Posts Tagged ‘Illumination’

Where Did He Go? 3-16-14

This week’s sermon came from the story of Nicodemus visiting Jesus at night, found in John 3:1-17. In the sermon I explore the difficulty of the truth that Jesus presents, and how some people will turn away from it, needing time to come to grips with what Jesus is telling them.

You can listen to the sermon here.
http://soundcloud.com/revdalen/where-did-he-go-3-16-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the weird punctuation…gotta remind myself of that somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As many of you have learned, I grew up in a small town, not unlike Underwood. But there was one major difference between Underwood and him home town…the size of the school. My entire school, k-12 was less than 300 people. As I think back, I can remember pretty much every room in that school because I was in them at one time or another…but for some reason, there is one room really stands out in my memory. The boys bathroom in what was at the time, the junior high wing.
Now, there is nothing special about the bathroom…no reason that it should still be visible in my memory 17 years after leaving the school for the last time, but I can still see it. A large wooden door…dark red floor, pale blue walls…quite the combination…you walk through the doorway and around a corner, past 3 or 4 toilet stalls to the back wall where there are 2 sinks and 3 urinals. Can you see it? Picture it for a moment.
Now the kicker. This is junior high. Some wise guy thinks he’s funny and flips the lights off as he walks out the door…complete darkness…Great…Needless to say, this situation happened to me…more than once during my time there…but I never panicked. I knew the layout of the bathroom…I knew where the light switch was. All I had to do was carefully feel may way through the darkness and I’d find my way out…sounds simple right? I always thought so, but reality was a little harder. I remember one time in particular when I decided against the normal “feel my way along the wall until I hit the corner, turn and find the light switch” technique. I thought to myself that I knew how to walk out. I don’t need any lights…I don’t need any illumination. As I took a few tentative steps in the right direction…I thought to myself about two more steps then I better put my hand out to find(BAM!!!)… the wall. I guess my “knowledge” was lacking there wasn’t it?
This theme of groping in the darkness blares out of our lesson for today. The story opens with Nicodemus…or as I like to call him Nick…now this guy is a Pharisee…and he’s apparently impressed by Jesus and seeking him out…in the dead of night.  Why at night? Come on Nick!…you’re a prominent guy, why all the secrecy? (pause here) Oh…I see…you’re not quite sure about this guy you are going to see…and not only that, your Pharisee cronies wouldn’t think too highly of it. Okay, I get it…Nick’s got a reputation to uphold…and he’s not overly excited to visit with Jesus during broad daylight when everyone can see what he’s up to.
Regardless of his motivation for the night time visitation…and regardless of the circumstances that led him to Jesus, we should, in the very least give him a little credit. He’s seen the man, and he knows what he can do…Rabbi clearly you are from God because the stuff you are pulling off is impossible…Now, I’m a smart guy. I’m a Pharisee and I’ve got it together, but…I’m still a little confused? Can you shed some light on all this for me?
Now we know how the story goes don’t we? Jesus starts firing off truth for our old pal Nick, who tries to show off how brilliant he is…but it doesn’t quite work out…epic fail…He’s just groping in the darkness…darkness as deep as the night of our story.
Jesus continues to teach him, living up to the very name that good old Nicky used in the first place…Rabbi…Teacher…but it is hard truth…it is confusing…and Nick finally admits his lack of understanding with a simple, yet very profound question…How Can This Be?
Jesus doesn’t miss a beat here, but lays out a pretty strong “religious accusation.” You are a Pharisee…you of all people should get this.” He might as well be saying “See…even the Jewish big-wigs fall short. With all their rules and restrictions and piety, and yet here they are…alone in the bathroom with the lights off, groping around trying to find a light switch.”
But you know what…I think we can probably relate can’t we? Think about it for a moment…Nick comes at night…confused, but curious…lacking understanding about just who Jesus is and what he stands for…but Nick is seeking this understanding…and not only that but he’s seeking it from the source…he wants to drive out the darkness of his confusion with the very light of the truth itself…Jesus…but what he experiences is confusing…its hard…and I think that sounds really familiar.
