Fear not. (Lent 2, year A)

You’ll forgive me if I seem to find this morning’s gospel (John 3: 1-17) a little too ‘real’.

But here are two individuals –

one representing the established train of religious thought in Palestine,

the other comes preaching repentance (ie. Change),

and announcing that the kingdom of God is coming,

and, by the way, it will be like nothing you have imagined.

This is a meeting of sympathetic opposites – Jesus and Nicodemus are on the same side –

observant Jewish men whose lives are defined by a desire for the things of God –

yet they describe their mission and understand their surroundings in very different ways.

We know from later accounts in John’s gospel, from the synoptic gospels,

and from our own church traditions

that this basic misunderstanding – and Jesus particular kind of Kingdom talk –

eventually lead to Jesus arrest, conviction and execution.

We see this coming as we hear the gospel this morning – it is inevitable –

and the troubling thing is that I think Nicodemus knew – from the moment he arrived – that Jesus’ life was in danger.

What killed Jesus was nothing more than fear –

the same fear that Nicodemus tries so hard to express:

his disbelief that all he thought he knew about the ways and means of the almighty –

the sudden knowledge that his religious vocabulary has failed him

(he and Jesus are not communicating very well – they are using a different language – the conversation is not following regular rules of engagement…)

all these things feed Nicodemus’ fear –

a fear that is shared by the rest of the religious leadership – transmitted to the political leadership – resulting in the persecution and conviction of Jesus of Nazareth as a blasphemer,

a disturber of the peace, and an enemy of the emperor.

That is what ‘our sin’ looks like – that is what it means to have one die for the sin of all

Jesus was killed for our transgressions – that includes our fear;

fear of the new reality of God that he brought our in the open –

fear of this man, who spoke plainly and intimately

about the love of God and the working of God’s Spirit and the nearness of God’s kingdom –

using language that didn’t match our language ; talking about God in ways that we find uncomfortable; flouting traditional rules of religious practice, ignoring the past to concentrate on the NOW –

that’s what killed Christ,

and we still stand guilty of the crime.

We are fearful of the future.

We would rather everything was simple (like the ‘good old days’) –

we long for a way to hold on to what we had,

and in so doing we squander opportunities in the present.

You must be born from above, says Jesus – in response to what first seems like a compliment

(we know that you are from God…) but it’s not a compliment.

Nicodemus is judging Jesus performance by old standards –

tried and true methods of determining whether or not ‘there was a prophet in their midst’ –

and Jesus challenges him to go further – to think differently – to change his approach.

“How can this be?” says Nicodemus –

“I don’t understand (and therefore I fear – retreating into what I know – dismissing what I don’t)

and this is where we eagerly join the story.

We have the benefit of history – we have followed the story of Jesus

to it’s remarkable and glorious ‘conclusion’

we know that the power of God has redeemed the activity of our sin

that saw Jesus killed for his remarkable ideas –

Christ is raised – Jesus lives – God really is as fantastic as all that.

And yet we stand on our history, with Nicodemus – startled and afraid –

asking quiet questions from the shadows,

worried that the answers will lead us to a place we’ve never been.

Born from above? How can this be?

Life from certain death? Surely you jest!

Hope in hopeless times? Wouldn’t it be easier to remember the good, and pray for a quick end?

These are not direct quotes –

but they sound remarkably like conversations I have had (and heard) in and around the church –

a church that is frightened, because things aren’t as they once were.

A church that is in danger of being lost in the secular shuffle

a church bound by fear – bereft of faith.

That is who we are in danger of becoming.

Nicodemus’ is not instantly transformed by his encounter with Jesus.

We meet him again only twice – once before the council,

where he dares to ask his questions aloud and in public

(though just as quickly the questions die and the trial grinds on to its gruesome end (See John Ch 7)

and again at the cross, where he provides the means for Jesus burial (ch 19)

I wonder what became of Nicodemus on that fabulous first day of the week?

Were his eyes finally opened? Did faith flush fear from his system?

Scripture doesn’t say – Nicodemus’s story is lost to history –

but our choice is still before us.

Fear says we should retreat – regroup – recover what we think we have lost.

But faith invites us forward – to experience something new – to be “born from above”,

changed by the poser of God that was revealed in God’s raising Christ from the dead.

Our fear will not be displaced by courage, or personal conviction,

or individual effort to “overcome obstacles”

our fear is driven out by the overpowering love of God –

the love that brings life from death – creation from chaos – sheds light in darkness

the love that dismisses sin is ours in Christ.

Let us be the church today – messengers of this remarkable news –

witnesses to God’s blossoming kingdom – bearers of light in dark days.

Let us, through our risen Saviour,

claim that love, the hope, the life, the glorious joy, that is God’s gift to us,

let us claim all that, and live.


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