Monday, March 30, 2015

Leaving the past behind

Lent 4 B
March 15, 2015
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Bread. Light. Life. Grace.

Nicodemus has heard about Jesus, and Nicodemus wants those things. But Nicodemus can’t come out. He can only approach Jesus in the dark, which is the part of this story right before the verses we read this morning.

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 apart from the presence of God.’ 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. … Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

Bread. Light. Life. Grace.

Nicodemus wanted those things, but he could not get his head around how he could get there. The cost would have been high: he thought he would have to leave behind everything he knew, cherished, believed to be divine. He did not believe Jesus who said, in essence, it’s easy. This is the way. If you take this leap, you will find yourself flying into the arms of God, into the light, into a great big party which never ends.

But Nicodemus could not leave his past behind. He took comfort in the rules he knew, in the experience he had. He saw that Jesus saw the world as it was and turned it into something new and bright and full of grace, but he could not leave what he was used to – he could not walk away from what he knew – he could not take the risk that life in the future would be better than life in the past. He could not understand that Jesus was taking all that was good from that past – their shared past of Moses and the prophets – and taking it into a future of blessing and grace.

We are all Nicodemus. All of us have times when we cannot believe that there will be a future, when we live in the present as though it were still the past – when we think the rules and customs and behaviors of the past, if we do them enough, will get us back there – will take us away from the future we fear. We want to go back to when things were good in our lives – or at least to those times when if they weren’t so good, they were at least predictable.

With several of you, I attend the Thursday Morning Roundtable, where we hear civic leaders talk about our community and ways to make it a better place for all of our citizens to live and thrive. Speaker after speaker, week after week, says the same thing: things have changed. It’s like the ice and snow that fell off our roofs this week: smash, on our heads. All that stuff we know – loss of manufacturing jobs, corporate headquarters, failing schools, crumbling infrastructure, even Shoppingtown is a shadow of its former self! We have choices in this community, the speakers tell us. We can do things the way we have always done them, thinking that will take us back to the way it was before, or we can pay attention to what is happening, and build on that, and find a future in which we can and will thrive. There are facts, there is data, we have experience that shows us we can get out -- indeed we are getting out of despair, darkness, hopelessness and into the light. Even in Syracuse. Even at St. David’s. Unless, of course, we don’t want to.
As Christians, we are all on a continuum, from Nicodemus to Jesus. All of us have times when we sit in the darkness and don’t want to leave, when we want things the way they used to be. All of us hear the call of Jesus to come into the light – or we would not be here. We are Christians, we are people of hope, new life, rebirth. Christians know the future in Jesus, in God, is always better, always full of blessings, always beckoning us forward. Christians know there is life after death.

Imagine what it was like to be Nicodemus. Bread. Light. Life. Grace. The same stuff God has always offered, freely and abundantly, since the beginning of time. Nicodemus wants those things, but he cannot for the life of him figure out how to get out of the customs of his past life -- what he has to change in order to get there. Can you imagine what you have to change in your life, to get there, too?

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