No rules…just love
March 12, 2017

No rules…just love

Passage: John 3:1-17

Lent 2 A; St. John’s Gig Harbor; 3/12/17


The story of Nicodemus in today’s gospel is RICH.  It is full of themes and invitations to explore further what deeper meanings might be lying in its depth.  Consequently, it took me a while to land on one for this morning.  But what my mind keeps coming back to in this story, is its insistence for us to see another way—to imagine something different from what we have known.


Nicodemus was not only a Pharisee, he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leadership.  He was at the top of his game—highly regarded in the community, in the inner circle of governance, and he knew the law like nobody’s business.  He understood exactly what it meant to live in accordance with what was required by Judaic commandments.  In fact, there wasn’t much he didn’t know.


And yet, in today’s short exchange with Jesus, Nicodemus becomes quickly befuddled.


Nicodemus tells Jesus that he believes Jesus is from God and Jesus responds with a non sequitur of epic proportion, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”


Nicodemus becomes stuck on what he hears as ‘born again’ and takes it to mean a literal rebirth.  To be fair to Nicodemus, the Greek word used here has varied interpretations:  born again, born anew, and born from above.  It is an ambiguous term and it not only snags Nicodemus, it challenges everything he has come to know.

Nicodemus believes that his entry into the kingdom of God is dependent upon following the law—if he follows Torah perfectly, he will be saved.  The formula has come down to him through the centuries –there are rules to be obeyed, and adherence to the rules is the only true way to assure God’s grace and protection.


But Jesus is talking of something more—Jesus is talking of rebirth.


Do you remember how this gospel begins?  We last heard it on Christmas Eve.  Let me refresh your memory to this particular bit about Jesus the Christ:


He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood or the will of the flesh or the will of man, but of God.


Born anew, born from above.

Poor Nicodemus.  He is so full of knowledge, so convinced he knows the hows and whys of the kingdom of God; he is even able to recognize Jesus as a teacher who has come from God, and yet what he fails to grasp, is that it is relationship to which he’s called:  Relationship with God; intimate, loving, unconditional---as a child of God.


It is relationship that echoes through our Genesis reading as well.  Abram takes his barren wife and his nephew and leaves all he’s ever known because he trusts God.  God promises that Abram will be blessed and be a blessing; that a great nation will arise from Abram—somehow-- in spite of his barren wife, and Abram believes him.  This kind of trust can only come through relationship; from the knowledge that we are beloved and that God only wants what’s best for us.


But when we think we have all the answers already, when we don’t allow room for anything other than the rules we already know, our conversion to this belief can be slow in coming.


For instance, from the time I hit puberty, in one way or another, I have been at war with my body.  For decades now, achieving and, more importantly, maintaining a healthy weight has been a struggle for me; for too much of that time, I was on the prowl for the secret key that would open that door to lasting liberation.


Now, I am an intelligent person and I know all the rules and laws of weight loss.  Really, I do.  I know all about carbohydrates, and the difference between the good and the bad; I understand the dangers of partially hydrogenated oils; I’ve read about the evils of cured meats, the addictive quality of cheese, and I understand the benefits of fruits and vegetables.  I have moved more and eaten less; I have eschewed all carbohydrates; I have fasted, eliminated caffeine, dairy, soy, alcohol, processed foods, gluten and meat.


And what I have learned, in my efforts, is that for some of us, sound as they might be, the law and the rules aren’t enough.  Rules and laws provide no compassion, or insight, or redemption; they are instead, rigid, black and white, and the only choices they offer are salvation or condemnation.


But the other day I heard someone say something that, while it wasn’t new to me, I was able to hear in new way:  I heard a woman who had lost over 100 pounds say that, this time, what was vital to her success, was committing to “aggressive self-love”.  Never mind that ‘aggressive love’ seems like an oxymoron, what is key here is love.


As in the words of our confession, “…we have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves…” Except sadly, some of us would never dream of treating our neighbors as poorly as we do ourselves!


You see, in the end, it’s all related—God is loving us, which enables us to not only love others, but to believe we are loveable as well.  Once again, Love is the key that unlocks all the doors.  Rules and laws might assist us, but if we cling too tightly to them, as if they are our life raft, we will forget that we are floating in the immensity of grace that is God’s love.  God is calling us to let go, stretch out on our backs, and trust that we will be utterly supported.  God is calling us to rest in God’s love.


Nicodemus thought he had drawn the shades tight around all he knew to be true, and yet a tiny bit of light crept in nonetheless.  In this new light he was able to consider something else, he was invited to see in a fresh way, from a different perspective.  The light befuddled him at first, contrary as it was to his black and white world, but it took up residence in his soul and there it began to expand and illumine his world.  It gave him courage to speak up for the young rabbi when the others were eager to convict; and in the end, it spurred him to prodigious excess in his offering of myrrh and aloes through which he and Joseph of Arimathea would embrace Jesus’ dead, broken, body.


Now, here, in the midst of your Lenten journey, what is Jesus inviting you to see differently than you previously have?  What shaft of light is piercing the darkness of your certainty?  Where are you too bound to formulaic rules and laws in your life and what might it mean to let go and trust your relationship with God?


Even as we discipline ourselves, we do so in the knowledge that we are loved; therefore be gracious with yourself; speak to your sweet soul as if you were speaking to your beloved, or your child.  Remember, in all the facets of your life, that you have been charged with looking after God’s own child and respond accordingly.

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