Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3: 1-17
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who descended and ascended because of love. Amen
Jesus, what are you up to?
I think this is the root question
behind Nicodemus’ visit and conversation with Jesus.
What are you up to?
You’re a teacher with incredible insight into God,
you’re doing all these signs so you must be from God,
what are you up to?
And Jesus’ response
really only serves to confuse Nicodemus more.
Well, says Jesus, first off,
you can’t know that I’m from God because I do signs,
that’s not good proof
and actually, I don’t really trust anyone who believes in me because of my signs,
the only way you can sense the presence of the kingdom of God,
which I represent
is by being born again, from above.
Say what now? Nicodemus says,
uh born again?
I don’t think I’ll fit back in my mother’s womb
No that was a metaphor Jesus says,
try thinking of it this way
born of water and spirit,
remember spirit and wind, intimately connected,
you can see the effects of the wind but not where it starts or ends.
Uhhh what? Nicodemus is still confused,
and Jesus wonders out loud,
are you really one of the best, wisest teachers in Israel,
and you don’t get it?
This is big stuff here,
and if you can’t figure out earthly stuff
how can you figure out heavenly stuff,
try it this way, it’s like Moses and the bronze serpent,
you know that story right?
I’m going to be the bronze serpent for the whole world.’
And if you still don’t get the how,
try the why,
God loves the world,
the whole world,
God wants to save the world.
I’m the way God has decided to save the world.
Nicodemus is on the path to becoming a disciple of Jesus,
through his appearances
John marks the various stages on that path
and in this scene uses Jesus’ teaching
to communicate the heart of John’s gospel and approach to Jesus,
that salvation is not a distant future
but right now in the present,
it is life lived in the unending presence of God,
and when we live in the unending presence of God
our lives are no longer defined by flesh and blood but by God.
there’s a reason discipleship takes time,
it is a completely different way of being in the world.
Jesus uses several images in his conversation with Nicodemus
to try to convey the transformation that leads to this way of being.
He starts with the image of birth,
that transition that marks the beginning of life in the world,
we need a similar transition into the world of the kingdom of God Jesus says,
that transition is marked by water and spirit,
in a word baptism
a moment that is both symbolic and transformational,
through the visible act of the splashing of water
we are joined to the community,
through invisible the work of the spirit
we are transformed into children of God
joined to Christ, made members of the kingdom of God.
For some Christians being “born again”
is a moment of human decision,
you’ve probably heard the language
or had someone ask you if you’ve accepted Jesus,
in the Lutheran understanding of what happens in this transformation
that approach gives way to much credit to us humans,
rather transformation is a gift from God
through the workings of the spirit.
Jesus uses the image of the wind to describe the spirit to Nicodemus
for whom this was a familiar image
in Hebrew the word for spirit “ruach”,
is also the word for breath, wind.
In Genesis God is described as creating with breath
speaking things into being through the spirit.
The earth creatures that God molds
only become living humans
when God fills them with breath, spirit.
This is something that Nicodemus gets.
But in this conversation,
Jesus says the spirit is like the wind in another way,
we only sense its presence by the effect is has as it moves by.
We are quite familiar with wind in Nebraska,
driving along if I feel a gust move my car
I look to the grass and trees along the side of the road
to confirm that it is windy,
if I pause I can determine the direction the wind is going
but that knowledge only helps me adapt to the reality of the moment,
I cannot change anything the wind is doing.
we cannot control the wind
just as we cannot control the spirit,
we can move with the spirit,
make use of the wind
we can be stubborn and walk into the wind
the opposite direction of the spirit
but that only makes the going harder for us
the wind and the spirit do not consult us as to what path to take
Finally Jesus uses an image he knows Nicodemus is familiar with,
that of Moses and the bronze serpent,
we heard that part of the Israelite’s journey in our first reading for today,
the Israelites have a habit of complaining to Moses,
but this time they include God in their whining
and it is a step too far,
God sends poisonous serpents among the people
and many are killed,
the people repent and God provides a way for them to be saved,
God has Moses make a serpent out of bronze
and put it high on the pole in the center of the camp,
from then on
when someone is bit by one of the serpents
all they have to do is look at the bronze serpent
and they will live.
I am going to be your bronze serpent Jesus says,
predicting his death
when he will be lifted up on the cross
in an act that will save the world from separation from God.
Birth, wind, serpents,
these images are used to explain something
that ultimately I don’t think can be fully explained,
in one sense they are descriptive
in that they point to a reality of life,
they give us words to use
but they all fall short in communicating the complexity
of the relationship between God and humans.
In some ways they lead to more questions,
questions that begin with why,
questions that cannot be fully explained in this life
but Jesus does answer the big why question.
Why is God working through Jesus in the world?
Because God loves the world,
the whole world,
everything in the world,
God loves women and men and everything in between,
God loves the poor and the rich,
God loves the people we find hard to love,
God loves the people that don’t acknowledge God,
the people who are fearful because of who they are,
the people who have been told that God doesn’t love them
and the people that told them that,
God loves the created world,
God loves you.
What are you up to Jesus?
all expansive, inclusive love.
God’s actions through Jesus are made out of love,
they are an invitation to live life in the presence of the source of life,
the source of love,
and through love transform the world. Amen