Nicodemus came by night to talk with Jesus the Rabbi. During the day Nicodemus was a Pharisee; a leader of the Jews; a respected man in first century Israel.
Yet Nicodemus came by night to talk with Jesus the rebel rabbi; the teacher of the poor, the prostitutes; the tax collectors. Perhaps Nicodemus came because he faced as difficult time as we do now: perhaps Pontius Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas – the new rulers of their nation’s life – were the Bannon, Sessions and Trump of first century Jerusalem. Then as now, a new team of leaders shared a profound disdain for human suffering. Then as now, a nation was led by a deeply elitist cult: men who were willing to inflict more suffering to establish their rule and enhance their personal wealth. Then as now, the spiritual path to follow the God of Abraham and Sarah was hard to discern: good people hoped for better times and longed for a deeper spiritual life.
Nicodemus came by night to visit Jesus, a rabble rousing rabbi who preached and lived a life that was different than any of the high priests, scribes, and Pharisees. Perhaps that is what drew Nicodemus to Jesus: a hope for finding a new way forward to fulfill God’s vision for the People of Israel. And yet their discussion seems to go off the tracks from the first.
Jesus says: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” And Nicodemus misunderstands: he interprets this literally asking “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
But Jesus isn’t speaking in literal terms: he repeats “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” It is hard for Nicodemus to hear this message. Everything you have learned about how to work the system, how to get along, how to succeed in business and life is, Jesus says wrong. Instead of being literally limited by your roots in this world, Jesus says, you must be born in a new way of life; a way that is rooted in the Spirit of Good. And Nicodemus answers with a series of questions.
How can this be?
What about everything I’ve built my life around?
Who can I trust?
How do I know where to go?
And Jesus says: “The wind blows where it will, and you do not know where it comes from.” For a first century Jew that is a terrifying answer. On the one hand, the wind is likened to God’s voice, a force that can be both terrifying and mysterious. On the other hand, the wind can be a force of destruction and judgment. As Nancy Rockwell points out in the Pathos web site: “Nicodemus, a man who traces the lines of order carefully, is terrified of the wind that blows where it will, the wind whose origin is in the Unknowable One.”
And so are some of us terrified by the changes coming out of Washington. A new health plan that gives billions to the richest Americans and would only charge someone making $15,000 a year an annual health insurance premium of $7,500. Immigration enforcement actions that seem more intent on terrifying people than protecting America from terrorists. Punitive actions have been taken time and again after people publically criticize the current administration in Washington.
We are all Nicodemus: together we face difficult decisions of how to respond to a God who calls us to abandon the security of our comfort zone and live our lives outside the lines and limits proscribed by the current establishment. What Jesus calls us to do in these terrible times is truly terrifying: we are called to step away and follow the wind where God sends us.
And we know where God sends us: out to bring the Kingdom of God yet a little bit closer to our time and place. Through ancient prophets and current prophesy, God calls us to do justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with our God. God calls us to forgo the easy step of giving up something easy for Lent: instead God calls us to take up justice. Each Sunday and Wednesday our service will examined the scripture of that day with an eye to God’s call for justice. This Lent we are called to define how we will live a just life in these times of Trump. And we are called to repent of our past actions that empowered or enabled injustice. On the Saturday night before Easter we will renew our pledge to be God’s justice people and have our past sins symbolically washed away with holy water. Then we will be ready to share the joy of Easter morning as a people forgiven, renewed, and ready to go forward together as God’s pilgrim people seeking justice, joy and the Kingdom of God. Despite the centuries which separate us from first Century Israel, we have much in common. Today we are all Nicodemus as we search for our spiritual path through the darkness that surrounds us. May we join our light together to enlighten the people of our time and place.
Let us pray
God of amazing compassion, lover of our wayward race, you bring to birth a pilgrim people, and call us to be a blessing for ourselves and all the world. We pray for grace to take your generous gift and step with courage on this holy path, confident in the radiant life that is your plan for us, made known and given in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.