I have been wondering about how often we come to find Jesus in the dark, asking questions that might frighten us in the light. As we reflect on Nicodemus and his coming to see Jesus in the night, I wonder and am grateful for the courage of the man, a leader of the established synagogue, coming to meet this most despised man, held in contempt by the religious and political establishment of his time, to ask him potentially life-changing questions and being prepared to listen and talk.
And remember we hear about Nicodemus later when he defends Jesus when Jesus was being hunted and charged and when Nicodemus came forward to take Jesus’ body and helped to prepare it for burial.
I have to say that I do much of my thinking at approximately 2.00 o’clock in the morning, those nights when I wake up wondering about this and that. I use the time often, to shift my mind, to saying some of the words of the psalms to myself….opening up my heart with the phrase: “Be still and know that I am God….”(Psalm 46:10)
Come now, praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord: you that stand by night in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the holy place and praise the Lord: may the Lord bless you from Zion, the Lord who made heaven and earth (Psalm 134).
Or as the Psalm 121 today reminds us:
I lift up my eyes to the hills, my help comes from the Lord: The Lord will defend you from all evil: It is the Lord who will guard your life. The lord will defend your going out and your coming in: from this time forward for evermore.
The psalms provide the most awesome poetry and offer us a different way of approaching what are some of the most challenging and difficult ideas that Jesus shares with us. And I use the psalms to help me step into Jesus’ world and thinking just like some of the good poetry we have today. It is a way of opening our hearts, to hear things differently, whether its two o’clock in the morning, or in the middle of the day.
And because of the two o’clock in the dark of the night thinking with the psalms, this morning I am picking a couple of threads in the Gospel reading to see where they take us…my first thread is gathered up in John chapter 3, verse 8:
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.
One might imagine with Nicodemus, that the Spirit has blown, from who knows where to take him to somewhere only God knows, leading him, inviting him to take unimaginable risks and eventually to defend and then walk with a man to whom he spoke in the night.
I can easily imagine that there were more conversations between Nicodemus and Jesus than those shared with us in the Gospel.
And in thinking about what the effect of the Spirit looks like for Nicodemus, what does the effect of the Spirit look like to you? How have you imagined God’s Spirit in your life? John talks about a wind blowing from who knows where, taking you and others to places you never imagined.
God’s Spirit is often portrayed as Wisdom personified in the Old Testament; sometimes represented by a dove. We are told God’s Spirit was present like Jesus when the world was created, before time, brooding over the waters, giving birth and bringing life into being as the expression of God’s love.
The Spirit is often represented as female. She is spoken of as seeking justice in the public square and at the city gates as truth stumbles and uprightness cannot enter; she is described as seeking to shift our attitudes, behaviours and beliefs. She is God’s Spirit of love, the expression of the way God moves physically, emotionally, spiritually in creation.
She is the evidence of change as we accept God’s invitation to live our life differently.
You can’t see the wind, but you can see the trees bending in the wind. You might not see the Spirit blowing through your life, but you can see and hear the behaviour, words and actions changing if you watch and listen and respond to those around you meeting in the Spirit. And this happens in the most unexpected places and with the most unexpected people. And perhaps with you.
In the darkness, both real and metaphorical, whether it is at 2 o’clock in the morning, or perhaps when I am overwhelmed by concerns and troubles; and I find myself frightened and uncertain, it is always at that point that I feel the Spirit blowing through my life most strongly.
It is because it is at this point, I have a choice to make, each time, with God’s Spirit generously, vigorously blowing through my established routines, beliefs and expectations. God always is inviting me to see things differently, do things differently, to be different and trust God to do what is best for me and those for whom I am concerned.
And then in the Gospel we hear Jesus saying, in v16-17:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
And where does this second thread take us? This is an incredible statement. In our lives as we judge, reject, condemn others for being different, and feel ourselves to be unloved, rejected and condemned, perhaps lonely or sad, or perhaps very blessed and abundantly provided for and disliking those who upset our world and our opinions, it is at this point and in all the small choices we make each day that we can prayerfully remember Jesus has entered our lives in order to save all of us including the others we don’t want to include or consider, and Jesus did not come to condemn them.
In Lent, we strip back the unessential things with which we clutter up our lives. We fast, we do without, we try and change behaviours; we reflect on things that we have done, the sins we have committed either by omission or by commission.
The sins we half acknowledge because we know we didn’t try enough, we didn’t care enough, we didn’t love enough, in fact we loved ourselves too much and we didn’t love God and we wake at 2 o’clock in the morning, wondering if it is too late.
The Spirit is blowing my friends. Be watchful, be ready, be standing with the door open ready to invite God’s Spirit into your life.
I remember Isaiah’s plea that perhaps we might consider fasting from selfishness and instead love generously others who are different, as God sent Jesus, God’s Son, into the world to save the world because of God’s love for us, to save us and save the others, and not condemn them or us.
There is a prayer in our prayer books which goes like this:
O God, withdraw from our sight that you may be known by our love: help us to enter the cloud where you are hidden, and to surrender all our certainty to the darkness of faith in Jesus Christ (p.519).
In Lent, it is time we surrender the certainty of who we are and to give it over to God. To step into the darkness as did Nicodemus and let the Spirit show us the light, instead of desperately trying to find the light ourselves. Let the Spirit blow us where it will and let us surrender to the powerlessness of being loved by God, whoever, and wherever we are.
My friends, controlling God’s Spirit is impossible, as is our need to try and control God and shape God, domesticate God and make God reflect our own desires and bear our own image. It is time to put such idolatry down and listen in the dark for God’s Spirit and wait for the case to be made against Jesus, his crucifixion and death and wait patiently for the joyful light of Easter’s resurrection and fulfilment of God’s promise.
May the Lord be with You.