Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

“On The Light”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 12 March 2017 by the Rev. Ewing W. [Bud] Carroll, Jr. The scripture readings that day were John 3:1-22.

      I first heard the term “on the light” while serving as a pastor of a small United Methodist Church on the island of Saipan.  One day I walked into a darkened room and asked someone near the light switch to please “turn on the lights”.  There was a thunderous silence.  No one said anything.  Then little Mary, a primary student replied,  “Oh, you mean ‘on the light.’  We don’t know how to turn on the light.”
      Today’s Gospel story about Nicodemus is a good example of “on the light.”  But first, look with me again at what John writes about Nicodemus.   He was a faithful, practicing Jew; a Pharisee, and member of the Sanhedrin; financially wealthy; well educated and very learned in Jewish religious law and practice.
     Biblical scholars differ about why, as John wrote, Nicodemus ”… came to Jesus by night”.  Some say to avoid criticism from fellow Pharisees about being seen with Jesus; others suggest both he and Jesus had such heavy daytime schedules this was the only time they could meet.  Why, we’ll really never know.
     Let me suggest another possibility.   Don’t take the words “he came in the night” literally.  Nicodemus had clearly heard about Jesus; his performing miracles; his growing popularity throughout Palestine; and a growing uneasiness among the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. So Nicodemus went to see Jesus with a mixture of curiosity and need.   Night then, is not about a time of day; rather what a reflection on what Nicodemus must have been feeling, experiencing in his own religion journey.
     Considerable space is given in this Gospel passage to the meaning of being born again; born anew or born from above.  Jesus seemed quite frustrated with Nicodemus who wanted to know how in the world a person could re-enter their Mother’s womb and be born again.  Nicodemus was talking about the human body; Jesus was talking about the human spirit!
     As we continue in our Lenten Journey – trying to walk and live with Jesus in our own kinds of Wilderness and Darkness, what can we learn from this story about Nicodemus?  Let me suggest three things.
     1.  Nicodemus was decisive.  We live in a very divisive world, but Christ invites us to be decisive, not divisive.  To “on the light”.  Nicodemus went to learn more about this miracle worker named Jesus.  Learn he did!  But he also learned more about himself; about his own religiosity; his own faith.  He discovered when face-to-face with Jesus his own life began to change!
     Careful!  I’m not suggesting that in one night or in the traditional 40 days of Lent you and I will be totally transformed and cleansed anew in God’s Spirit.  But Lent IS a time for decision-making. When former American president Ronald Reagan was a young boy, an auntie took him to a cobbler to have a new pair of shoes made.  The cobbler asked him if he wanted square toes or pointed toes.  Reagan had no idea.  The cobbler told him to return the next day.  Again Reagan had no idea.  The cobbler said, “Come back in two or three days and your new shoes will be ready.”  When Reagan returned he found one shoe with square toes; the other with pointed toes.  Then the cobbler told him, “don’t ever let other people make your decisions for you.”
      In the late 1800’s in Assam, India, a Hindu convert to Christianity was told by his village chief either to renounce his faith in Christ or he, his wife and two children would be killed.  He refused and the children were executed.  Again he refused saying, “The world behind me, the cross before me…” and his wife was executed.  Finally he too was put to death for his faith. An old Gospel hymn, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” is based on this experience:   
I have decided to follow Jesus…
Though I may wonder, I will follow…
The world behind me, the cross before me…
Though none go with me, still I will follow…
No turning back, no turning back.
     It’s not terribly likely than any of us will die for our faith.  But all of us are called to live for our faith.  I believe in the night or darkness of his life, Nicodemus discovered the Light of Christ.  And from that time onward, sought to walk with Jesus.  No turning back, no turning back.  “On the light!”
      2. Secondly, Nicodemus seemed determined to follow Christ. I base this on John 7:50.  The chief priests and Pharisees are unhappy with the temple police because they had not arrested Jesus.  People were arguing about whether the Messiah could come from Galilee. To paraphrase John, the Pharisees angrily said, “Surely, no one could believe this man Jesus.  If so, let them be damned.“  Nicodemus responded, “Hey, I thought we Pharisees never judged a person until we gave them a fair trial” to which another Pharisees retorted, “You must be kiddingSurely you’re not also one of those trouble-maker Galileans.” Had Nicodemus not come face-to-face with Jesus in the darkness of his own soul and not determined to begin a life of transformation and change, I doubt he could have dared to speak such words.
    Charles Tindley’s beautiful spiritual  “Stand By Me” is a reminder of God’s desire and determination to always be with us; to strengthen, encourage and yes, to challenge us in our own wanderings through the Wildernesses and Darknesses of our lives:
            When the storms of life are raging
Stand by me
When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea
In the midst of tribulation
Stand by me
When the host of hell assail and my strength begins to fail
In the midst of faults and failures
Stand by me
When I’ve done the best I can and my friends misunderstand
In the midst of persecution
When I’m growing old and feeble
When my life becomes a burden                                                     
O though Lilly of the Valley…
Stand By Me.
     We really have only two options:  one is expressed in the Chinese idiom 袖手旁觀  [xiu shou pang guan] just stand by with folded arms and ignore the pains, injustices and cruelties of the world pass by.  The other?  By our thoughts, words and actions, strive to be a servant people. As God continues to Stand by us, Christ calls us to stand with those who hunger and thirst – for whatever keeps them from knowing and experiencing the fullness God’s love.  “On the light.”
     3. Thirdly, Nicodemus seemed greatly devoted to Jesus. Remember.  On the night before his crucifixion and the following day, how did Jesus’ Disciples act?  Basically by denial and betrayal.  But look!  Here comes Nicodemus!  With Joseph of Arimathea, they took Jesus’ body to an empty burial tomb.  John writes [19:39ff],  “Nicodemus… came also bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.”
     Not family or friends; not the Disciples; no one from Pilate’s Roman army; just two somewhat elderly men:  one, a secret follower of Jesus and the other a  wealthy Pharisee who I believe found new life in Jesus, laid their Master in an empty tomb.  No longer any secrets.  People around them surely saw what was happening.  You don’t carry a 100 pounds of spices in a Park ‘n Shop shopping bag and remain unseen!
      During the coming week, spend some time outside – opening your mind, heart and spirit to God’s Spirit. As you do, recall these words written some 200 years ago:
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love what thou doest love,
 and do what thou wouldst do.
     As you come face to face with the Living Christ, decide to let his love renew and rebirth you;  determine through your attitude and actions to be a servant people; and devote yourself to the one who brings you out of darkness into light.   What are you waiting for?  “On the light”!


# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, March 12, 2017

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