March 12th, 2017: Second Sunday of Lent
John 3 Divine Presence Space for Grace
by Rev. Joanne Izzo
“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.”
Last week I preached about the wilderness as the place of Divine Absence and how Jesus’ entrance into a sinister place of scorpions and snakes was the external location of a solitary spiritual struggle against temptations to break loving relationships with: God, heavenly forces and all creation. When Jesus left the wilderness there would never again be a place thought of in creation or in our hearts where God was Not, where God could not be found, where God has not gone first. In Jesus God has incarnated into every part of creation, Jesus has taken up every part of creation into God’s own self so as to restore the rhythm and beauty of life.
This week I am preaching about the impact of Jesus taking upon every part of creation, our life into the Divine Presence. The question before us as we begin the second week of Lent, what difference does the presence of God revealed in Jesus make in our lives?
Nicodemus is a member of a group of leaders in Israel, the Pharisees, who together with the scribes, Sanhedrin represent, guard and defend the inherited tradition, faith and culture.
A custom in Israel of Jesus day as now is to gather in the evening to learn, study, dialogue, hence Nicodemus meets with Jesus at night. Jesus is staying somewhere in Jerusalem, perhaps that same upper room where some years later he will spend his last night with his disciples. Nicodemus seeks Jesus out for a conversation, but when he addresses him with respect by calling him Rabbi, teacher, he is coming to him as a student, coming to learn. Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus is qualitatively different than other rabbi’s because he does things teachers don’t do, he performs Signs which are deeds of power. Nicodemus acknowledges that such deeds cannot happen apart from God. The function of the Signs or deeds of power is to show the flow from, point to, and illuminate the Presence of God.
Nicodemus strikes me as sincere, curious, willing to wrestle with this unusual teacher. In short order though Nicodemus is a befuddled puddle as Jesus lays out his Vision of things. Nicodemus is unable to follow the thread of Jesus’ Vision. The challenge for Nicodemus, as for many among the leaders of Israel is that Jesus is combining the old language of the Israel-God story in a way that does not fit the inherited narrative the Israel-God story. In addition, Jesus is revealing a different plot line and ending.
The first bit of confusion happens when he speaks of the Reign or Kingdom of God and not the Reign or Kingdom of David. The story line in Israel is that God promised that the monarchy through David would always rule in Israel. Most folks believed that a full and complete restoration of Israel is dependent upon military force and the reestablishment of a Davidic government. The model of messiah was one who would lead Israel’s army into battle and rout, defeat and drive out the enemy, in this case Rome. After this Victory the Davidic line of government and new Israelite political order would be established.
Nicodemus can SEE the presence of God in Jesus’ signs. However, he cannot see that they are Signs of the Kingdom of God because he is looking for a different kingdom and different kind of king. It is at this point that Jesus introduces tells him he needs to start from scratch, become an infant and relearn the basics of God’s plan for Israel. He is telling Nicodemus he needs new eyes to see that God’s Presence Changes EVERYTHING. Jesus is telling Nicodemus something new is emerging and you can’t get to it through the usual way of reasoning/believing, behaving and expectations.
Jesus is telling Nicodemus ‘don’t look now’ but the locus of authority, the ground of belief about how things are supposed to work and be worked out, has just shifted under your feet and before your very eyes.
And at this point he introduces the second bit of new thinking: Drawing upon the image of a rebellion in the wilderness and using the traditional language of Law: condemnation, guilt, punishment and justification he introduces New God image; God does not come into the world as a Furious Judge, Jury and Executioner. God has come into the world for Love’s sake; so that no one perishes.
The narrative is no longer about Israel’s restoration to the days of its former glory. The narrative is about restoring and setting to Right the entire created order, that the entire Kosmos is saved through God. Nothing is beyond the reach of God. Everything is taken up into God through God’s entrance into the world in Jesus, nothing is lost forever.
Through the interaction with Nicodemus we begin this second week of Lent asking what difference does the presence of God revealed in Jesus make in our lives?
Perhaps you might consider taking some time during the week to imagine yourself in the scene in the upper room with Nicodemus, Jesus, and the disciples. Listen deeply again to the conversation. What are you curious about? What befuddles you about who Jesus is, what he teaches and what he asks of you? What do you believe about why Jesus came into the world? Is there something that needs to shift within you this Lent in order to create some more space for grace?