Because sometimes, when Jesus starts teaching…he lays out some pretty strong truth…and he does exactly that in this story. But in doing so he says a lot of stuff that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For instance, Jesus says that no one can enter the kingdom of heaven without being born from above…Nick’s confused and asks how can someone be born again?
Now it doesn’t really come through very well here in the English, but in the original language it’s the same word used by both men…above or again…same word…which raises the question…did Jesus use it intentionally just to be confusing? Or is this just another example of how the truth about the kingdom…a truth that Jesus knows and understands…is just down right difficult for us to grasp?
Whatever the motivation of Jesus for using confusing language, we simply recognize that it is, in fact confusing…confusing for Nick…and confusing for us today…and so, like Nick, perhaps we find ourselves asking the very same question…Jesus…How can this be? Or to put it quite simply…WHAT ARE YOU BABBLING ABOUT!?!
But in the end, Jesus does stat to move things towards a pretty good conclusion…and in my opinion, he lays out the very center of the entire Biblical message. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have life eternal. (pause) In the midst of some pretty heady stuff…he drops that wonderful little nugget.
But…now at this point…where’s Nick? Did anyone notice that he disappeared by this point? Sure enough…by the time Jesus gets to the really good stuff, he might as well be talking to himself. But there’s a reason for that. As Jesus is teaching, laying out these uber-truths, he is bringing illumination into the world. And it is…intense. After groping around in complete darkness, the lights just came on and they are blazing. Has that ever happened to you?
One of my favorite times of day is a brief moment of quiet that I experience between taking the kids to school in the morning and heading across the parking lot to the office for the day. I grab a cup of coffee, step into the living room…and plop down in a chair that faces the big bay window on the east side of the house…but one thing that I’ve noticed is the second I sit down in that spot is the morning sunlight blinds me…utterly and completely…I can’t see anything because the light is so intense.
I think that good old Nick experienced the same type of thing in his initial encounter with Jesus. Here he is, groping around in the total darkness of his disbelief, and then the full power of the Son hits him full in the face. It’s too much for him. He can’t take it and has to turn away…at least for awhile.
This isn’t the last we see of the man. Later on in the story, we see him…and he’s changed. He defends Jesus within the Pharisee’s, the very people that he feared finding out about his initial encounter with Jesus…though admittedly in that part of the story, his defense of Jesus is simply based on a technicality within the Law…He’s making progress, becoming a little more bold where Jesus is concerned…but he’s still holding onto his old way of thinking.
But then later on…towards the very end of the Gospel…we see Nick pop up a third time…and this time, he assists in the burial of the crucified Jesus…can’t get much more public and exposed than that…assisting in handling the body of the very enemy the other religious leaders had killed.
So what happened? Did he just need some time? Did his eyes need some time to adjust? Maybe so…Maybe Nicodemus simply needed time to come to grips with the life changing illumination that Jesus was giving him…and that…sounds pretty familiar.
Think about your own experience. Was your conversion instantaneous? Or when the full light of the Jesus the Son of God was shining in your face, did you need a little time to come to grips with just what you were facing? For many, the light of Christ may be just as blinding as the utter darkness that I faced all those years ago in the bathroom.
This is the reality of the gospel that we have each been called to proclaim. It is a hard truth and many that hear it will turn away. Like Nicodemus, they might disappear for awhile. We cannot control that….but we shouldn’t condemn it either…because the story of Nicodemus…his journey through life towards faith in Christ mirrors he human experience…one that we all have…one that we all experience. So remember this…when the people are blinded by the light of Christ,  they may just need some time for their eyes to adjust. May it be our prayer that they do…and that they are able to see the truth, and hear the good news that Jesus himself proclaimed…The son of man has not come to condemn the world…but he has come to save it…and to save you…Amen.

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