Have Everlasting Life
e have come from different places to get here this morning. A few walked a few blocks from nearby. Others drove in from Clem, from the University, from out near Bowdon. Some came in your mother's arms. Nicodemus came by cover of darkness. No matter how, the fact is that we are here. We have come to the one who claims to be the very Son of God.
There is an unusual juxtaposing of contrasting characters in today's and next week's gospel lections; Nicodemus in today's Lent 2 story, and the Samaritan woman next week, John 4: 5-42. They may be intended as paradigms that would reach into the hearts of future readers of the gospel. First, while Nicodemus is a representative of the highest socio-economic and religious order, the poor woman at the well is both a lowly Samaritan and a shunned woman who had five former husbands and was avoided by neighbors because of what was considered her sin. Is it intentional that we have an outcast contrasted with a representative of the elite?
Jesus discusses deeper spiritual/theological realities with both characters and neither seems to catch on at first; however, it is the woman with a past who begins to discuss a complicated set of issues on the hot-button subject of worship between Jews and Samaritans. Nicodemus, the scholar, seems to actually be unable to follow Jesus' metaphorical logic; whereas, the supposedly simple woman surprises us with her quickness. Thus, the recurring theme of the simple confounding the wise; a reminder needed by contemporary would-be intellectuals. I am drawn to the metaphor that we hear the wind blowing but still do not know exactly where it comes from or goes. "The wind (Ruah/Spirit) blows where it chooses." (v.8) Our Internet's Doppler Radar is still not absolutely sure. When our sails are hoisted; however, we can ride the wind's power.
Nicodemus comes, seemingly afraid, while the woman randomly encounters Jesus at noon, in broad daylight for all Sychar to see. Nicodemus leaves confused, saying, "How can these things be?" (v.9), whereas the woman abandons her water jar and goes to witness to all that she has met the long-expected Messiah. Nicodemus remains a secret disciple and the woman becomes a chief spokesperson.
Nicodemus did later accept Jesus as the Messiah (7:50). He assisted in finding a tomb for Jesus, and spent a large amount to purchase burial spices (19:39). Thus, we may assume that Nicodemus is an archetype of coming to faith gradually, perhaps through a process of reasoning over time. Whereas, the heroic figure of the "Woman at the Well" is an example of “hitting the sawdust trail.”
It seems to me that most folks reading these stories over the centuries could have found some point of identity with one or the other of these representative characters. We have all known people who have had to mull things over in their minds; sometimes for years. Others are able to jump right in, following their emotional subjective feelings. We of course could delve into personality types: Nicodemus would certainly be a "Type B," waiting and thinking quietly. Our formerly sinful woman represents "Type A" folks who are ready to hop on board as soon as their heartstrings are touched.
Bishop Nolan Harmon used the illustration of a ship that sails from the cold waters of the Arctic Sea to the warm waters of the Caribbean . The gradual change of temperature does not denote one specific moment when they went from the cold to the hot, but they can surely know if they are in the hot water by simply letting down a bucket and feeling the temperature of the water. Likewise, we can know when we are ice cold, or in lukewarm faith, or in hot, vital faith, by feeling the temperature of our souls. The point of the beloved bishop's illustration was that it doesn't matter so much how or when we came to faith in Christ, as long as we came somehow, and are in the hot water now.
I have long been intrigued with the many encounters that individuals have had with Jesus, but have just recently seen the correlation of two of my favorites. I appreciate folks, like Nicodemus, who think things through logically over a period of time. His many years of rabbinical education almost required him to move forward slowly. After all, it was as if he were accepting a totally different frame of references. I am reminded of the intellectual struggle of Professor Stephen Hawking who, despite his problems has maintained a relationship with God that is evident in his books, A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell .
I met a native of India , the son of a Hindu, who was led to Christ under the ministry of my comparative religions professor, Dr. Marvin Harper. He thought long and hard about his difficult choice, so steeped in his native culture and family connections; he had to make a total break with his past. Yet, that was similar to the decision that Nicodemus weighed so carefully. Is it any wonder that he seemed hesitant and defensive?
I personally came to faith more like the Samaritan woman. I had rebelled against my religious training and ended up a fraternity boy. If you have seen the movie "Animal House," you have a picture of me as the John Belushi character- Then one rainy Sunday afternoon, the day after Valentine's Day, alone in my dorm room; a fresh Wind blew my way. It was as if Jesus had walked right into my heart.
We have come here today from different directions. No two life paths have been the same. We are a mix of folks who have been randomly blown together by a common Wind. Some of us may not be totally sure why we are here. Maybe a friend half-drug you to the Sanctuary. You may feel like a stranger even in a familiar place. You are in here but feel deep down that your soul is sitting on the curb. Just as Jesus compelled Nicodemus to open up his heart to him, so is he the source of the rustling in our souls. Could it be a common assurance that our new everlasting life has begun already, and that we are just a heartbeat away from that ultimate reunion, with Him, in glory? Our tickets are punched and we are waiting for our flight to be called.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor