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Lent 2 Year A RCL March 16, 2014

Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-7

In our opening reading today, we encounter the great icon of faith, Abram, who will later become Abraham. Abram and his wife Sarai, who will later become Sarah, have a comfortable life. But when God calls Abraham to take Sarah and all their possessions and go to the land of Canaan and start a new nation, Abraham says Yes to God. The journey of Abraham and Sarah will lead them into whole new identities.

Abraham has no idea where Canaan is or how to get there. He is taking a journey into the unknown. But, if God wants him to go and found a nation that will be a blessing to all nations, even when he and Sarah have no children, Abraham is going to take that journey. He has faith that God will indeed bless him, and he has courage, the kind of courage that astronauts have, or sea captains have when they set out to find a new world.

Our psalm describes the kind of relationship we need to have with God when we set out on the journey of life. We need to know that God is going to be with us, God is going to do all that God can to protect us and help us. God cannot shield us from every adversity, but God will be there to guide us and comfort us. We are so fortunate that we can lift up our eyes to the hills and feel the loving protection of God.

In our gospel for today we have another courageous person. Nicodemus is a member of the Sanhedrin, the council that is in charge of the Temple in Jerusalem and is also the governing body of Judah. This group of men has a huge amount of power. They are the religious and political leaders. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, an expert on the law. He is a scholar and a very intelligent man. He is also wealthy, as are all the members of the Council. He is an astute politician, accustomed to the power dynamics which take place at the highest levels of any government.

Nicodemus has a lot to lose. He is at the top of the political and religious structure of Judah. And yet there is something about this Jesus which draws him like a magnet. It would be foolhardy to go and see Jesus in the daytime, so he goes to visit Jesus under cover of night. If anyone knew that he was doing this, he would lose his job, his position of respect, and possibly even his life.

The Pharisees and others are already keeping their eyes on this Jesus, thinking that he is a major troublemaker. Nicodemus clearly respects Jesus. He says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do the things that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Jesus’ response makes a quantum leap into a whole new world. “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” This blows Nicodemus’ theology right out of the water. He has never heard such talk. He goes to the literal level and asks Jesus if people have to go back into their mother’s womb and be born again. Jesus says, “No, the Holy Spirit does this. And then Jesus says that he is the Savior, the One sent from God because God loves us so much that God wants us to have life in a new dimension, starting right now. We have no idea what Nicodemus’ reaction is to this.

The next time we meet Nicodemus is in Chapter 7 of John’s gospel when the authorities are plotting to condemn Jesus. With great courage, Nicodemus asks, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing, does it?” The authorities accuse Nicodemus of being from Galilee, in other words, an ally of Jesus. (7:50-51.)

Our final meeting with Nicodemus takes place at the saddest time of all. Jesus has been crucified. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin and a secret follower of Jesus, risks everything and asks Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body from the Cross.  Nicodemus comes with one hundred pounds of costly spices with which to anoint the body of Jesus. Together, they take our Lord from the cross. They are exposing themselves to ritual uncleanness by handling a dead body. Their careers will be over. Their lives may be in danger.

Yet together they gently and lovingly lift the beloved body off the spikes, reverently anoint it with spices and wrap it in cloths for burial. Then they place the body of Jesus in the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus have clearly been transformed. They have entered the kingdom of Jesus. They have been born anew.

We have no idea about the stages of Nicodemus’ journey, but we see these profoundly moving glimpses. He is willing to risk everything for Jesus. Just this one encounter with Jesus allowed Nicodemus to be born again. Just those few moments with Jesus began his process of transformation. What a wonderful example for us,

May we be open to the love of Jesus and the power of the Spirit.

Amen.

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