Imperfect though we are, we are part of God’s story

Lent 2 – 2017

John 3:1-17

Marian Free

In the name of God overlooks all our shortcomings and believes that we have the potential to develop and grow. Amen.

As I said at Rodney’s farewell, none of us will forget Christina the Astonishing – who rose from her coffin and ascended to the ceiling of the church because she couldn’t stand the stench of human sin. Our hagiographies (our stories of saints) are filled with examples of apparently ordinary people who do extraordinary things or who bravely endure unbearable suffering. Think of Joan of Arc who not only led the armies of France in the 100 year war against England, but who with great courage faced being burned at the stake for heresy. Or of Francis of Assisi who gave up comfort, wealth and security to live a life of poverty. Or of Catherine of Alexander whose torture on a cartwheel gave the name to a whirling firework.

In our own time we have the examples of Mother Teresa who gave up everything and who untiringly worked with and for the poor and abandoned on the streets of India. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who saw the evil of the Third Reich and chose to risk his life to confront it. May Hayman and other New Guinea martyrs who chose to stay with their communities in the face of the Japanese advance in WWII rather than return home. Or Janani Luwum who was murdered by Idi Amin simply because he was an Anglican Archbishop.

While some of us might aspire to reach such exalted heights or believe that if it came to it that we would be prepared to give ourselves, our lives for our faith, most of us I suspect do not think that we will come anywhere near the deeds and courage of these and many other holy men and women.

The good news is that we do not have to be perfect to be part of God’s on-going story. We will encounter a number of characters during Lent who will prove that to be true. Nicodemus who is too afraid to meet Jesus openly, the woman who has had five husbands, the parents of the blind man, and the sisters of Lazarus who thought that Jesus had left his visit too late. These flawed, timid, unbelieving people have made it into the story of Jesus, into our Holy Scriptures despite, or perhaps because they are not perfect.

In John’s gospel Nicodemus is the first flawed person whom we meet. He is a leader of the Pharisees – a member of that sect within Judaism that placed weight on the oral tradition when it came to the interpretation of the law. There is a great deal of ambiguity in the account of the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus, but a few things stand out. In John’s gospel, the Pharisees are depicted as the enemies of Jesus. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night that is at a time when no one can see him. We can’t be sure if this is because he is curious, or afraid or whether he has come to challenge or outsmart Jesus on a point of law or to learn from him. What we do know is that Jesus doesn’t turn his back.

Another element to the story is the imagery of night and darkness both of which are important symbols for the author of John’s gospel. If we read to the end of the chapter this becomes blatantly clear. Jesus says: “All who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” (3:21) In John’s gospel as elsewhere night symbolises “unbelief or the wrong kind of belief” and darkness (the opposite of light) represents the forces that oppose Jesus.

That Nicodemus comes at night suggests that he opposes Jesus or at the very least is an unbeliever. Apparently, he cannot see beyond the superficial, he is blinded by what he thinks he knows. He is stuck , he knows that there is something different about Jesus but his own training and expectations do not allow him to see what it is ,nor do they allow him to really comprehend what Jesus is saying.

This does not mean that Jesus rejects him or refuses to speak to him. Jesus sees not the timorous, unbelieving Nicodemus, but the potential for growth and understanding. The double meanings in Jesus’ conversation are intended to open Nicodemus’ eyes, to help him to see the distinction between the purely earthly and the spiritual. Like all of us, Nicodemus can choose to turn his life over to Jesus, to begin on a fresh page, to enter into a spiritual existence. Jesus does not judge or condemn Nicodemus, he does not refuse to engage in conversation and most importantly he does not dismiss or deride him, instead Jesus gives him the opportunity to see the world from another point of view.

Jesus does not reject or dismiss Nicodemus and we can be sure that he will not reject or dismiss us.

Last week we learned that love liberates us to be truly ourselves. Today we discover that we do not have to be perfect to be a part of God’s story. When we know that we do not have to be flawless we are set free to accept ourselves as we really are. If we accept who we really are, we can be authentic, stop pretending and recognise that we have nothing to hide. This in turn will enable us to let go of feelings of inadequacy or a lack of self-worth. We will discover that this in itself is healing and will create a more honest and open relationship with God that will deepen our faith and lead to our being born from above..

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