It was night when he showed up.
When one sleepless night turned into another, Nicodemus went searching for Jesus in the dark. Longing for something bigger than himself – sensing that there was more to this life – Nicodemus, like so many of us, went looking for God in the dark.
Nicodemus did not plan on meeting Jesus when he did. He was going about his life as he knew it when he first encountered Christ. Something about Jesus’ voice made him want to listen. Something about Jesus’ presence lit up what had become a dark and limited worldview. Something in Jesus’ message spoke a deep truth that his soul longed to hear. And Nicodemus could not shake it. “Could his message be true?” he wondered. And for perhaps the first time, he did not know. For all that Nicodemus did know, there was so much that he did not know.
When Nicodemus arrived at Jesus’ doorstep, it seemed like Jesus had been waiting for him all along. Over the course of their conversation, Jesus listened to Nicodemus’ many, many questions. And to Nicodemus’ many, many questions, Jesus spoke a message of love, rebirth, and transformation. Jesus spoke about the power to recreate this world and all its creatures by the power of love. This new thing that God was doing in and through Jesus through the power of love was healing balm to Nicodemus’ soul, depleted by the political upheaval experienced by a person living under occupation.
Believing in a pregnant God who wanted to birth a new world in the shell of the old – imagining that this pregnant God wanted to recreate her children so that they could see this new world – seemed unrealistic if not unimaginable to Nicodemus, wearied by the changes and chances of this life.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘To see my kingdom that I am talking about, you must be born again by the power of love. You must enter into the womb of a laboring God until she births you into something so new that you are able to see the world differently, and yet familiar enough, that you are able to recognize the world around you.” Be born again by love.
And by the end of this conversation, Jesus, exasperated by Nicodemus’ inability to understand, yet trusting in his ability to wrestle with this hard saying, tells Nicodemus, “Are you a teacher of Israel – part of the religious institution – and yet you do not understand these things?”
On the surface of things, we might think that Nicodemus left the conversation in disbelief. But as the gospel of John reminds us, Nicodemus’ last testament of faith was at the foot of the cross. After Jesus died, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were the only ones who showed up to collect Jesus’ dead body. Nicodemus showed up to collect the one who said that he was king and would rule forever and yet was seemingly defeated in his crucifixion and death. His action mimicked his own faith in Christ revealing that things are not always as they seem. Jesus trusted Nicodemus with this hard saying. And it is Nicodemus’ very question that occasions this new revelation of what is possible in Christ.
We are in a Nicodemus moment right now.
As a country and as the Episcopal Church, we are not so dissimilar from Nicodemus. If we are honest, we, too, struggle to believe that we can be born again. That God’s love really does have the power to make a new world in the shell of the old. It all seems a bit unrealistic. People don’t change, the status quo is the status quo. And like Nicodemus, we have gone looking for Jesus in the night.
The night being this time that we are in. A time when our leaders continue to assault the dignity of every human being. A time when we do not have to think hard about the last time the headline news reported on the most recent insult hurled against a beloved child of God, be it referring to human beings as “animals” or “deplorables,” or name-calling a war hero facing the final days of his life. These assaults are not only immoral, but antithetical to the gospel – a faith that affirms the dignity of every human being.
In the dark of night, a time when we as the Episcopal Church have felt these fractures in our own relationships. A time when we have allowed our partisan politics, fear of standing up for our Christian values, unchecked sexism or patriotism to trump over our Christian identity. We are at the point that Christians leaders throughout our country, including our own Presiding Bishop, have produced a manifesto, “Reclaiming Jesus,” to remind us as a church of our Christian values, and that fundamental to our belief is that humanity is made in the image and likeness of God. I recommend you take time to read and pray on this manifesto.
Like Nicodemus, we have struggled to see just how a new world could be birthed. We have struggled to understand how the love made known in Jesus Christ still has the power to recreate. That all of us can be given a vision to see this new world that God continues to birth in our midst.
But last week, we were reminded otherwise. We were given a reprieve from the status quo as we celebrated the power of love. We were going about life as we know it, watching just another royal couple get married, when we met Jesus through the word and witness of our very own Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry.
There was something about the Presiding Bishop’s voice, something about his message, something about his very presence as an African American man in a historically white space, that made the world want to hear more.
The Presiding Bishop began his sermon by celebrating the human love shared between the royal couple and how it united where we are often divided. He said, “two people fell in love and we all showed up!” He quickly pointed to the source of their love being God, and reminded us all of love’s power to recreate us and our world.
He offered examples of this from history, citing the experience and witness of black Christians during the time of slavery, through the antebellum South, through the civil rights movement, and right up until this moment. He quoted Christian martyr the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make this old world a new world. Love is the only way.”
It was not lost on the world that we were witnessing the enactment of a new world being made from the shell of the old by the power of love.
It was not lost on the Episcopal Church that our Presiding Bishop was asked to be part of a service with the Archbishop of Canterbury, a relationship strained by our divided view on marriage equality.
It was not lost on the world that a beloved child of God who is half black and half white from another country married into a historically all white family. That her mother was the first African American woman to become part of a royal family picture.
It was not lost on the world that our Presiding Bishop, an African American man who descended from slaves, preached at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, a space that at one point in history propagated the enslavement of his ancestors in God’s name. “There is balm in Gilead. To make the wounded whole.”
The world was in exuberant shock.
How could this be?
“How can anyone be born after having grown old? How can things really change?”
And this exuberant shock continues. Somehow our Presiding Bishop was invited to shows such as The View, The Today Show, CNN, and Fox News to talk about Jesus. It was like having church while watching TV.
And this is the good news for us this morning: that God’s love still has the power to recreate us and our world! We just need to be open to the Spirit’s moment. We may just need to be born again, and again, and again so we can see this new thing that God is doing in our midst.
In this season of Pentecost, may we all be reminded of the Holy Spirit’s presence that empowers each one of us to proclaim God’s love. May we take comfort in the fact that despite our own disbelief or our own shortcomings, God is still able and willing to birth a new thing in our midst. And may we be born again, so that we might see this new world, and what is possible in our lifetime, today. Amen.