SERMON: Lent II
On the Verge of a Whole New Life
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. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” 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.’ 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?
‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
‘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.
• John 3:1-17
• • •
In about a month, God willing, we will welcome another grandchild into this life and into our family. Our daughter is expecting her third, and we know it is going to be a little girl, so she will have a son and two daughters.
This is our oldest daughter who’s going to have the baby. Our first child. She has made our life interesting from the day she was born. That was quite a day. What a coming into the world she had!
It was a Sunday in November in our little village in southern Vermont. The weather forecast was not encouraging. An ice storm was making its way toward us. My very pregnant wife and I went to church that morning — we lived right across the road from the church building — and worshiped with our little congregation. She was starting to feel some strange sensations.
That afternoon the storm blew in and we realized that the strange sensations had turned into painful, regular contractions. We called the hospital late in the day and they told us to come in.
This was going to be a challenge. We lived up in the mountains about 20 miles from town. Our regular route was a paved road down to a main highway that wound along the river into town. But that was the year they were rebuilding the covered bridge which we had to cross over on the way to town. It was closed, and the only route that would get us down and past the bridge was a steep unpaved gravel road that would likely be a nightmare covered in ice.
We didn’t know what to do. But we figured out who would. We called our friend Sonny, a neighbor up the road who, it seemed, was always helping people and could always figure things out in a pinch. Sonny came down to the house, we waited for a moment when Gail wasn’t doubled over in pain, and we loaded her into his 4-wheel drive pickup. He would take her down the steep gravel road and I would follow behind in my little Volkswagen Rabbit sedan.
We got to the top of the road, and it looked daunting. Sonny stopped and I got out of my car and walked up to the truck in the icy rain and asked what we were going to do. The ice was building up on the gravel and it looked like the fastest slide I ever saw. Sonny decided we would try going down the narrow shoulder. So that’s what we did. He put one set of wheels on the shoulder as far over as he could go and crept down the hill.
I remember he had to stop at least once as Gail had a contraction and maybe another time to take a look at the road and plan a route around some obstacle. For all his common sense and skill, Sonny was a nervous kind-of guy, and you should have seen the look on his face. I’m sure he was more scared than Gail and I were. But then again, we’d never done this before, so what did we know?
Somehow, we made it to the bottom of that icy hill. Sonny helped Gail and she stepped down gingerly from the truck just in time to have another contraction before she climbed in our little car. We had descended far enough on the mountain that the road wasn’t as slick as the hill we’d come down, and so we were able to make it the rest of the way.
When we arrived at the hospital we made our way to what they used to call a “birthing room,” which we had reserved in advance. It was simply a room with a bed and without all the equipment and monitors they have in regular labor rooms, and the husband was allowed to participate in the process and stay with mom and baby afterward. Going in we realized that we were part of a whole company of mothers giving birth that night. By the time we arrived, the hospital had run out of labor rooms, and women were on gurneys in the hallways, groaning and waiting for their turn as their partners tried to comfort them.
It was like a movie, I tell you.
Thankfully, it all ended happily with the birth of a little girl, and along with her we entered a new world, a new life that night. Out of the darkness, into the light. Out of the cold, into a warm world of love and belonging. Out of the storm, into a haven. Out of a daunting, challenging journey into another journey. We had no idea what new adventures, challenges and blessings were ahead of us. We went into that hospital a couple, we came out a family. A whole new world, a whole new life.
A man named Nicodemus, a prominent Jewish leader and teacher came to Jesus one night. As a Pharisee, I imagine he expected that this rabbi he met with would engage him in a discussion about the Bible and theological topics. But as I read this morning’s Gospel text, I get the idea that he soon found himself in an ice storm, feeling lost and wondering how he was going to make it to the bottom of the hill and back to some kind of normal place.
Nicodemus came to Jesus and then Jesus started talking to him about things like being “born from above,” and being “born anew,” about water and spirit and flesh, about winds that blow and you don’t know where they come from or where they go, about being “born of the Spirit,” and earthly things and heavenly things, and people ascending into heaven and descending from heaven, about someone called the Son of Man being lifted up like a Moses’s snake in the wilderness. About believing. About eternal life.
We are not told in today’s text how Nicodemus responded to all of this. The author breaks into the story in verse 16 and let us, the readers, know what this conversation is all about. It’s about God loving the world and about Jesus coming into the world to save it.
But I’m not sure Nicodemus got that out of this one bewildering, confounding conversation.
I have an idea this gifted Jewish leader and teacher was feeling as young and vulnerable, as confused and filled with wonder as we were realizing we had just experienced the miracle of birth and stood on the verge of a whole new life.
This is what Jesus does to people. You encounter him, expecting one thing, and suddenly it’s like a splash of cold, icy rain in your face. It’s like the butterflies in your stomach as you look down the icy hill and prepare to descend. It’s like the wind rising up out of nowhere, shaking the trees. It’s like hearing words you’ve heard before, but now they have a whole new meaning. It’s like watching a new baby emerge from her mother’s womb into dazzling light and the sound of voices and getting an unceremonious slap on your behind. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Whatever Nicodemus felt that night, it must have seemed like the dawning of a new world. It must have been like coming out of the darkness into the light. It must have felt like being born anew into a whole new life of possibilities.
Have you met this Jesus?
I can’t think of a better time to approach him than during the Lenten season, the springtime, when new life is being born and the whole world is coming alive once more.
That’s what he came to do for us. He brings us out of the darkness into the light, out of the storm and into the warmth and love of a family. Free and forgiven. Born anew, born from above. A whole new start. A whole new life.
“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.”
• • •
Photo by Jan Tik at Flickr. Creative Commons license