Posts Tagged ‘rebuke’

You Mean I’m Not In Trouble 5-31-15

This morning’s sermon is based on John 3:1-17. This is the night time encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. I explore the changing perspective of hearing this as a rebuke to an honest teaching exchange.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/you-mean-im-not-in-trouble-5-31-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen
Is there any certain sight that you dread to see? Something that almost turns your stomach as soon as you spot it? (pause) I can certainly think of one that got me in my younger days…specifically between the ages of 16 and about 22. (pause) Red and Blue lights flashing in my rear view mirror. (pause)
I will state it for the record…that in my early years of driving…I was a little too familiar with those lights…because I got pulled over with a fair bit of regularity…until a letter from my insurance company warned me of my personal risk…of high risk insurance rates…at which time I developed a much lighter foot, coupled with a much stronger tendency to set the cruise control at a reasonable speed.
And for many years that has served me well…with just one exception, back in August of 2013 when I came up the entrance ramp down by Hy-Vee in Council Bluffs just a little too fast and met a police officer sitting in the median right there at the curve…you all know that spot don’t you? (pause) And sure enough…a moment later…there were the blue and red lights flashing right behind me.
And ever since then, I’ve been very careful to watch my speed as I come around the curve on I-80…knowing that the next time I let it creep up above 60…I’ll meet another officer sitting there waiting…and admittedly its affected me…and I see evidence of this every time another vehicle comes flying past me on that stretch and I utter the words over and over again. “LET THERE BE A COP THERE…LET THERE BE A COP THERE”
And then on the instances when there is an officer sitting there…the chant turns to “GET ‘EM….GET ‘EM…GET ‘EM.” And recently…just about a month or so ago…I got my wish when a speedy driver went flying past the officer sitting there in that spot…and I saw the officer swing his cruiser around and fly up behind that other car…and the lights…came…on. (pause…then big response) “YES!!!!!!” I don’t know just why it is…but ever since that day back in 2013 when I was pulled over at that spot, I’ve wanted to see someone else get it too…full disclosure…I’ve been fascinated with seeing someone else get busted….and maybe…just maybe…I’m not the only one. Because isn’t that human nature? We’re kind of fascinating with seeing someone ELSE…get into trouble aren’t we? (pause)
Now admittedly, this is the attitude that I have brought into today’s gospel story throughout the course of my history with it. Nicodemus…coming to visit Jesus at night…and in the midst of the encounter…Jesus seems to give him his come uppance…Nicodemus…one of the leaders of the Pharisees…one of the leaders of the religious bigwigs…sneaks off in the dead of night…in total secrecy…to try and wrap his head around just who this Jesus guy really is…but he has to be secretive…because he’s got a reputation…and who knows what would happen if all his cronies knew what he was up to. (pause)
So that’s the setting…this guy who by all rights should get all this stuff…should understand it…and should see the truth within it…goes all covert in the dead of night…and if you’ve heard me talk about John’s gospel before, you’ve likely heard me reference the importance of light and darkness…how light equals believe, and understanding…and even relationship…while darkness equals disbelief and sinfulness…and here’s Nick, operating under the cover of darkness…figures.
And you know what…within the context of John’s gospel we’ve got another example of someone doing bad stuff at night…perhaps you’ve heard of him…this Judas guy…who towards the end of the gospel goes out into the night to betray Jesus…and so knowing this…don’t we sort of expect the tense confrontation here between Jesus and Nicodemus?
