Poor Old Nicodemus – Doomed to Play the Fool: a sermon on John 3:1-17, Lent 2A

fool

As preacher, I attempted to join Nicodemus in playing the fool. The sermon is a playful attempt to poke at our dogmas, much the way a jester plays the fool poking fun to reveal what is hidden.

You can listen to a version of this sermon  here

Poor old Nicodemus, like so many literary devices this character is at the mercy of his author, doomed to play the fool; in Nicodemus’ case, a fool whose image of reality needs to be reborn. The unknown author of the gospel we call John imbues his priestly character with all the foibles of the powerful: “A certain Pharisee named Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, came to Jesus at night.”

Under cover of darkness the truth of the matter will be revealed as Jesus’ embodiment of the Divine reduces this powerful fool to the role of a gestating infant lying helpless in a mother’s womb, longing for life, unable to see beyond the darkness of his sheltered state.

Only the perilous journey into the light will restore Nicodemus’ sight; a journey the reluctant Nicodemus is loath to undertake.

Has he not already survived this perilous journey toward the light?

Is he not already privy to the wisdom afforded the powerful from their lofty positions of authority? He cannot go back there and do it all over again.

What could be worth all that misery, all that gasping for air, the danger of the passage, the crushing weight of innocence struggling for the wisdom of life, daring to breath deeply of the unknown, learning to trust, opening oneself to adventure, flailing and failing, weep and wetting oneself, fearing and trusting, weeping, crying, relying on the tenderness of others to supply your needs, making all those mistakes, not knowing who are what to trust, wondering where and how to be.

Rabbi, teacher, we know who you are and from whence you come?

We’ve seen the signs.

No one can do what you do unless, unless you have access to the power of the very One we seek to know; unless the power of the God we claim as HOLY, Holy, Holy, unless the power of all powers flows through you.

Flattery is the currency of the powerful and so the author of the gospel we call John imbues his literary device with the power to fawn and pose the questions, which lie in our very own hearts.

For we too want to know just who this Jesus character is?

Does the power of the One we seek flow through Jesus.

“The truth of the matter is, unless one is born again, one cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Is this character Jesus the power, which we seek?

Is this character Jesus’ power capable of flowing in our direction?

Can his power be harnessed?

 Can we hitch our wagon to his?

Is he worthy of our allegiance?

Shall we proclaim him our King?

Is his kingdom the place for us?

Is it the place where the real power resides?

Does the One we claim as our God live there?

“The truth of the matter is, unless one is born again, one cannot see the kingdom of God.”

The unknown author of the gospel we call John has his literary device declare our objection to such a preposterous suggestion. Nicodemus, with all his worldly wisdom, imbued with the teaching of the wise, draped in religious garments, oozing pomp and circumstance, under the cover of darkness, objects for us all: “How can an adult be born a second time? I can’t go back into my mother’s womb to be born again!”

“The truth of the matter is, unless one is born again, one cannot see the kindom of God.”

Who does this Jesus character think he is?

Once again Nicodemus, now cast firmly in the role of religious fool, objects on our behalf, his cry becomes ours, as we struggle to maintain our own certainties.

“How can an adult be born a second time?

I can’t go back into my mother’s womb to be born again!”

We’re not going back to the beginning, we don’t want to see for ourselves.

We’ve been there, done that, bought the t-shirt and it appears to fit well.

Just tell us who you are Jesus.

Show us the power.

Let us see this kingdom of yours and let us decide for ourselves if we want to see more.

“The truth of the matter is, unless one is born again, one cannot see the kin-dom of God.”

Tell him Nicodemus, go on tell him, “how can an adult be born a second time?

 We can’t go back there, we can’t do it all again.

We have arrived, all we want is a little more power.

Tell him Nicodemus, you’re our man, tell this Jesus character, we aren’t about to go back there, not again, not now, how can we!

Go on Nicodemus, tell him:

“How can this be possible?”

“You’re a teacher of Israel, and you still don’t understand these matters?

The truth of the matter is, we’re talking about what we know; we’re testifying about what we’ve seen—yet you don’t accept our testimony.

If you don’t believe when I tell you about earthly things, how will you believe when I tell you about heavenly things?

No one has gone up to heaven except One who came down from heaven—the Chosen One.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Chosen One must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in the Chosen One might have eternal life.

Yes, God so loved the world as to give the Only Begotten One, that whoever believes may not die, but have eternal life.

God sent the Only Begotten into the world not to condemn the world, but that through the Only Begotten the world might be saved.

What? What did he say?

What? What does he mean?

What? What should we make of that?

Step back Nicodemus.

We need to think for a moment.

What can this possibly mean?

It’s beyond us?

Wait. We’re not going back there?

Wait. We can’t do all that over again.

Stop this.

Stop this now.

Go back to into the darkness?

To do it all over again?

NO.

We have our own light.

We have our own wisdom.

We have our own ideas.

They were good enough for our ancestors and their good enough for us.

Let the song of the Psalmist sooth us:

O all you many powers of heaven and earth,

Know this, that it is God who fills them full,

a God of strength and beauty.

 

Know this and give due reverence to the name of God,

let awe begin your worship of the Holy One.

 

It is the voice of God that rides in beauty upon the waters.

