St. Peter's Blog 'Nicodemus, the Milleniale' from St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – North Wales, PA's Blog

Nicodemus, the Milleniale

Image Thursday, Mar 19, 2015
Author: Pastor Andreas Wagner

This is a sermon based on John 3: 1-21 and a pretty unorthodox and imaginative look at Nicodemus. Hope you get something out of it!

Alexander the Great would have been proud. More than three hundred years after his famous conquest of the world his language was still widely spoken; even the New Testament was written in his mother tongue, or at least a variation of it. Greek names, Greek architecture, Greek art, they could be found were everywhere in the lands that Jesus walked, the towns he visited. And in today's lesson, a Pharisee with the Greek name Nicodemus approaches him, one of the more interesting people who crossed his path.  We have before us a man who probably spoke at least two languages and was pretty open toward non-traditional interpretations of the Bible. Nicodemus visited Jesus at night, under cover of darkness, in secret, not to be seen by others, not to be put into a corner. Jesus had become somewhat of a hot potato issue amongst his peers. He split people into pro and con, and Nicodemus wanted to find out safely whether this Jesus fellow was legit. He asked questions that for others had already been answered. We have to respect Nicodemus for moving out of his comfort zone and asking the deep questions. It's the sign of an honest and searching soul.
If Nicodemus lived today, we might even call him a Millennial. Born around the turn of a new age, open towards new ideas, dabbling between darkness and light, slow to commit to Jesus, but always interested in the deeper mysteries of his teachings, he fits some of the characteristics of the modern Millennial generation. The commentator Koester writes, reflecting on the few stories we have about Nicodemus in the gospels: "Nicodemus seems to be a figure who represents those who waver between darkness and light, not hostile to Jesus' mission and message, but unable to make an adequate confession about Jesus when put to the test."
I think there are a lot of people like Nicodemus in our churches and our neighborhoods today, and no doubt, some among us here this morning. To be honest, there is even a part in me that resembles Nicodemus. Like this Pharisee with the Greek name, many of us love those conversations by night that touch on something deeper and mysterious, connecting us with the universe and with God... but that doesn't mean we will necessarily follow up on it in the light of day...
And get this: according to Jesus, that's alright. He said these famous words right here, in this passage: "God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." In other words: he is not too worried about people like Nicodemus, even though he tells him in the course of the conversation that he needs to be born again or born from above. When Jesus meets the Millennials of his time, he meets them on their turf. While he can be pretty clear about his teachings and his spiritual expectations, he also withholds judgment. "God did not send his son onto the world to condemn!"    
And what is judgment anyway? Jesus, in the gospel of John, says that there is no need for any kind of judgment, just cut it out alright! People already judge themselves enough. Those who choose darkness over light, those who are in the cross hairs of dark forces have already judged themselves, Jesus says, and he is not here to beat them down further, but to offer them a path toward the light. - So, if it is the church's mission to bring light into the darkness of spiritual and physical poverty, if it is the church's mission to abstain from judgment and point toward God's love of the whole world (cosmos in Greek), how are we going about it?
To answer this question, let me lead you first to another place, another time. Come with me and look at some of Rembrandt's paintings. Yes, Rembrandt! He was a Dutch painter of the 17th century and is widely regarded as the master of light and shadow. He earned this title by his skillful use of a special technique that uses light and shade to create visual effects, lending a dramatic intensity and psychological depth to his paintings. In his portraits, Rembrandt often used expressive shading around the eyes, cheeks, and mouth. It could also convey a sense of movement, as it does in his 1642 painting "The Night Watch."
John the Evangelist was a master of light and shadow long before Rembrandt.In his gospel, he uses light and dark from the beginning to paint Jesus' identity and saving mission. You might say: we all experience light and darkness, good and bad in our own lives." And then we hear about organizations like Isis and Boko Haram and we feel that the dark forces that are mentioned in our Baptism Liturgy are really at work in our world. And Jesus says, "Don't judge! They are already being judged by their own hatred!" 
Light and darkness, I can tell you that it resonated with me especially when I was in Haiti, traveling in a sun-bathed country that is struggling with so many shadows. And while I felt many times when we visited very poor places that we had too easy a job bringing smiles and little gifts and trinkets, the mission leaders reminded us of how important it is to convey hope, that is: light. It is our job as a church to bring light into the dark places, maybe sometimes to emphasize and intensify the spotlight on poverty and injustice, like Rembrandt did when he emphasized the shadows in people's faces. It is also our job to highlight the good that is done in our world, to give it the proper exposure, to expose the darkness to God's light. And God's light is in us, constantly challenging sin and darkness. We sometimes pad ourselves on our shoulders for charitable efforts. God's light is asking: can we do some more? For the love of the world and the love of God?
"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." One morning this text was read as devotion when we were traveling in Haiti. This particular verse has often been interpreted as a motivational reference to "save" people in a spiritual sense. When I heard it that morning, what resonated with me was simply God's love for the whole world and that there are people in our world who are close to perishing physically and that "saving" has many meanings, both spiritual and physical. And God asked me: Can you do some more? For the love of the world and the love of God?        
I started this sermon by talking about Millennials and their hesitation sometimes to become part of a church community, despite the fact that they care about spiritual matters and social matters. The problem is: churches are sometimes terribly self-absorbed in their own silly stuff. If I read the movement of the spirit in our time correctly, we are asked to be more involved in loving the world through our actions, more bold in our mission, more charitable, so that our faith is at work in the places where Jesus needs us most.  Amen.

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