In the gospel of John, it is not clear whether Nicodemus went to see Jesus because he was sent to test Jesus on behalf of the Sanhedrin, or because he was drawn or driven to him by a quest of his own spirit, or the Holy Spirit.
They talk in the quiet of the evening, clear of the crowds who gather in the market place, clear of colleagues or disciples. Jesus tells Nic that if he wants to see the kingdom of God, then he needs to be born from above (born anew/ born again). It’s not that the image was foreign to Nic because when Gentiles were converted to Judaism after a discipline of prayer, sacrifice and baptism, it was regarded as being `reborn.’ But why would Nic have to be reborn? He’s part of the Sanhedrin, he is part of the spiritual elite, he knows his scripture and as far as he is concerned, he’s living by it.
But Jesus says something like this, `Nic, you can’t control the wind, right? You know it’s going to blow where it will. Well you can’t control the Spirit of God either. You have to be open to the Spirit of God moving in you. But it can only do that if you let go of your little womb-like preconceived world, and start out again, brand new. And you might have to do that again and again until you know the only thing for certain is God’s love. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing Nic. God loves this world so much, I’m just here to help people recognise and reconnect with God, the God who loves them and gives new life, in times of joy or despair, faith or doubt.
You have to make a choice Nic. When the labour pains start, and they have, you either take the risk of birth, or you die in the womb.’
Nic. goes away and ponders these things in his heart. End of story right? Perhaps unfortunately, we don’t’ read the gospel straight through. If we did, we’d find Nic. again. He shows up in Chapter 7. There the Pharisees and scribes have sent officers to arrest Jesus, but they come back empty handed. When they are asked to justify this, they say, vs46 “We’ve never heard anyone speak the way this man speaks.” Some big shot speaks, `Oh, so he’s managed to lead you astray too. Well, have any of the rulers or Pharisees succumbed to his charms? The people are ignorant, they don’t know the Law.
Vs 50: A lone voice speaks from the Sanhedrin “Our Law does not judge a man until it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” It’s Nicodemus. The rest of them look at Nicodemus. “What? Are you from Galilee too? No prophet comes from Galilee.” With that, someone moved the meeting be adjourned.
The story moves on… John 19:39 It’s been a day of hell. Finally Jesus has been arrested, tortured, and crucified. The disciples have fled, the women linger nearby, and finally a man named Joseph of Arimathea, a `secret’ follower of Jesus gets permission to take Jesus’ body for burial. One other person joins him, carrying all the proper burial spices. His name – Nicodemus. He has embarked on a journey of risk and courage, leaving security and colleagues and venturing out in the presence of death, with life anew in his heart.
How do we change perspective on something we think we know about? It takes courage to open up to hearing what we might not want to hear. The reading from Genesis for this Sunday tells of Abram being stirred up by that unpredictable Spirit, wandering to a land God will show him. And then there is the promise of descendants, of becoming a great nation … but what does the promise mean what we look at what is happening in the land Abram felt God was calling him to?
As you know, later today in S.A. and then next Sunday here in worship, I will be sharing my experience of this very land, that Abram felt God was calling him to. But what’s this disturbing verse about “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you?”
Marianna Harris, a retired U.C. minister who was also at the Sabeel conference in Jerusalem says “Some Christian Zionists’ interpretation of scripture use this passage to support their view that God has promised a particular geographic land to a particular people. As a result they believe that those who do not see the Jewish people as sole proprietors of this land are cursing Israel and therefore will be cursed.
Christians living in Palestine and with deep roots in the land are left asking the question – what about us? What does Christian Zionism and similar interpretations of Abraham’s blessing say about our Christian practice and our historic place in this land? It is disheartening for the indigenous Palestinian Christian community.”
It’s also disheartening for the Muslim community in Israel and Palestine. For there are three faiths that see Abraham as father – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. So why wouldn’t God’s promise extend to them all?
What I experienced on my pilgrimage to Palestine and Israel has in no way shaken my conviction that the world failed the Jewish people in WW2, and that they, as a people have been persecuted in many ways, in many places over the years. But an attitude that as children of Abraham, this land belongs to Jews and Jews only, disregards their Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters. Such a claim dishonours biblical witness and causes heart-breaking injustice.
Have I been born anew by my experience? Yes, in some ways, and if I am willing to be open to the Spirit, I will continue to be born anew. As we continue or Lenten journey, we will always have opportunities, welcome or not, to fine the Spirit of God stir up our carefully laid plans, call us to question all we thought we knew, and challenge us to be born anew. Amen.