Lent 2A: Curious Nicodemus

Readings

  • Genesis 12:1-4a
  • Psalm 121
  • Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
  • John 3:1-17
You can find the readings, in the CEB and NRSV translation, by clicking this link.

Sermon

You will never hear me say that curiosity is a bad thing.

I believe that curiosity is what fuels a desire to explore the world around us and to learn as much as we can to sate the curiosity that bubbles up inside of us.

An appreciation for curiosity is part of the reason for the weekly Lectionary Luncheons at St John, where we study the assigned bible readings for the coming week.  The people who come to these lunch studies have learned pretty quickly that I invite questions and dreams and confusion and debate.  Because I believe that we are all theologians.  “A theologian is anyone who goes through life expecting to find God at work.”[1]  But, it takes practice and labour, so my lunch buddies have also heard me say time and time again that the more we open ourselves to possibility, in the scriptures and in ourselves, to more God gifts us with a wider view of the world that often goes beyond what we could ever imagine.

I think that curiosity is the beginning of breaking down walls of ignorance, or those walls that are subconsciously built to help us control our individual worlds.  I think curiosity might just be a gift of the Holy Spirit.  Curiosity gives birth to new possibility.  It shines a light onto alternative paths that lead us into new places.  And helps us to be the best theologians we can be.

This week, curiosity is at work in the mind of one very learned man.  What would it mean for the world if Jesus truly was the Son of God?

There are a number of theories as to why Nicodemus, an established Rabbi and leader of the community would be out in the dark of night.

Some theories are historical and literal – nighttime was the time of scholarship: a time dedicated to the Torah, the scriptures.  It was a time to open oneself to God’s word and to learn from one’s teacher.  Hence, Nicodemus made his way to Jesus’ doorstep.

Some theories are more figurative, or symbolic.  Nicodemus was clearly wrestling with the idea that Jesus was more than your average man.  He was clearly capable of some pretty miraculous things.  Yet, the leaders of the faith were clearly against Jesus.  Hence, Nicodemus was confused and ‘in the dark,’ and Jesus was the Light that would shine into that darkness.

In either case, curiosity seems to play a bit of a role.

The conversation that Nicodemus and Jesus have seems to be about faith.  It’s a bit about curiosity birthing belief. A little bit about challenging humanity’s tendencies to compartmentalize our beliefs.  And, a little bit about trusting God and being open to possibility.

Which brings me to possibly the most well known Christian verse in the Bible.

“For God so loved the world….”

Here’s my thing about John 3:16.

I’ve never really liked this verse.  Truly, I think it’s done more damage than good.  I think it’s enabled many people to put human conditions around God’s love.  I think it’s enabled me to put my own conditions around God’s love.

I know that God’s love is beyond any description any one person could ever give for love.  And I’d be one of the first to tell you that God’s love is unconditional.  I don’t think I’m alone in this.  And yet, for some reason, humanity certainly struggles to believe it.

And perhaps, suddenly, we’re all standing right alongside Nicodemus at Jesus’ doorway.  Curious, challenged, and wrestling with our belief.

I think that’s maybe why Jesus keeps talking: “God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” [John 3:17, CEB]

That is, the believing part isn’t about getting to heaven, and it’s certainly not conditional.  This whole lesson is about “God’s consistent intent to love, save, and bless the whole world.”[2]  This is a conversation about faith.  I feel like this is a conversation about faith giving birth to belief.

This conversation is helping the hearers of this word to learn that in John’s gospel, faith is always a verb[3] – active and vibrant and poking at humanity to faith.  Faith, like curiosity, comes from the Spirit and is God’s gift to us.  The believing part – our part in this God story – is the result of the Spirit’s action in each of us.

And, for the entirety of humanity, it seems to exist on a spectrum.

The spectrum of belief in followers of Jesus is sort of like the fishermen who became disciples and apostles, on one end of the spectrum, and perhaps Nicodemus on the other end.  Some people are born into belief rather quickly, and some need a little more time, and some need to do it over and over and over.  Nicodemus is a great model of the birthing process.  “Nicodemus is, rather, testimony to the fact that even if we are learnèd, even if we are listed among the rulers of our roost, we need to be reborn.”[4]  If only to keep us from limiting God’s action in our worlds.

But, even that might be too narrow a description.

The important thing is that difficulty in believing is not a barrier to being open to the will of the Spirit, or being moved by curiosity.  And, difficulty in believing is certainly not a disqualifier from the God’s invitation to ‘Come and See.’  If anything, I think God’s invitation invokes curiosity and encourages us to be open to the birthing process of possibility.

Let me leave you with some words of wisdom about our many rebirths:

Each birth, no matter what the topic is, is an opportunity for us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, for the sake of transformation in ourselves and in the world around us. Each birth invites us to follow that holy wind of the Spirit, and be attentive to where it pushes us.[5]

So, may curiosity lead you to the birth of many rich and holy discoveries.  May curiosity awaken you to the sacred in the every day: simple and small or complex and vast.  And may the Spirit’s gifts always promote a curiosity that pushes you to seek possibility and a view of the world that only God can show you.  May curiosity lead you to be theologians: expecting to find God wherever you go.

Nope, you will never hear me say that curiosity is a bad thing.

Please pray with me:
Holy Trinity, you bless us with untold gifts.  Help us to live as curious beings, exploring and discovering, open to possibility and growing in understanding.  Empower us to be reborn as many times as we need that our belief would be always stronger than any doubts or fears.  Help us to live faith as you intend and light the path that we should go, through the One who has prepared the way for us.  In his name we pray.  Amen.


Sermon Inspirations

  1. Karoline Lewis. “John 3:16”  Dear Working Preacher: March 5, 2017.  Preach This Week.  Working Preacher.
  2. David Lose. “Like It or Not!”  Dear Working Preacher: March 13, 2011.  Preach This Week, Working Preacher.
  3. David Lose. “Commentary on John 3:1-17” Gospel Reading: March 20, 2011.  Preach This Week, Working Preacher.
  4. David Lose. “Lent 2A: Just One More Verse!” Dear Partner in Preaching: March 6, 2017.  …in the Meantime.
  5. M. McKenzie. “Nicodemus’ Non-Decision: Reflections on John 3 :1-16” Edge Exegesis: March 14, 2011.  Patheos.
  6. Andrew Prior. “Wanderment.”  Theology: The Year of Matthew 2017.  One Man’s Web.
  7. Dani Scoville. “Lent 2(A): Push Through The Pain.”  Modern Metanoia.
  8. Melissa Bane Sevier. “The World.”  Contemplative Viewfinder: March 6, 2017.

This week’s image is entitled, “Christ and Nicodemus,” created by Ilya Repin, in 1887.  The image is public domain.  You can find out more about the painting here, and the artist here.  The image has been modified for the purposes of this blog.


[1] Karoline Lewis.  “John 3:16”  Dear Working Preacher: March 5, 2017.  Preach This Week.  Working Preacher.
[2] David Lose.  “Lent 2A: Just One More Verse!” Dear Partner in Preaching: March 6, 2017.  …in the Meantime.
[3] David Lose.  “Commentary on John 3:1-17” Gospel Reading: March 20, 2011.  Preach This Week, Working Preacher.
[4] Andrew Prior.  “Wanderment.”  Theology: The Year of Matthew 2017.  One Man’s Web.
[5] Dani Scoville.  “Lent 2(A): Push Through The Pain.”  Modern Metanoia

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