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    Mar 12, 2017

    Journey To A Deeper Knowing

    Journey To A Deeper Knowing

    Speaker: The Rev. Becky Crites

    Category: Lent

    Keywords: discover, encounter, salvation

    Our journey to Jesus is our own unique story. God is always there for us, and how we come to that encounter is both up to us – God’s invitation is always there – and is part of who we are.
    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Nicodemus at Night” begins with images of death into which the light of Christ shines.
    The streets are silent. The dark houses seem
    Like sepulchers, in which the sleepers lie
    Wrapped in their shrouds, and for the moment dead.
    The lamps are all extinguished; only one
    Burns steadily, and from the door its light
    Lies like a shining gate across the street.
    He waits for me.
    Longfellow reimagines Nicodemus’ night visit with Jesus as one in which Nicodemus is much more engaged. As the point counterpoint between the two moves into this idea of being born again, Nicodemus reveals both frustration and excitement as he seeks that deeper knowing desired by so many of us. Of Jesus he says:
    This is a dreamer of dreams; a visionary,
    Whose brain is overtasked, until he deems
    The unseen world to be a thing substantial,
    And this we live in, an unreal vision!
    And yet his presence fascinates and fills me
    With wonder, and I feel myself exalted
    Into a higher region, and become
    Myself in part a dreamer of his dreams,
    A seer of his visions!
    I think that is exactly how John was hoping his gospel would reveal Jesus. John wants us to “come and see”; to discover the wonder of a visit with Jesus. His hope was that we would indeed be lifted into a higher region so to live more in the unseen world than in the world too easily seen. As Soren Kierkegaard once prayed: “Lord! Give us weak eyes for things that do not matter and eyes full of clarity in all your truth.”
    This kingdom come which God is bringing into being is hard to imagine with our human senses. The writer of John understood this, and so he painted a gospel that helps us come and see. This is why John’s gospel is full of people who just cannot quite grasp the truth of Jesus who are contrasted with others who get it right away.
    This week we hear of Nicodemus. The story that immediately follows Nicodemus – and which we will hear next week – is of the unnamed woman at the well who immediately and heartily drinks in the living water Jesus offers.
    As much as John gives us images and stories that reveal Jesus as the human presence of God, John also gives us stories of people whose encounter, or encounters, with Jesus reveal salvation, a salvation, we might say that is unique to them. And this is a very different understanding of John 3:16 than one gets when it is cited or held up for us to read at sporting events. We’ve all seen posters that boldly proclaim John 3:16. These are offered as a call to us to do something, to change our focus, our way of life. And often this “being saved” is a very specific understanding. But John’s gospel says something else: the salvation that each finds is personal and unique to them; it is driven by their encounter with Jesus and who they are. Some discover how God loves them through a healing, some in a truth telling. Some find God’s love for them in the way Jesus affirms their work, others in his welcoming.
    Yet there is no greater witness to John’s viewpoint than in these two back to back stories of Nicodemus and the woman at the well. Nicodemus finds Jesus’ love and truth not in this first encounter while the woman discovers hers immediately. And isn’t that true for us as well. Some have an encounter with Jesus that just takes hold and turns their understanding of life around quickly. Others have a process, like Nicodemus. But in any way, salvation, my friends, is incarnational. It is based in God’s coming among us and in us. And in a very mysterious way, my salvation is unique to me because of who I am and the way in which I encounter God’s love for me.
    On face value Nicodemus seems to be a dense man, but he was not. He was a rabbi, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. This means he was well educated and a well-respected leader. I tend to think of Pharisees as a thoughtful group of leaders, although the gospels often put them in a negative light. They were not the priestly and aristocratic families that the Sadducees were. And they were not the ones who anchored their life, and the lives of others, solely on the Torah, the written word. No they believed in more than the written word, allowing the oral tradition and new teachings to inform their religiosity. So for Nicodemus to take Jesus’ words so literally and to seem so dense, seems a bit out of character.
    As we read John’s gospel, we discover Nicodemus two other times. The final time is at the crucifixion where he joins with Joseph of Arimathea to take down Jesus’ body and place it in the tomb. Nicodemus brings oils, the oils to anoint this king. And I have to wonder …as he is anointing Jesus’ body, I wonder if he remembered those words of Jesus at that night visit…“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.” I wonder if Nicodemus left the tomb with hope in those words for in this visit he is with Jesus while the light of the day is still shining, if only a little bit. Nicodemus’ process to discovering Jesus was a process.
    Our journey to Jesus is our own unique story.
    And I believe, I trust, that God is always there for us. How we come to that encounter is both up to us – God’s invitation is always there – and is part of who we are. We can’t get to Jesus, to salvation, the same way as Nicodemus. Or as Paul. Or as the leper. Or as the woman at the well. Or as Peter. We may have a similar experience, our hearts may burn as those on the way to Emmaus discovered. Or be strangely warmed and as John Wesley described. But it is unique as we are unique. The truth is as Methodist bishop William Willimon so aptly breaks down for us: “God loved the world, loved so much that he gave. Not to condemn but to save, John says. Not to condemn.”
    No matter what we have done, God’s judgment has come to save and not to condemn. John invites us to come and see Jesus – one who lifts us into a higher region, so we might become a dreamer of his dreams, a seer of his visions, with our own eyes, our own way, our own heart joined with that encounter.
    May your Lenten journey lead you deeper into the way of God!