Thursday, April 2, 2015



Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Sermon by the Rev. Dr. John A. Dalles

Ps 62:5-12; John 3:1-16

Don’t you understand?

Faith seeking understanding is the theme of the visit that Nicodemus made to see Jesus.  I like that idea.  We have a living faith, and we are convinced of God’s presence love and grace.  Day by day, we are living in that confidence. It allows us to move into a day with expectancy, hopefulness and purpose.  In some days, we move ahead with all of those, and feeling blessed and surrounded by the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  We are thankful for such days.

There are times, though, when we are feeling other things.  Nicodemus was feeling such things.  The faith that he had was changing, as a result.  The signposts of devotion that he k new, had been moved.  The winds of inspiration had shifted.  The old ways that seemed so dependable, were becoming less so.  He did not know where to turn, but he did turn, and he turned to Jesus.

Jesus was there.  We sometimes forget that when we turn to Jesus, Jesus is there.  He is always there.  He is always more ready to receive us than we are to go to him.  We are reluctant because of our own moods or circumstances.  So we delay.  Perhaps we delay long into the day.  And when the day is long spent, then we finally emerge and make our way stumbling in the darkness, to the one who is the Light of the world. 

That is what Nicodemus did.  He found his way to Jesus and yes, Jesus was more than ready to welcome him, to receive him, and to share with him what we wanted to know.  Think what a disappointment it would be if we were to finally and at last turn to Jesus for help with our faith question, and he said, No I am busy doing other things, I cannot help you now, take a number so we can serve you better, sometime in the future.

Jesus does not do that.  When we turn to him, he welcomes us.  Think what a blessing that is.  We have someone who knows us through and through, who understand our every need, who wants only the best for us, ready to hear what we have to say.

The conversation that unfolded between Nicodemus and Jesus was one of the most memorable in the entire bible.  More than 70 percent of all Christians can tell you by memory what John 3:16 says.  And many of them, the vast majority of them, say it is their favorite verse in Scripture. 

But it did sound odd to Nicodemus to know that he and to be born again… something Jesus said right before the eternal words of John 3:16. 

We have said several times before in our conversations about that passage that the ancient Greek language that is used can mean:  Born again.  Born anew.  And born from above.  We know it best as born again – and we know that there is a whole company of believers who ask the question of every Christian: Have you been born again? If Jesus says we must, then we must.  We must not be the old person that was born on what we look at as our birthday, but the new person who has made an intentional commitment to having Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

           Born again.  Born anew.  And born from above.  It seems simple to us.  We have heard it all our lives.  We know it to be true.  That when we place Jesus at the very center of our being, the rest of the experiences of life fall into place.  We can understand them as we ought.

When our family goes on vacation we usually have a table in the corner of the room where there is a jigsaw puzzle out for anyone and everyone to work on, especially on rainy days.  Have you ever put together one of those 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles?   Not the ordinary kind with a full color photo f a red barn on a crisp autumn day or shining waterfall in a deep glad, but one of those harder ones where all of the colors are just about the same  and all of the puzzle pieces are cut just about identically.   And where the picture of what you are putting together is not to be consulted…  Yes.  It is a challenge.   Takes some concentration.  And teamwork too.  And yet when you put that last piece into the puzzle and it all comes together.  Voila!

Understanding… it is that moment beyond the gathering of information, when it all comes together and all of the pieces fit.  That is what Nicodemus was seeking.  He was given a good explanation of what he was seeking. It came from the only one who could explain it.  And yet, Nicodemus was not getting it.

“Don’t you understand?” Jesus asked him…

“If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can I tell you about heavenly things?”

There were still some missing pieces.

We should not be too hard on Nicodemus.  Jesus wasn’t being hard on him.  Jesus was trying to bring him from a particular way of thinking, into a new way of thinking, from a belief structure that had served him well into adulthood…to a new way of believing.  That kind of transformation doesn’t happen mechanically.  It happens organically.  What does that mean?

An organic faith is a way of believing that promotes harmony between human beings and God (and the world God made, and the other people in it).  It is a faith with approaches that are sympathetic to and well integrated with God’s intention for all of creation.  It transforms the believer in such a way that the believer is aware of and celebrates being part of a unified, interrelated composition, which we call the Kingdom of God.

Now, Nicodemus wanted to get there.  Had he not, he would not have visited Jesus that night.  Begun is half done they say and having begun Nicodemus was half way there, half way to understanding, just by placing himself in Jesus’ presence.

How sad it is that some folks miss this chance.  They have every opportunity to be with Jesus, to listen to him, to sit at his feet, to read his words, to watch his work and to ponder these things.  How sad it is that they keep them at arms’ length, or even much further away.  They deny themselves the blessings that are theirs for the asking.

It is like being invited to a great banquet, but staying home (in fact, Jesus used just that example himself).  Nicodemus had the invitation, he accepted it, and put himself in the presence of Jesus.  He is a good example for us to follow.  And then, he listened.  What Jesus said to him was so simple that it confused Nicodemus.  It was so profoundly spiritual that it puzzled Nicodemus.  He could not understand how it fit together or, more importantly, how it fit him.

“Don’t you understand?” Jesus asked him…

“If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can I tell you about heavenly things?”

Nicodemus stands for every person who carefully and cautiously must examine the new things that God may be doing.  Nicodemus represented all who subject what God may be doing to painstaking scrutiny in light of past traditions and experiences.  Nicodemus is a role model for all who do these things first, before jumping in and embracing what God is doing.  Jesus is providing a setting in which Nicodemus can do that.

Nicodemus has been called the Patron Saint of the Curious.  Those with inquiring minds, seeking hearts, open to what God is doing now and may be doing tomorrow.  When we consider his encounter with Jesus, we are offered an invitation to be born anew, born again, born from above, and born of the Spirit.  We are reminded that we can enter ever more fully into the mystery of divine revelation.  We are given an occasion in which we can ponder anew our identity as disciples.

          William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia, says:  "Being born of the Spirit is talking not about a new mystical height of experience but about a way of living out the life of God in the world. When you see like this, you see the connection between Jesus and God and you see God in Jesus not trying to compete for adoration in the market of miracle workers, but seeking to establish a relationship of love and community. The focus is life. The means is relationship. The motive is love."

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