Sermon John 3:1-17
"Nick at Night: A First Person Monologue"
I have to confess - when I first met him, I had no idea what he was talking about. Jesus was a puzzle to me - a mystery wrapped in an enigma. He had some kind of
Power - I knew that from the signs, the miracles he did. Funny thing was, he didn't seem to think those wonders were all that important. He even acted skeptical of people who were "convinced" by his miracles.
Well, I went to him by night. It was dark out. Frankly, I thought that was the most prudent time to go. After all, I was a man of considerable stature, while he had no official standing whatsoever. It would not necessarily be good for my situation to be seen talking to him, especially since opposition to him was already growing. But there was more to it than that. I wanted to have a real conversation, without all the crowds around, and that meant I'd have to go after hours.
Well, I got more than I bargained for. I started out with what I thought was a compliment. I told him I thought he had come from God, for how else could he perform such signs? No sooner were the words out of my mouth than he came back at me with this strange pronouncement: "No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born anew." What did that have to do with anything? And furthermore, what kind of nonsense was this? I stammered: "Okay. Now, let's see: I'm a grown man. I'm supposed to crawl back into my mother's womb and come back out again. Right." It was preposterous!
Looking back on that night, though, I can see that part of me wanted to avoid the deeper reality he was expressing. His words were strange, but I knew he wasn't talking about turning into a pink-faced, squalling infant. I was playing dumb - because I sensed he was leading us onto unfamiliar ground, and I definitely did not want to go there.
You see, I was supposed to be an expert in my field. I thought I knew all there was to know about God, and religion. Jesus seemed to be telling me I'd have to let go of all my accumulated expertise and start from scratch. So, I resisted. I wanted to keep this conversation at the level of harmless pleasantries.
But Jesus was determined to go deeper. He spoke of the wind - its freedom, its inscrutability. This, too, was an image that had its dangers, or so it seemed to me at the time. Everything in my training had taught me the value of control. There were certain designated channels by which people might approach God - and I was a guardian of those channels. To go outside of them was neither safe nor wise. But here was Jesus, painting a picture of the sovereign spirit, freely bringing new life. There is no controlling this wind, this Spirit. He does not submit to our religious systems. Deep down, I knew the implication of such a teaching. At the time, I didn't much like it. I was something of a control freak, and this sounded threatening.
Later, as I pondered these disturbing words, I thought again of the metaphor of birth. What, after all, did I have to do with my own birth, the first time around? Nothing, of course. None of us has a thing to say about it. It all happens without our consent. I've come to believe that's how it works in our spiritual re-birth as well. God brings it to pass without our help. And just as a baby doesn't think to itself, "Gee, I've just been born", in the same way we often don't realize what's going on with us spiritually until well after the fact.
That's how it was with me. That night, I continued clueless. Jesus went on to talk of the healing power of his death, of the promise of eternal life in him. Only later did I realize, he was foretelling things that had not yet happened. Hindsight is wonderful, isn't it!
But now, I realize, God was working on me. In this gospel record, I pop up on the scene a couple more times. Once I found myself actually defending his right to a fair hearing. I was coming out of the shadows, into the light of day. The authorities immediately became suspicious of me. Somehow, it didn't bother me so much any more. You'll also read in John that I was at the cross of Jesus - literally. Joseph of Arimathea and I went on Friday evening, anointed his body, and placed him in the tomb.
And so it seemed to end. I had started out a few years before--a curious inquirer, who approached him at night. But, as another night descended, we laid the body of Jesus to rest. I thought, There lies the greatest teacher of humanity who ever walked the earth. He had revealed spiritual realities I had never dreamed of. Now, it appeared that it was all over.
But, of course, Friday's shadows gave way to the brightness of Resurrection morning. We had prepared the body for a royal burial, but now Jesus our King was very much alive. As I thought of my first "stealth" encounter with him that long ago night, the words of the prophet came to me: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." My stumbling, twilight faith gradually found firm footing in the radiance of God's new day. Or to put it another way, I found myself in the Spirit's delivery room, brought kicking and screaming into new life with Christ. I still can't explain it all. But I know this: Jesus is the risen Lord, and the wind of the Spirit is swirling freely through people's lives, to this very day.