes, and God instructs Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a staff, so the people can look on it and live) so must the Son of Humanity be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Nicodemus knew this story well. And for Jesus to identify himself with this salvation story is astonishing! And in more astonishing words, Jesus says, God so loves the world that God gave the only Son, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life. God did not send the Son to condemn the world, but in order that the world would be saved through Jesus. We know these words so well. Have they stopped astonishing us?
I’ve wondered this week if these words are the preface to everything. “For God so loved/loves the world.” (Maybe the present tense helps us be astonished again.)
For God so loves the world… that God called Abram and Sarai and Lot to leave everything and go to the land God would show them and make them a great nation and bless them, that all the families of the earth would be blessed. And they went.
For God so loves the world… that with the Psalmist and in every circumstance we can sing, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, and from where does my help come, my help comes from God, the maker of heaven and earth….and God will watch over our going out and our coming in from this time and forevermore.
For God so loves the world… that Paul proclaims Abraham’s faith as righteousness, and, “For this reason it depends on faith in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all Abraham and Sarah’s descendants…”
The preface to everything: For God so loves the world, that God gave the world Jesus… that Nicodemus, though they came to Jesus by night and struggled to understand, will later publicly defend Jesus before the religious authorities.
For God so loves the world, that God gave the world Jesus… that these words are a comfort and everlasting hope for a dearly beloved at their spouse’s funeral, trusting God’s love in Jesus to hold them in death and new life now and forever, and to hold those who live on, to hold one another, in this same love and promise, until we are together again in God.
For God so loves the world, that God gave the world Jesus… that in response to the Coroanvirus we will not let fear overwhelm us, or see our neighbour as a threat, or allow prejudice against Asian or Middle Eastern neighbours or anyone else; but act with care for one another, especially for elders and others who are vulnerable, and support and pray for those who grieve, are sick, work in health care, and all who are affected.
For God so loves the world that God gave the world Jesus… that on this International Women’s Day, we lift up, and stand up for, and stand in solidarity with, women, for the inherent equal worth and rights and gift and blessing of all women and girls, and stand against all forms of sexism that continue in our world and ourselves, that see and make women less, held down, held back, at risk, assaulted, harassed, fearful for their lives and wellbeing, but instead that all women thrive in safety and freedom and peace and hope and joy, together.
For God so loves the world, that God gave the world Jesus… that a barber, new to me, and asking what I do for a living, (not my favourite question…) and after my saying, “a Lutheran Minister,” disclosed, quietly, that he was Lutheran too, on his mother’s side, and this was his first day back after a year to the day of having to leave his work, following a late stage Cancer diagnoses, and a year of treatment, and at his last appointment at the Cancer clinic, hearing the results, being asked by the Doctor if he would like to go out and ring the bell in the waiting area, which those who are determined to be Cancer free are invited to do, which he happily did, and everyone in that room applauded, and joined him in celebrating new life. I’m grateful, he said. Grateful to God, I think he was trying to tell me.
For God so loves the world, that God gave the world Jesus… that those who are carrying heavy burdens of care for loved ones struggling with dementia, sudden or chronic illness, loss, changes and challenges, all not within your control, would feel the embrace of God’s love and strength to carry you, on and through this day, and the next, and the next after that… to hope and wholeness and wellbeing together. A preface to everything.
For God so loves the world, that God gave the world Jesus… that potentially, hopefully, there is a just and peaceful way forward on Wet’suwet’en territory and for indigenous people across these lands; that Syrian and other refugees moving through Turkey and trapped in Greece and elsewhere might find safe homelands, including through our own efforts; that in the face of overwhelming issues of poverty, injustice, greed, corruption, power, violence, war, earth and climate destruction and crisis, we can, we must, because we are not God, entrust this broken world to God, who so loves this world, that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the world would be saved.
A preface to everything. I wonder, when Jesus was crucified and died, when with Joseph of Arimathea, it was Nicodemus who came to give Jesus a royal burial; if they had these words turning over and over in their mind; For God so loves the world, that God gave the world Jesus… and that it would be so in everything, for us, and in all our relations. Amen.