“How does your day end?” asked Pope Francis to his clergy a few weeks ago. Does it end with God, or does it end with TV and distractions. The Pope was trying to show his clergy the importance of relationship with God in the midst of our day, something which I think extends to us as well. How we tend our relationship with God in prayer matters, in the same way how we tend our relationship with those we love matters. If we stopped talking to our friends or spouses, life would become isolating and very difficult fast. So it is with God, a God who desires nothing more than to spend time with us in prayer, prayer throughout our day, in the good and in the bad. Something I think Nicodemus reflects for us this morning.
It is interesting to me that Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, in the darkness. It's interesting because so little of Jesus’s ministry happens in the dark, or does it? There are some commentators who call out the assumption that darkness was a time of day, rather than being a frame of mind. I think there's something to that. Darkness, be it a time of day or a frame of mind, can feel the same sometimes. Think about it for a second, all this rain we live in. The dark overcast feeling it gives us in our lives can sometimes make it feel like things are hopeless or we just feel sad and lost, that is until the sun comes out and disperses that darkness, making us happy again. So I think it's true for us to hear scripture speaking of the visit in terms of both the time of day, and the state of mind. Nicodemus was working to understand what it meant to follow Jesus, yet Jesus feels at a distance here, like a fatigued presenter trying hard not to lose their minds on that one person who keeps asking a question about something they just explained. Yet, that is a lot of what Jesus’s ministry is for us, an experience of his explanation and our questioning. It makes sense, because our human brains love proof, but Christ is not someone who is interested in proving himself to us. He is interested in being for us, being with us, in the relationship of prayer, a relationship which rebirths us from above.
Rebirthing from above always asks the question of rebaptism or adult profession of faith. These again are quantifiable signs of faith. And while we do not rebaptize people and professions of faith are important, they often remain in a state of cerebrally knowing something tangible. We can know our faith because of these creeds, or this water, or this oil. However, we are reminded at baptism that these creeds, this water, this oil, are tangible witnesses to an interior journey. They are witnesses, they are not our faith, which means that while we cling to them to understand our lives in Christ in the everyday, they also point to a deeper more integrated sense of faith with his belief. I believe it is this belief that Jesus opened to Nicodemus in the darkness of his questions, a belief that started to change the way in which Nicodemus saw his world and his actions within it.
It's good for us to hear scripture say to us this morning that the silence of Nicodemus was neither rejection or blind acceptance, because we hear only a few chapters later how the very man who questioned Jesus showed up to bury Jesus with Joseph of Arimathea. So what does this mean? It means that even in the midst of his doubt, his darkness, his challenge to Jesus, Nicodemus went deeper into a relationship with Christ which meant he showed up for him when he needed him most, at the cross and grave. So there was something that shifted within Nicodemus that opened for him a birth from above, which I define as eyes to see this world as God sees this world. But what does that mean? Well, we are talking about God’s kingdom, a kingdom where we are enough, where there is enough, where all peoples have names and equal dignity, where community is normative and isolation and war are rejected as the false idols they are. The shift I think we see today is that Nicodemus no longer sees that as a pipe dream of Hallmark inspired sweetnesses in his following of Christ, I think he sees that it is a real way of life which is possible. So it makes sense then for Nicodemus but what does that mean for us? I think scripture tells us today: We speak of what we know.
Christ says to Nicodemus in our gospel today that despite all of the work, all of the conversations, all of the testimony, people still doubt him. Our doubt, our need for proof, and the darkness that it leaves us in, a darkness which keeps our faith to our minds alone, rather than our hearts and mind, is overcome by sharing with each other our experiences, and really hearing what it is that God is doing for each other in our lives. One of my favorite questions during our pastoral visits, is to ask you how God is moving in your life, and the answers I get back never fail to move me in deep and profound ways. God is moving so profoundly through us, we just have to speak of what we know, and we know of Jesus and his personal impact on our lives. But how do we practice that?
Lent gives us a unique opportunity to look within us and reflect on our lives in Christ, and to act on those areas where maybe we need a refinement, a booster, or even a complete restart. We do it all the time in our lives, when our doctors tell us to watch our weight, or we want to save for a house or that vacation, we look at our lives and we make adjustments to support where and who we want to be with what we have before us. We forego that dessert, because our health is important, or we forgo that extra meal out a week so that we can reach our goals. Spirituality is no different, and in Lent we look at ourselves and ask what kind of relationship I want to have with God, and then depending on our answers, we make adjustments in our life to reflect that. These tools exist for us, in our Lenten programs to look at who we are, and what we want our relationship with God to be, and to act because of that.
So Church, in this season of Lent, in the midst of our darkness of doubt and questions, what kind of relationship do you want with God and how will you move to living that relationship this week?