John 3:1-17 1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The 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.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’ve titled today’s message, “Mystery,” because I get the feeling that’s what Nicodemus had in his mind when he ventured under the cover of darkness to visit with Jesus in his quest to understand what Jesus was all about. He knew some already. He said as much to Jesus… “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” But the rest he couldn’t quite figure out. The rest was mystery.
Then his conversation with Jesus was not all that helpful! Jesus started talking about being born from above. But then the word we have in the original text could also mean again, and that’s how Nicodemus responds. How can one be born again, he wonders, and queries Jesus with the absurdity or the impossibility of crawling back into the mother’s womb in order to be born again. It didn’t make sense.
Jesus talks about the Spirit and the wind, but in the Greek text we really can’t tell the difference between the two. The Hebrew language is the same, with ruach meaning spirit, breath, and wind, just as pneuma means all three of those in Greek.
As we saw last week with our balloons blowing around in the breeze of the fan, controlling the wind isn’t a sure thing, and we can’t control God’s Spirit either. We have some control over our breath, when we’re awake, but if we were to stop it too long and pass out, the autonomic takes over. And when we think about it, we can’t control the breath that’s left our bodies at all. We can’t control the word very well after it’s been spoken.
Today, words go out differently as well. We have not only the spoken word, and not only the printed word, but that which is posted, tweeted, tumbled, snapped, pinned, yammered, or yelped. I tried to cover the majority of those but there are more social media platforms out there than you might think. Wikipedia has a list of over 200… did you know that Google+ had 1.6 billion registered users—and that was from 2014—four years ago!
I wonder, too, how we determine what is trustworthy today. It used to be that if it was reported on the regular news channels, it was likely to have been thoroughly vetted, but with all that social media, such thorough vetting often makes the news too late… it’s already out there. And we’ve got people declaring everything they don’t like to be fake news. How do we know what to trust?
It seems like today’s news is challenged according to what a person wants to believe is true, rather than what is verifiable.
How is this different from what it was 2000 years ago? They didn’t have newspapers. What they had was word of mouth, and sometimes the opportunity to go and listen in person—if they were close enough, and if their duties or chores weren’t too demanding, and if their reputation would not be compromised if someone happened to see them there.
Today, word of mouth becomes tainted, because some people skillfully edit recordings and publish works that show things that never were.
Remember the protest after the Parkland school shooting? One young woman held up a paper target, like one would use at a firing range, ripping it in two. She was photographed, and the photo was published. Soon, however, someone had taken that published photo and made it look like she was ripping a printed copy of the constitution in two. Of course, that’s the photo that went viral, which means it was copied and shared frenetically on numerous sites. Some called her an arrogant, disrespectful child. Others said what she had done was deplorable. People knowing the truth started sharing the photos side-by-side, showing what had happened. I didn’t see any apologies from people who had shared the doctored photo. I saw no corrections of the judgements people had made over her when the truth of what she had done was made known. Did anyone say, “I was wrong,” or even, “I was misled, and I erred by sharing something—and by judging something that was not real.”
Jesus suffered from that same misjudgment. Even though there was no Photoshop, there were no tweets, there was still news that had been altered, falsified, to show something different than what it was. And we end up with God’s most dramatic expression of love lifted up—not in adoration—but on a cross of crucifixion…
I honestly don’t know if anyone apologized for that, either.
Today, we can strive to share what is true. We can attempt to stop those who falsify the news, and we can endeavor to proclaim what is true, even when others declare it to be fake. I am certain, however, that we cannot completely control what’s out there, and how people disseminate (or share) what they want, whether or not it’s true, even when they know it’s not true…
We can also be a little bit like Nicodemus, who didn’t want to leave things in uncertainty. He wanted to solve the mystery, so he went to the source, to Jesus, to try to figure out what the rest of the truth really was. “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God,” he said. What’s implied is that we want to know more.
Did you know that the name, Nicodemus, means, “victory of the people”? I like that, and I like that this “Victory of the People” comes to Jesus, now, in today’s story, to explore the mystery. I like that he speaks up against the rush to judgment at the end of chapter 7. I like that he assisted in the burial of Jesus’ body after his crucifixion. Mostly, though, I like that he lives in the mystery that is God.
God is revealed to us as Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet one God. How this three-in-one and one-in-three works may remain a mystery to us, and that’s okay. We don’t have to figure out the mechanics of God! Instead, let us, too, live within the mystery. Let us work toward the victory of the people who share God’s love, rather than the hatred of this world. Let God’s Spirit guide us, that we may express God’s love, speaking truth in the midst of chaos, and loving God and creation as well as we possibly can. In Jesus’ name. Amen