31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
I don’t know about you; however I have totally gotten the message to wash my hands thoroughly, sneeze into my elbow, and avoiding touching my face – or anyone else’s face for that matter.
We are hearing a lot about how to keep our bodies safe so we do not overburden our health care system. The other day though I watched a helpful webinar on how to psychologically cope with the coronavirus. I appreciated the webinar’s reminder that the fear of the unknown, fear of uncertainty makes us feel scared, which in turn creates panic. (HealthAdvocate, Bert Alicea, Tips to Keep Emotions in Check in Response to Coronavirus)
People throughout time have feared the unknown: the stranger, the unfamiliar and new. Of course, most people are more comfortable with what we understand, with what we can touch and see, with what we know.
And unsurprisingly, Nicodemus was like most people.
The gospel of John tells us that Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a leader of the Jews. Pharisee has come to have a negative connotation; however the Pharisees were not evil. They simply were strict in their observance of the Jewish tradition and law. This black and white mindset was their way of being faithful. You can’t fault someone for trying to be faithful and obedient to God.
But something has disturbed Nicodemus’ sure thinking, his comfortable black and white mindset – and that something is a someone – Jesus. Nicodemus has heard about Jesus. Nicodemus has heard about things Jesus has done, and Nicodemus is unsettled.
So Nicodemus comes to Jesus “by night”. Is Nicodemus trying to hide his actions? Hide his curiosity from his peers? Or is this the gospel writer’s metaphorical way of saying Nicodemus is in “the dark”?
Nicodemus does not want to be in the dark though. He wants to understand. Like so many, Nicodemus wants to touch and see and comprehend. There is comfort in being able to know. Does it give us a sense we are in control???
Just as the Samaritan woman initially misunderstands Jesus’ words offering her living water, Nicodemus too misunderstands Jesus’ words.
Nicodemus wants to understand these “signs”. Nicodemus wants to confirm that Jesus is a teacher from God, that these signs are from God.
Nicodemus does not like this unsettled, not knowing feeling, and you might expect that Jesus would be kind and compassionate and simply tell Nicodemus “Yes, I am the Messiah. I am the one spoken of in the law and tradition.” And then Nicodemus could go back to his comfortable, black and white mindset, to his sure and traditional thinking.
That is not who Jesus is though. That is not the kind of Savior we have. Jesus offers to all of us healing, not healing in exactly the same way, and often not healing in the way we think we want it. Jesus doesn’t offer us superficial healing though; Jesus offers us transformational healing and that means change. Changing the way we act, changing the way we think.
So Jesus does not say to Nicodemus, “Yes, I am the Messiah. I am the one spoken of in the law and tradition.” Instead, Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:3)
Just as with the Samaritan woman at the well, the Greek is a play on words. The Greek word could be translated as “from above” or “again”.
Nicodemus’ mindset is so fixed, so literal, that he cannot fathom how someone can be born again. “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)
Again, Jesus does not answer Nicodemus in the way Nicodemus wants. Again, Jesus responds with a metaphor, a word picture:
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. (John 3:7-8)
In her commentary on this passage, Lindsey Trozzo of Princeton Seminary writes:
By connecting spirit to wind, it’s as if Jesus says, “You don’t know where the wind comes from or where it goes, but you experience the wind. Even if you can’t comprehend re-birth of the spirit, from above — come experience it, come and see!” Jesus invites Nicodemus to let go of his cognitive certainty and to lean in to inexplicable experience. (Lindsey Trozzo, Associate Director of Digital Learning, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, N.J. January 28, 2018)
Jesus invites Nicodemus to let go of his cognitive certainty, his black and white mindset, his desire to know through touching, seeing, and understanding with his mind– and to enter into a new way of knowing by experiencing God and God’s spirit.
The congregational thread of the United Church of Christ really likes to know with our minds. As the community that founded Harvard and Yale so we would have highly educated clergy, we like reason, understanding.
And there is nothing wrong with that. God has given us these minds for a purpose. It’s good to reason and learn and make rational choices and decisions. Sometimes though, sometimes, we just need to experience. Experience Jesus. Experience the fulfillment of God’s love. Experience the wonder of God.
That is what Jesus goes on to tell Nicodemus – very clearly. While no one, not even those born of the Spirit, can see, can know where the Spirit is going to move, we can all experience the Spirit. We can all come and see.
For me, I experience the Spirit most fully when I make time to slow down. When I am intentional about listening, looking, being open to God’s Holy Spirit.
As you can guess, I have been spending a lot more time in my home office these days. It’s really a sunporch with a space heater, and although the temperature is a bit chilly, the space is warm with the Spirit. I am surrounded by devotionals, scripture passages, and a view of my side garden as it is waking up from winter.
And it was here on Tuesday that I read these words:
Psychologists, life coaches, and pain management experts – all have made much about mindfulness in recent months. When we are mindful, we resist the temptation to rush, to brush off. When we are mindful, we pause. We stop to admire the wonders that lie before us.
As God’s people, we have all the more reason to do this. The wonders around us are [God’s] artistry! We admire the power, the creativity, the wisdom that mark his creation. And as we pause, we worship. (Woman of God Wonderfully Made, Fryar, Bordeleau, Schultz, Zeller, Marsh, pg 6)
And we know in the depths of our souls the truth of these words…..
We don’t need to reason out God’s love. We don’t need to be cognitively certain of it, fully understanding the hows and whys of it. We simply need to be open to the experience of it, trusting in our hearts and souls the absolutely certainty of these words… For God so loved the world. For God so loves you.