There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“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.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
When tucking young children into bed, they may share many ways to stall having to go to sleep. They need a drink of water, another hug, one more book read or another stuffed animal tucked under the covers. But many kids are also afraid of the dark. When when they grow up, the fear usually abates. But night and darkness still have a sense of mystery as compared to a day of sunshine and blue skies where you can see every detail all around you.
It’s no coincidence that Nicodemus seeks Jesus out at night, is my guess. The symbolism of a nighttime inquiry of Jesus from a religious leader adds to the drama and alludes to the darkness that comes before the enlightenment of learning and new knowledge. I picture Nicodemus stealthily moving in the cover of night to find Jesus to get first hand clarification on the new teachings that are spreading around the area. Questioning the religious leadership was not a common or allowable circumstance. But Nicodemus must have had a thousand questions about the gospel of love and acceptance being taught by Jesus, throwing all the rules the Jewish people held as sacred, right out on their ear. And the fear of the unknown must have been overwhelming as Nicodemus worked to get a better understanding of how his life as a Pharisee would be changing. What a brave move to confront his fears and seek deeper understanding of Jesus!
Jesus’ words in this week’s Gospel reading from John are some of the most famous words of the Christian faith shared throughout the world. “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.” I remember seeing a colorfully wigged man at nationally televised NFL games with a big poster with John 3:16 painted boldly on it (some pretty persistent evangelism if you ask me!) and we used to hear the verse every Sunday at church from the Priest just before the passing of the Peace. It is one of the greatest summaries of our faith. Through love, we are promised eternal life; our earthly lives are not all there is to our existence. Another mystery really, as our human brains can’t even understand what that really means for us.
But as we read the Word, spend time in prayer and listening to God and do his Kingdom work with love in our daily lives, the darkness of our limited imagination begins to be illuminated with the wisdom that comes from a deeper relationship with Christ. Nicodemus knew how to be religious leader before Jesus came along and cast doubts on his way of living. He was brave and went looking for answers. He heard radical things that most likely felt contradictory to what he might have always believed. This reading doesn’t share what Nicodemus did with this new-found knowledge and command for living; but we Christians have access to Jesus’ teaching. We have to keep learning about and practicing our faith to stay out of darkness. Do not be afraid of stepping out in faith; be more afraid of what will happen if you don’t.
God of light, push away our darkness and our fear and show us the way to live faithfully in your love. Teach us your ways and help us walk with you every day in the light of your gifts of grace and mercy. We are not worthy but gratefully accept the gift of eternal life and perfect healing in you, O Great Redeemer! AMEN.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
When the Super Bowl came to Dallas in 2011, we had an epic ice and snow winter storm. We were stranded in our house and unable to drive out of the driveway for several days. It didn’t get above freezing for about 5 days and was bone-chillingly cold overnight. On about day 3 of the enforced ice-in, we lost power for most of the day. It was 8 degrees outside and the temperature was dropping quickly in the house. Luckily, we have a wood burning fireplace and were able to keep the temperature somewhat liveable. But it was a cloudy day and quite dark inside, making it hard to read a book – one of the only activities we could do with no power or no heat! We opened the refrigerator sparingly to keep the food from spoiling. We had some moments of brevity (have I mentioned we are native Floridians and do not enjoy any aspect of the cold weather???) including some simulations with candles at the table in an homage to Abe Lincoln’s log cabin way of life! Light became a fleeting commodity that day and the failure of my refrigerator bereft of power made me think about the old ways of life where preservation of meat was dependent upon the use of salt.
This reading spawns great memories of one of my favorite childhood Vacation Bible School songs, “This Little Light of Mine.” as well as the a reminder of the saying that some of our older generations use when referring to down to earth type REAL people as “Salt of the Earth.” Jesus tells the multitudes present for the Sermon on the Mount that being a follower of Christ gives you the tools to be a game changer for yourself and others through the metaphors of salt and light.
I think a lot about my legacy. I have moved about in my career, working in several states and changing positions every few years within the school leadership framework. I start every new job with the end in mind….what will my legacy be when I am long gone? What will the impact of my presence be on the community? When I think like that and use the mission and vision of the organization, I have found that I spend less time focusing on the details and more time focusing on the big picture issues and decisions.
When I read about Jesus’ teachings, and think about that perspective of legacy, I think that is what Jesus is telling his followers in this Sermon. He doesn’t discard rules, but rather claims them and fulfills them through the lens of love. The commandments that we have are meant to be followed, but it is not about the following that Jesus concerns himself. To provide a metaphor, the rules for driving on the highway need to be followed to keep drivers safe. But there is no rule for courtesy – it is something that is appreciated within the order of driving safely. Nobody likes a rude driver, right?
Salt and light are regular, everyday things that today we may take for granted (until we don’t have them in a power outage!!!). Salt makes food taste better and has historically been used as a preservative. Light shows us the way to get around in the dark, or gives us more time to spend in conversation with friends and family. The opposite of light is darkness; and the good things we do generally don’t get done in the dark, right? The parables and metaphors that Jesus uses to teach simple folks like us make it easier for us to understand the very complex concept of grace and mercy and God’s will for us. He speaks in this teaching about the end of life goal for heaven and that we must remove those things which separate us from God. Following the commandments is still necessary, but the rules alone won’t be fulfilling God’s promise. We must love; bring light to others and make flavorful our lives and those of others with the salt God gives us.
Heaven awaits and Jesus has paved the way.
Jesus, you are Light and Salt of the earth and want us to be the same in your kingdom. Show us the way and keep us straight on our path to everlasting life in You. AMEN.