Does anyone else approach this passage expecting a rebuke…expecting Jesus to really put Nick in his place…to rip him a new one? Or is that just me? (pause) I’ll own it…each and every time I’ve approached John chapter 3 in the past…I’ve gotten a little cynical…thinking to myself. “This guys gonna get it. Here it comes.” And then I read the back and forth as Jesus and Nicodemus debate and discuss…and in my mind they’re getting a little more heated with each statement and question and counter point…until finally Nick has heard enough and he utters the ultimate question “How can these things be?” (pause) And finally…finally…Jesus…turns on the flashing red and blue lights… “YOU ARE THE TEACHER OF ISRAEL…and even you don’t get it.” (pause…then big response) “YES!!!!!!” (pause) And just like I revel in seeing someone else get pulled over…I revel in seeing some uppity dude get fully owned by Jesus. (pause)
That is…until this week…until this time…because this time…I didn’t read it that way…and I’m not even sure why that is…but for some reason…this time…it came across a little differently…and instead of looking down my nose at Nick…I think I found myself relating to him…because what Jesus is talking about…its some pretty heady stuff.
Maybe its because today is Holy Trinity Sunday…the one Sunday every year when we focus on and celebrate all three aspects of the Triune God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…and if you’ve been downstairs in the discussions around the trinity…and specially around the Holy Spirit…you’ve heard me say that its…pretty darn confusing…and I’ll play the card of “that’s one of our divine mysteries that we Lutheran love so much” simply because we don’t have good explanation for how it all works…or what it all means.
And don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you right now with trying to offer any sort of explanation…because sometimes we just have to accept that what God’s up to in the world…and for that matter…God…is simply beyond us…and all we can do is admit that…and ask God to help us…and the really amazing thing about all this…is that I think Jesus FULLY realizes this.
Because Jesus doesn’t simply debate Nicodemus and then rip into him for not understanding…rather Jesus is trying to explain how the Spirit acts within the hearts and minds of individuals…making relationship possible…and making us heirs with Christ to the promise of eternal life. (pause)
You see…Nick came at this in the right way…regardless of his intentions or his sneaking around in the darkness of night…he comes to Jesus and calls him…rabbi…teacher…and in this one simple address, Nick admits that Jesus is one who’s authority is greater than his own…that Jesus is one that Nick can learn from…and then their debate simply shows us that Nick is trying to understand…but that this amazing truth is beyond him…and likewise it is beyond us…and Jesus admits it to us…
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. (pause) And right after Jesus tells us this…he says the words that I no longer hear as a rebuke, but rather as evidence…You Nicodemus, you are a teacher of Israel, and this is beyond your ability to understand… (pause)
How many times have we read scripture and been confused by it? Or witnessed difficult things in life…disease and death…hardship and suffering…and we fail to understand it…and we wonder what is God up to in the world…what is going on? Just what is the Holy Spirit doing in all this? (pause) And we get nowhere with those questions.
And perhaps in those times…when we feel like we’re butting up against a wall…maybe, just maybe it feels like we’re in trouble…like God is mad at us…or that we’re not worthy of this amazing gift, because if we were we’d have it all figured out…and we sit there staring in our rear view mirror, shaking in our boots…and wondering just how much trouble we’re in…what we’re in store for…and expecting the worst.
That was my situation on that day back in August of 2013…knowing full well that I was driving too fast…and expecting a ticket…but then the officer came up to my window…having already run my plates and my driving record…and he gave me verbal warning…told me to go ahead but slow down….He might as well have been telling me to go forth and sin no more…not because of anything that I had done…but simply out of his good graces. (pause) and all I could think to myself is “You mean I’m not in trouble?” (pause)
And isn’t it wonderful that we have a God that loves us so much…that loves each and every one of us so much…a God that loves the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life…that whoever believes in him may not be punished…they are NOT in trouble.
This is what Jesus is telling us today…even those born of the Spirit…even those who believe that Jesus IS the son of God, lack understanding about just what God is up to…and that…is okay…because we don’t have to understand it…we don’t have to be able to explain it…because God has already done it…and the father sent the Son, not to condemn us…but to save us…
And so today, perhaps all we can do is thank God for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives…here in the world…and through the power of the Holy Spirit we declare that Jesus is the son of God…sent by God in the world to redeem it out of love for us…and though we might not understand how it all works…and maybe it seems too good to be true…we can look to the Lord and say…You mean I’m not in trouble? And then we respond the only way we can…by saying thank you.
Amen.