It is a voice of power

that peals like thunder across the world.

 

God’s voice is strength itself,

majestic in its scope and range.

 

So strong it snaps in two,

and splinters mighty cedar trees.

 

So soft and delicate it sets the new born lambs to dancing,

or sends the brash young bulls to skip and play.

 

The thundering voice of God sends lightning’s flash,

and shakes the wilderness with many storms.

 

The voice of God makes forest oaks to twist and writhe,

and in mid-winter strips them bare.

 

While in the temple human voices rise in praise,

to shout the name of God in glory.

 

And yet above the brimming energies of earth and sky,

the fullness of the oceans, and the forests deep,

our God as sovereign sits in perfect rest,

 

And gives the people strength to live,

bestowing blessing over all

and covers us with everlasting peace.

 

Let us sing our tributes, our songs of unending praise, into the darkness, over and over again, let us sing of everlasting peace.

Let our lullabies suffice.

Let our powerful images of the power who lies at the very heart of the light blind us to the reality of our own darkness.

What’s that you say?

Curse the darkness?

Let’s try again.

Let’s go back, back to the beginning, let’s do it all again?

Let’s see if there’s another way?

Perhaps this Jesus character was on to something?

Maybe he knows another way?

Maybe we can be born again?

I don’t know.

Like Nicodemus, this literary device designed to provoke us to look more closely at all the trappings of our religious answers, I too want to cling to the familiar.

I know the contours of the rooms our ancestors built so that we could safely dwell in the midst of powers far greater than our capacity to comprehend.

I learned to love the blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are safely ensconced in the sacred rooms of a great palatial cathedral where I have learned to feel safe, known, and loved.

The great One in three, only demands so much of me and over the years, I have learned to respond according to my needs.

To open it all up is to risk eviction from the home, I’ve grown to love and have invited others, who like myself are looking for more, just a little more mind you.

Do we risk it all for a taste of what might lie beyond?

Beyond the know, Beyond the established, Beyond what we have grown accustomed to.

Beyond, the beyond.

Really?

Can we trust this fellow Jesus to show us the way?

Can we actually see beyond the words given to us by the fellow we call John?

How can we see beyond the beginning?

Best to stick with this character Nicodemus, even if he is a literary device.

Best to trust the Pharisees, the priests, the Fathers of the Church, the theologians, the reformers, the ancestors, even if they are just characters thrust upon the stage, like you and I, trapped in the familiar palatial rooms of our beloved cathedrals.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father.

God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father, through him all things were made.For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit from the virgin Mary and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.

He has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Amen I say.

Amen says the Church.

Amen say we all?

What’s that you say Jesus?

“The truth of the matter is, unless one is born again, one cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Go back and be born again?

Go back do it all again?

Go back and be born again?

How can we?

O all you many powers of heaven and earth,

Know this, that it is God who fills them full,

a God of strength and beauty.

 

Know this and give due reverence to the name of God,

let awe begin your worship of the Holy One.

 

I am who I am.

I will be who I will be.

YAHWEH.

Beyond the words.

Beyond the gospels we call John, Mark, Matthew and Luke.

Beyond the literary devices.

Beyond our creeds.

Beyond the comforts housed within the walls we have built.

Beyond the faith of our Fathers and our Mothers.

Beyond the blindness of our faith.

“The truth of the matter is, unless one is born again, one cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Know this and give due reverence to the name of God,

let awe begin your worship of the Holy One.

 

It is the voice of God that rides in beauty upon the waters.

It is a voice of power

that peals like thunder across the world.

 

God’s voice is strength itself,

majestic in its scope and range.

 

So strong it snaps in two,

and splinters mighty cedar trees.

 

So soft and delicate it sets the new born lambs to dancing,

or sends the brash young bulls to skip and play.

 

The thundering voice of God sends lightning’s flash,

and shakes the wilderness with many storms.

 

The voice of God makes forest oaks to twist and writhe,

and in mid-winter strips them bare.

 

While in the temple human voices rise in praise,

to shout the name of God in glory.

 

And yet above the brimming energies of earth and sky,

the fullness of the oceans, and the forests deep,

our God as sovereign sits in perfect rest,

 

And gives the people strength to live,

bestowing blessing over all

and covers us with everlasting peace.

Under cover of darkness the truth of the matter will be revealed as Jesus the embodiment of the Divine reduces we powerful fools to the role of a gestating infants lying helpless in a mother’s womb, longing for life.

Beyond the darkness there is light, there beyond the tunnel,

we can breath deeply, and open our eyes, to see beyond, the beyond, and beyond that also, to the One who is, now and forever,

Our Lover, Beloved and Love Itself.

Breathe deep.

Let the air expand your lungs.

Take it all in.

“The truth of the matter is, unless one is born again, one cannot see the kingdom of God.”

 

 

Benediction:                              “The truth of the matter is,

unless one is born again,

one cannot see the kingdom of God.”

 

Beyond the darkness there is light,

there beyond the tunnel,

we can breath deeply, and open our eyes,

to see beyond, the beyond,

and beyond that also,

to the One who is, now and forever,

Our Lover, Beloved and Love Itself.

Breathe deep.

Let the air expand your lungs.

Take it all in.

 

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