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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Friday, November 17, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Nicodemus' Questions

Nicodemus’ Questions
John 3:1-17
 
 
Yesterday about 22 of us headed to the theater to see “Son of God”. The movie itself was a well done portrayal of the Jesus story. One of the characters that became a major part of the story was Nicodemus. From the beginning, Nicodemus had questions about Jesus and Caiaphas’ negative reaction to Jesus and his teachings.   Caiaphas could not tolerate any hint that Jesus be identified as the Son of God, or the long awaited Messiah. Caiaphas had a deeply entrenched idea about what the Messiah would do and be, and he could not entertain the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah. Throughout the movie Caiaphas is portrayed as the single-minded opponent. Whereas the viewer found Jesus’ statements and actions believable, and could see the possibility of Jesus actually being the Son of God, Caiaphas could not and remained directly and adamantly opposed to Jesus. Nicodemus on the other hand had questions about Jesus. He seemed to hear possibilities in Jesus’ messages and actions. He was the “but wait” to Caiaphas’ absolutely not. 
 
Nicodemus wanted to know. He was open to possibility. The one thing that held him back from believing Jesus was his position in the Jewish priesthood and hierarchy. So Nicodemus engages in one of the first acts of discipleship in the book of John. He seeks out Jesus. He wants to know. But he seeks under the cover of darkness. He is not brave enough to seek Jesus openly, mostly because he did not know what to believe. But he senses that something is different about Jesus, and perhaps he sees Caiaphas’ lack of ability to see something else in Jesus. Nicodemus wants a chance to question Jesus away from the narrow-mindedness of his colleagues. 
 
But his questions to Jesus seem to bring more questions than answers. Nicodemus has seen some of the signs Jesus has exhibited in healing and feeding episodes. He wants to know about this power and where it comes from. But Jesus is not a direct answerer. Jesus’ statements about being born from above/again are attempts to challenge Nicodemus’ thinking and move him beyond the surface meanings to much deeper meanings. Jesus talks about what on the surface seems impossible, rebirth. Nicodemus seems unable to comprehend Jesus’ meaning. “How can a person be born again?” But the new birth Jesus speaks about is one that gives new access to God. Jesus’ offer of new birth is like the wind/spirit: a mystery beyond human knowledge and control. 
 
John Wesley would centuries later talk about the “new birth” as the beginning of holy life, the beginning of what he would term sanctification, moving on to perfection or a completely holy life wrapped in God. 
 
Nicodemus was on to something really big and we are not told whether he came to understand and believe. But what is it that Nicodemus is coming close to understanding? What is the understanding of “being born again”?
 
It is possible to walk through life entirely focused on ourselves and our own well being. We work hard to “make it” in life, to progress through life thinking of our physical abilities and efforts.. But is that enough? Isn’t there just as much a spiritual sense of self as there is a physical sense of self? Isn’t there a part of us that seeks hope, satisfaction, love, and wholeness? 
 
My friend, Rosemary, at one point in her life believed that her life was her own to live as she saw fit. She had no room for God or for Jesus. Those concepts had been forced up her from early childhood. She reached a point where she no longer felt the need for those “religious” ideas she had grown up with, so she stopped going to church, stopped thinking God was of any importance in her life. When she was diagnosed with cancer, the last person she wanted to talk to was a pastor. If there was a God, she was angry at him. It was only at the insistence of her parents that she finally consented to talk with me. Though she was polite, it was clear that she felt my visit was a waste of both our time. So we avoided the topic of spiritual matters for the time being and talked about her diagnosis. Mostly I listened as she vented her frustration and pain and when the time came to end my visit, I offered to pray with her. She politely but pointedly said that it wasn’t necessary, but she did consent to my coming back.
 
The next week she once again launched into her tirade about her diagnosis, but I noticed her anger began to soften and I heard a hint of despair in her voice. Quietly tears began to fill her eyes and softly muffled questions began to come out, “Why me?”, “What did I do wrong?” and then I heard it, her first hint that she was beginning to question the God she had not believed in for so long. “Is God mad at me? Is God punishing me?” A small door had opened. We talked about what that meant to her and at the end of the session I offered to say a prayer. This time she did not refuse. Over the course of the next several months she began to explore her beliefs about God, prayer, heaven, afterlife and eternal life. By that time she knew she had a difficult battle ahead, and knew the outcome was not in her favor. Over the course of the next year of her life, her faith began to blossom. She embraced what Jesus taught and in a very real sense she was born to new life, that life being lived in God. The Spirit within her became strong and helped her live through pain and the anguish of her family as she prepared to die. Her new found faith began to sustain both her and her family. Each day she found new wonders in life. It was with much courage and faith that she came to the end of her life on earth and embraced the prospect of life lived in God’s presence continually. She was an inspiration to all who knew her. 
 
Being born again is not about becoming physically new, but it is realizing that apart from God we are not whole, we are not complete. Being born again means living our lives in the light of God, being ready and willing to do God’s will. Being born again means knowing that we are loved and sharing that love with the rest of God’s children. Being born again means turning to God’s ways and not our own. Being born again means knowing that Jesus is the Son of God and being willing to follow as disciples. Being born again means wanting to know all we can about jesus and what he taught and about God and what God wants. Being born again means giving up our selfish ways and giving ourselves to others out of God’s love. 
 
Being born again means paying attention to God in such a way that our lives are transformed and lived fully in God’s grace and love. Being born again means being different than we were before, being dedicated to new meaning in life and a new way of living out our lives. We don’t do that ourselves. The Spirit working within us helps us be different and moves us to right, more wholesome living. It’s kind of like getting a new outfit, a facelift, something that makes us better. Only this “better” is more orientated toward God, our counterpart in life, our creator and one that wants this world to be perfected. It isn’t necessarily about waiting until the next life to be whole, it’s about being whole now, it is about recognizing how God is working in the world and living accordingly. We are capable of being in God’s kingdom now and living according to kingdom expectations. We don’t follow Jesus because it’s the “thing” to do. We follow God because we believe that God walked this earth in Jesus and taught us what we need to know through him. We follow God because God made it possible to follow him in a very specific way. Ours is not a faith of generalities, but a faith of specifics. God acted in a very specific way to clear the path of understanding and love. His dying on the cross demonstrated His extreme love for us. He showed us that this physical life is not all there is, that always we can live in the presence of God and be made whole. It’s not just a matter of how good and righteous we can be. We will all fail at that time and time again. It is a matter of how deeply we believe with our whole being that Jesus is the one to follow, as he put it, “the way, the truth, the life!” 
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