Nicodemus Visits JesusJOHN 3:1-12 (NRSVUE)
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with that person.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You[c] must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
I wonder, have you ever heard something and thought, “What in the world does that mean?” because it is something that seems to make no sense? It is easy to throw in the towel and simply walk away from something that is confusing like that, isn’t it? Or have you ever heard something and immediately thought, “Oh I know what that is about. No thank you!”
Folks, often when we read scripture, we don’t mean to but we read with a closed mind. Because we’ve heard a particular story or verse or phrase before, and we either think we know what it is all about or we simply don’t like what we have been told to believe about it. But the truth is, if we learn to listen to Scripture with love and not judgment, we learn that sometimes what we thought we understood, or what we thought we disliked, was not actually what the Scripture said, but rather how someone else had interpreted it and told us to understand it. Perhaps you have heard something from a very conservative or very liberal religious group that you disagreed with, and so when you hear that scripture read now, you simply roll your eyes and think, “Here we go again!”
The truth is that the context and the lens with which we look at and listen to scripture can totally change our understanding. And that is not a bad thing; that is one of the gifts of Scripture because each one of us, with our own understanding of God and our own beliefs, opinions, and values, will hear the message differently and will be fed and guided in our own way.
Do you think God only does things one way? As we talked about a few weeks ago, God comes to us in all kinds of ways–as God, as Jesus, and as the Holy Spirit, and personally, I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg! And if all of that is true, then why for generations, have people thought that God only does things one way and that God expects every person in the whole wide world to do them that way as well?
In our scripture reading today, we heard about the secret meeting that was held between Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee or religious leader, and Jesus. Now I say that it was a secret meeting because as Scripture tells us, Nicodemus came to meet with Jesus at night so no one would see him. You see, Nicodemus knew that there was something special about Jesus, and he wanted to learn more. But as a Pharisee, Nicodemus lived his life by a set of laws, rules, and traditions. And though he tried to understand what Jesus was talking about, it didn’t fit into the neat box of his religious beliefs and the things that he had been taught to follow. So Nicodemus simply could not understand what Jesus was talking about.
Folks, in our pew Bibles, Jesus told Nicodemus that in order to enter the kingdom of God, you must be born of the Spirit. And in other translations, it is worded “in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, you must be born again.” Now, this totally confused Nicodemus, because how can you enter your mother’s womb to be born again? But if you remember, Jesus often spoke in parables, sharing information that had many layers, many meanings, and many ways of understanding.
Now needing to be “born again” in order to enter the kingdom of heaven is a sticky phrase for many because it becomes a dividing line as to who God says is “in” and who God says is “out.” If you are born again, you are “in,” and if you are not, you are “out.” But what if the judgment is not on God’s side? What if being born of the Spirit, or “born again,” is not an accomplishment, like a passed test or graduation but it is simply a way of living and being made new? What if being born of the Spirit simply means that we step out of the box of rules and regulations that have held us down and we allow our faith to make us new, understanding ourselves, our faith, and the world around us in new and different ways.
And what if, in being made new, we begin to see the world through God’s eyes, loving our neighbors whoever our neighbors might be, working for justice for the least and the lost, and living with humility and gratitude for the beauty of creation that is all around us. What if, in being born of the Spirit, we see what is old being made fresh and new. It’s like God’s own “recycling program” because truly living a life of faith is not about having all the answers or saying the right words or passing a test. It’s about allowing God to work through you, making you a new and beautiful creation each and every day.
As you can see, our household huddlers today made us a beautiful creation to remind us that our hearts and our understandings are always changing and that with God’s help, we are always recycling the old and making it into something fresh and new, filled with possibility and beauty. Friends, we are constantly evolving our understanding. Scripture, history, and our personal pasts do not change, but the way we look at them and understand them does because we are constantly learning and growing and evolving.
Today, as a nation we celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States after the Civil War. Juneteenth is a day set aside to remind us that, though we cannot change our past, we can recycle the old stories we have been told and understand them and honor them with fresh eyes and new understandings.
Friends, remember, God made you exactly the way you are and when God calls you to be made new, it’s not that God disapproves of your recycled parts. It’s just that God wants you to see and experience the beauty of the world that is all around you, seeing through fresher eyes, hearing through clearer ears, understanding through a wide-open mind, and loving through an unconditional heart. Folks, this is not a one-time decision but an every-moment gift.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, in the days and weeks ahead, may you open your ears and your eyes, your hearts, and your minds, as you follow in the footsteps of Jesus, being the beautiful and amazing creation that God created and continues to make new, each and every day!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!