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
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.
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
Though none go with me, still I will
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
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 kidding. Surely 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
world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea
midst of tribulation
host of hell assail and my strength begins to fail
midst of faults and failures
done the best I can and my friends misunderstand
midst of persecution
growing old and feeble
life becomes a burden
Lilly of the Valley…
We really have only two
options: one is expressed in the Chinese
[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,
that I may love what thou doest
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”!