February 17, 2008

"Saving the World Through Love"
Scripture: John 3:1-17
Sermon by Rev. Kathleen Groff
Dundee United Methodist Church

  Nicodemus was puzzled. He had seen some of the wondrous things this Jesus had done. He had been a God fearing person all his life. Perhaps he had even heard Jesus teach. He also must have heard the grumblings of his colleagues. It would be unwise and even foolish to have anything to do with Jesus. But Nicodemus was curious. What would make a person give up his livelihood and follow Jesus as his disciples had done? It’s a question that might come from one of us as we watch a friend or family member give up their livelihoods to become a pastor, to walk the often difficult path of ordination. Nicodemus had to know and the only way to do that was to talk with Jesus himself. Nighttime would be perfect cover to go undetected to see Jesus.

  Nicodemus acknowledges that Jesus is doing things that can only come from God. Ah! A teaching moment presents itself for Jesus. But Jesus’ response only confuses Nicodemus even more. Nicodemus was a learned man. If anyone was to know about God and the things of God it would be someone like Nicodemus who had spent years studying the scriptures. The very idea of being born again was ludicrous. Jesus’ hidden meaning escaped Nicodemus who could not see beyond his high level of learning. Now, Nicodemus knew about the Psalmists expressions of the mightiness and awesomeness of God, a God who could in a blink alter His creation for all time. Nicodemus could not imagine the possibility of a relationship with this awesome God that did not respect the power and might of that God. He could not comprehend a relationship with that God that was not based on fear. The Gospel leaves us hanging about what Nicodemus finally came to believe.

  If Nicodemus came to understand the gift that Jesus was offering, he was indeed a very fortunate man. To have lived with the sense of the awesomeness of God and then to know the love of God’s gift in Jesus must have been a complete experience of God. Sometimes I think we have gotten too far away from the Nicodemus understanding of how awesome God truly is. We have carried the slogan, “born again” to a very personal level. We claim Jesus as our friend, every ready to come to our rescue, always there when we need him. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Accepting Jesus, believing in Jesus means being changed, transformed, but it is not the totality of our belief. Being born again is not just accepting and seeing Jesus as our friend. We are not truly friends with Jesus unless we believe who Jesus is and why Jesus came. Truly accepting Jesus means believing Jesus to be the Son of God, not just a good prophet and teacher, and believing that Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead. It is easy to believe in the presence of Jesus, in our friend Jesus, but it is different to believe in the true nature of Jesus, that of being the Son of a very awesome and mighty God. To believe in Jesus son of God, means we face the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, fearsome, all powerful, full of glory, too much for our imaginations to take in. We face the same God of the Psalms. The Israelites knew that God loved them. They had been freed from slavery and tyranny and survived in the desert. They had been told by the judges, the kings and the prophets, but they also knew the terrible judgment of God. Have we forgotten this God of the Old Testament, this terribly awesome God?

  The difference between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God is the buffer that God provided. Because we have known what God has done and experienced the love of God through Jesus we know God more fully than those ancient people of God. When we dare to approach God through Jesus, through the Spirit, we must always hold the awesomeness of God in our minds and hearts. To worship God in truth is to worship with awe and respect. Being born again means holding God near to us, but also knowing that God is Holy, that God is the One who creates out of nothing, the God who will not allow His creation to be destroyed, the God who is beyond all that we can imagine.

  When I first began my journey of faith, I began with an attempt to discover as much as I could about God. I prayed and read and had significant experiences of God, but I still did not understand those experiences until I came to know about Christ. But how did I come to know about Christ? Through the working of the Spirit, God opened my heart to more complete understanding of who and what I was dealing with. I came to understand that dealing with God was like participating in a divine dance. I was able to hold together the personalness of Jesus, the Holiness of God, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. I came to understand more fully who Jesus really was and what God has done for humanity through him.

  Perhaps what Nicodemus came to understand what true worship was, allowing himself to be overcome with the awesome majesty of God, and being compelled to give up an old way of life to boldly declare that God had done an amazing thing through Jesus. Being born again means coming to a new understanding of our awesome God.

  For awhile I tried to be at One with God, my own way. I thought that if I read about God and learned all I could about God and meditated about God, I could be with God. I believed that anyone could find their way to God. But it was very difficult to reach an understanding of God and to have a relationship with God this way. There were moments when I felt a nearness to God, but it was always short lived. My uncertainty about God would always resurface. It was when I finally accepted the way to God through Christ that I gained a more permanent sense of peace about God and about life. It was then that I began to have confidence in God’s creation and plan for that creation. In accepting the gift of Christ, I became a part of that plan and could participate in that plan.

  All of us have been given that gift. Some accept it more readily. Some of us fight and struggle with some more “rational” way of understanding life and its struggles. But God speaks most clearly through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Through Christ we see how much God loved the world and wanted to save it from death and destruction. When one truly understands the meaning of Christ, then one regains the ability to know the awesomeness of God, because it is to God that Jesus always pointed. And what about Nicodemus? Later he would be able to boldly help prepare the body of Christ and lay it to rest. Perhaps Nicodemus did come to understand His God much more completely through Jesus.

  Believing in Jesus is not just a personal experience. Being born again means being changed to be able to live with a totally awesome and holy God in true and deep relationship. Believing in Jesus is a worldwide event so that the entirety of creation can be made whole again.