This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 8, 2020. The texts were:
Genesis 12: 1-4a
Romans 4: 1-6, 13-17
John 3: 1-21
Children’s sermon: Do you ever worry about things? I do! I worry all the time. Sometimes I worry about things that I can’t control or do anything about by myself. Such as I worry about will it snow. Can I control that? Nooo, even though I want to! Our bible story today is about a man named Nicodemus, or Nic for short and he was worried about who Jesus was and why Jesus was doing the things he was doing. Nic was someone who knew a lot, he had a lot of education and he liked to know what was happening but he didn’t understand Jesus, so he went to talk to him. Jesus understood this worry and sat and chatted with Nic about how it’s hard to understand, but he didn’t have to worry about having answers or knowing the right things because God’s love took care of him! Nic needed to realize what really mattered, not his learning or knowledge but God’s love that is for everyone no matter what! Here is a big heart and during worship and during the week, write or draw where you see Jesus’ love in the world.
I was reminded in our gospel reading this week that the word that we often translate as “judgment” in the bible, as we get in this John text, in the Greek is krisis-where we derive our English word for “crisis.” It seems to me that as humans, we jump from one crisis to the next in our lives. Crisis arise when how we think life should be is juxtaposed with something different and seemingly threatening. When the world appears to be in continual turmoil, the best that we can do is to react. Except that reacting is exhausting isn’t it? Reacting means getting involved, getting our hands dirty, the feeling that we can’t just ignore the current crisis at hand, and that we have to respond in some way, even if it’s risky and maybe against our better judgment. There are times when reacting matters, such as when our neighbor is in need, as in TN after the tornadoes. And there are times when reacting drains every bit of physical and emotional energy that we have such as in a chronic situation. Humans aren’t wired to stay in constant state of crisis and yet, we seem to thrive on it a bit. Until we can’t and we burn out. And then it can seem that the easiest and safest thing to do is to ignore everything, even true crisis’, hunker down, keep your head low, stay cocooned in the comfort and safety of your own community, family, friends and simply opt out of the drama. But the reality is that crisis is part of our existence, crisis also pushes us to become very clear about what matters when crisis demands a response from us of one sort or another. We can choose to step into the mess, or we can hide. We also learn to define what is a true crisis and what is mere theater.
Many of us have experienced crisis’ in our lives, probably several on one level or another. Daily life crisis’ such as severe economic downturns, job losses, bankruptcy, health challenges or the more existential and spiritual crisis’ of grief, hurt, and shame. What John of the Cross (a 16th century priest) called “the dark night of the soul.” When it seems that darkness will last forever and will hold us hostage. And yet, that darkness is not always bad. We forget that things grow in the dark, if you’ve ever cared for poinsettias outside of the Christmas season, you know that they need to be in dark for a few months of the year in order to grow. Seeds germinate underground, caterpillars hide out in dark cocoons, and humans grow in the darkness of wombs. But life can’t stay in the dark. In order to be vibrant and to thrive, the crisis of leaving the darkness must occur and when it does, it’s often messy, frightening, liberating and breathtaking.
Our gospel story from John about Nicodemus is all about crisis. Nic is in crisis. What he knows about God is juxtaposed against what he’s seen from Jesus. He’s heard about water to wine, and of Jesus’ angry outburst in temple-the story that precedes this one. Nic knows what he knows, he’s a religious scholar, a Pharisee, and he has the rules, the rituals, the doctrine and the academia down pat. But something else is growing in him that he can’t quite control and can’t quite articulate. While all his learning and knowledge lead him to judge Jesus’ actions as anarchy and agitation, Nic also senses the truth resting underneath those actions. The truth that perhaps there is something more than rituals, rules, and doctrines. Maybe there is something more to this Jesus and so he needed to check it out. Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark, which we assume is about cover but it could be about comfort and quiet. Nic knew what he knew AND knew that there were things he didn’t. Jesus doesn’t offer pat answers but acknowledges the crisis moment Nic is in. Yep, you don’t know everything that God is doing. Yep, this faith that is growing inside you, it’s very hard to control because once you recognize the Holy Spirit loose in the world and your life, nothing will be the same. You won’t view the world and the crisis’ of the world in the same way. This is what judgment is, not God’s judgment but yours, Nic. But you are in this moment, this liminal space where how you respond to the Spirit and your flesh together, matters. Will you trust that I am here from God with grace and love? Not because your personal salvation is at stake, that is already done, but healing, wholeness and truth in your life and in the world is at stake.
Jesus invites Nic and us into this crisis: will we allow ourselves to stay in the safety and comfort of the dark we know, where we don’t have to engage in the reality of the world or will we trust the truth that God, out of God’s unending, unconditional and unexplainable love, sent Jesus to be with us the crisis of our lives and the world for redemption and healing? Will we believe that the only condemnation we’re under is our own? But like Nic, we’re perplexed, confused and can’t see the whole picture from our places in the dark. We meet Nicodemus twice again in John, in chapter 7, sticking up for Jesus against the other religious authorities, and then at Jesus ‘burial where Nic stepped into the crisis of Jesus’ death and trusts God. We, too, are in a moment of crisis to trust in God’s promises of new life, to trust in the messy and uncontrollable process of being made new every day, and following the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit. If we live into this radical trust, what will others think? The crisis before us is: will we grow into the light, shine with our own brightness and work with the Holy Spirit for creation to be healed and made new or will we do what’s easy and stay in the dark? Living in this trust will not keep us from crisis’ but will guide how we react-from a place of trust, hope and from our hearts.
We can’t stay in the dark as people of God. Jesus calls us to follow, yes sometimes even into the crisis to be a part of the solution. We follow Jesus to work for justice and to stand for inclusive love of God for all the world, trusting that the Holy Spirit is already there to lead us and to sustain us. We follow Jesus into the crisis of people who are not guaranteed civil and human rights because of the color of their skin, immigration status, gender identity or sexual orientation. We follow Jesus into the crisis of caring for creation, of stewarding what God has given us and knowing that the earth needs us to hear the cries of its crisis. We follow Jesus into the crisis of those who lack access to healthcare, adequate housing, education and economic opportunities. We follow Jesus into whatever the crisis of our neighbor and discover that Jesus is already with them.
We can’t be afraid, and we must love light and truth more than the dark, even if it means going into the dark to bring our neighbor to the light. We must say what we know of God, not of rules, rituals or doctrine, but what we know in our hearts of God’s loving presence with us, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit always, from crisis to crisis. We let our light so shine so that the world sees Jesus who was sent to heal, unify and free us all. Amen.