The Nicodemus Way
Lent 2, Year A
How many of you have seen the movie, “You’ve Got Mail”? I love that movie. “You’ve Got Mail” is one of the few romantic comedies that I think really works. Meg Ryan’s character runs a small bookstore with lots of charm and character. Tom Hanks’ character is the big business mogul building a giant chain bookstore around the corner from the little shop. In person they fight, calling each other names. At same time they are calling each other names, they are corresponding with each other through email.
I don’t remember exactly how it happens, but they start talking to each other on email without knowing to whom they are writing. Publicly they fight, and privately, they joke and tell each other stories. Publicly, his big store puts her small shop out of business. Privately he encourages her and gives her advice about competing. In the end, they discover whom they are writing to but by then they have fallen in love.
I think this is such a hopeful movie because it shows a long, uncertain path to love. We get to know each other a little at a time. Along the way we hurt each other, forgive each other, and try again. We get to know what the other person likes, what the other cares about. We learn to trust slowly. We generally come to love slowly. Even when someone says that theirs was love at first sight, that love takes time to develop. Even those couples that are swept away by love have to get to know each other.
So I ask you, why would our relationship with God be any different? Why would learning to love and trust Jesus be any different?
We don’t all come to Christ quickly or in the same way. Many of us come to Christ reluctantly, working through skepticism, doubts, and even misconceptions and prejudices. Some of us hang around on the margins of faith for years, either giving religion little thought or rejecting religion outright.
For years in my own life I rejected the very idea of God. I didn’t want anything to do with Church or Jesus or God. At the same time, I was restless and uncertain. I wanted more from life than I was getting. I suspected that other people knew some kind of secret that allowed them to be happy and if I could learn that secret, I could be happy too. I was searching for meaning and purpose but I was unwilling to look at the Church or at the Bible.
This went on for years until I began to notice that many of the people I admired were people of faith. I remember having an intense curiosity about other people’s faith when I was telling myself that I didn’t need faith myself. I was a skeptic who began to doubt my own skepticism.
Nicodemus had doubts and he was a skeptic, but he saw something in Jesus so he went to check out this prophet, healer and teacher. He went at night because he didn’t want to be seen with Jesus. He was not yet sure who Jesus was or whether Jesus could be trusted.
Nicodemus can be a source of great hope for many of us. He met Christ personally. He spoke with Jesus directly and still failed to understand. He continued to struggle. Nicodemus takes what Jesus says literally and then rejects Jesus’ teaching as impossible or even absurd.
If you are struggling to understand Jesus or God, hang in there. If you are skeptical, keep asking those questions. Keep struggling with the issues, and keep coming back to worship. You, like Nicodemus, can experience the joy of knowing God and being loved by God. You can experience the sacred mystery and be fed by the Holy Spirit.
Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night, furtively asked his questions, and then left, still wondering, still struggling and still in the dark. But there was something about Jesus that kept Nicodemus’ attention. He was not convinced but he was intrigued. I think that describes a lot of us: we are not entirely convinced, but we are intrigued.
The next time we hear about Nicodemus, later in John’s Gospel, he gives a hesitant defense of Jesus to the chief priests and the Pharisees. They are conspiring to have Jesus arrested and Nicodemus says, “Maybe we should listen to what he has to say before we condemn him.” They responded with anger. “What, are you one of his followers then?”
Only after the crucifixion, when he and Joseph of Arimathea bring spices to anoint Jesus’ body, do we get an indication that Nicodemus learned to trust in Jesus. Nicodemus takes a long time and a long path to become a follower of Jesus. He struggles with doubts and he is worried about what other people will think of him, but he is willing to listen to what Jesus has to say.
I personally find Nicodemus to be a very sympathetic character. I understand his reluctance. I have experienced his doubts. After all, Jesus is asking Nicodemus to enter into a very serious relationship. He is asking for a significant commitment. Following Jesus is not just a choice or a decision. Following Jesus is a way of life.
If you are struggling with doubts, I have good news for you. If you are still waiting to experience the peace and comfort of God’s love, hang in there. God will not stop pursuing your love and faith. Your doubts are not a problem for God. Your skepticism does not hurt or even upset God. On the contrary, God celebrates the dialogue that leads to faith. God celebrates the searching and exploring we do as we try to find what is real, sacred and holy.
If you are feeling restless and unsettled and you don’t know if you can commit yourself to God, take heart. If you are wondering what the fuss is about worship and prayer, if you have never had what you would call an experience of God, don’t worry. Keep asking and searching. You have good company. God loves the Nicodemuses of the world for their willingness to question and to keep searching, even when the answers don’t satisfy.
God loves you unconditionally. God forgives and forgives and forgives. God loves and loves and loves. That is what God is and who God is. So go ahead and doubt, but doubt intentionally. Ask the hard questions. Look for what is real and true. Look for the sacred. In the process you will experience the holy mysteries of God. You will experience the presence of God because God will never give up on you.
God wants to know you and be known by you. God wants you to know that you are loved. God wants love to work in and through you. God wants to give you so much love that your heart overflows. And when your heart is overflowing, you will be doing God’s work. You will be loving and blessing others. That is what God wants from you and that is what God wants for you. God wants to bless you so that you can be a blessing.
The Rev. David Marshall
St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA
March 20, 2011