Ephesians 2: 1-10
JOHN 3: 14-21

March 10, 2024

There in the midst of a dark night … a leader of the power-focused religious club called the Pharisees wandered down a street carefully looking over his shoulder. He did not want to be found out, but he was looking to find someone or something that was missing from his life. It might be the best of a classic detective story. It might be the makings of a great mystery movie … would he be spotted in his quest by those who could do him harm … would he find what he was looking for? Would he safely find what he needed to find without the wrong people discovering that he was out there searching? Ah a great mystery indeed.

This man was searching for life changing illumination … an essential game of hide and seek. This man more than likely chose not to wear the distinctive clothing that identified him during the daylight hours perhaps he even went in disguise … searching for answers, perhaps merely hoping to find clues … fully understanding that he had already noticed that his politically focused self preservation group was afraid of the light of day that this rebel or some might call Jesus a revolutionary was bringing to the masses. They did not like hearing that a message about love or even worse a message about caring for the poor or declaring humanity’s need to feed the hungry or to welcome strangers was resonating with everyday people … they had done their best turn God’s truths into mysteries and misconceptions that benefited themselves. They were doing all they could to hide the essential messages from the Torah, the Prophets, and the other treasures of God’s Word … keep them hidden from everyday people was their goal.

Nicodemus, friends had noticed that there was something more that he needed in his life. More than power, wealth, and prestige. Nicodemus DID NOT HAVE TO GO SEARCHING for JESUS … he already was amongst the elite of his age. He could stare down the average citizen just because of who he was aligned with and cause those citizens to go weak in their knees. He could attend the best parties and already was wearing a uniform of distinction. I am sure his parents whom we know nothing about … would have been bragging about this son Nicodemus … he was a Pharisee, on the right side of the day’s debates. Well, not quite a Roman but the Romans certainly appreciated having the Pharisees at hand to condemn anyone who stood up for justice … anyone who cared about the poor … anyone who even hinted at equality amongst all the people and yet Nicodemus quietly went down the darkened streets in this calculated game to find Jesus.

According to John, Jesus had just been in Jerusalem standing up against those very same Pharisees who were counting the coins they brought into their personal bank accounts in the very Temple of God. It was the Passover … and Jesus was busy teaching and taking on miraculous challenges amongst the broken, the despised, and yes, those rejected by people like Nicodemus … the powerful of His day. Despite what some folks in our times try to claim about Jesus’ life … He was not actively judging nor condemning … He was performing miracles out of love and teaching anyone who could hear that the God of creation is focused on love; loving God as Micah taught, loving every single neighbor as the Torah clearly demanded … and standing up for justice for all the people … feeding the hungry and the poor. And, amongst the Pharisees … at least one leader named Nicodemus had noticed, paid attention, and decided that he needed to discover more.

Once he was finally sitting across from Jesus and feeling that he had not been noticed by those who might turn him into the loud, bullying leaders he worked for … Nicodemus looked into Jesus’ dark brown eyes and said, “We know you are a teacher … a teacher who has come from God! For no one could do these miraculous signs that you have been doing unless you had God with you. So, Jesus what in the world is going on? I don’t want to waste any more of my time … to find out.

Jesus calmly and assuredly looked at this confused, curious, concerned religious leader and provided answers that have stood for more than two thousand years. Answers all too often taken nonchalantly by those religious types who really don’t want to align with Jesus and prefer to be able to focus on their human journeys but there in His answers … Jesus provides answers that should lead any of us towards God. Answers that encourage us if we have spent moments searching to actually discover what God wants from us in our lives.

Jesus said, “God, DID NOT SEND HIS SON INTO THE WORLD TO JUDGE THE WORLD … but that the world might be saved through Him.” Jesus continued, “I assure you that unless someone is born anew … it is not possible to see God’s Kingdom. DO NOT BE SURPRISED… that I said you must be born anew!”

Jesus was trying to explain the greatest love story of all time … Jesus was laying out the answers for this priest but also sharing the same message that He had for the tax collector and for the prostitute and for the farmer and the banker and the insurance agent and the child and the retiree and the teacher and the athlete and the soldier and the police officer and even those religious leaders who would one day get a crowd to join in the chanting that took Jesus to the pain of the cross … and for you and me.

YOUR CHOICE … God’s LOVE … your time is limited and God did not send me, Jesus, to damn, condemn, or even put you down … God did not send Jesus to get you to point fingers, to mock, and to condemn certain individuals who do not seem to be like the religious ‘in crowd’s’ members or even like you … No, Jesus was explaining that Jesus came to SAVE ALL THE WORLD and to teach the lessons God believes that all of humanity needs to hear.

Nicodemus recognized Him and John referred to Jesus as a teacher. A teacher who pointed out that we who are human should not be hidden away living like the people of the world following destructive powers … doing what feels good for power, comfort, or personal gain … Jesus declared again and again and in this meeting with Nicodemus did not hold back, “Whoever believes is not judged but whoever DOES NOT BELIEVE is already judged because they do not believe in the name of God’s only Son.” Jesus then explains it more clearly, “the light, Jesus, came into the world and people loved the darkness more than the light for their actions are evil. ALL who do wicked things HATE THE LIGHT and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed. WHOEVER DOES THE TRUTH comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”

And, friends … time is flying by. In fact, time is SPRINGING FORWARD … we lost an hour at 2am this morning but have you lost your needed time to be transitioned from being locked into the world with all of its division and strife into the place God wants you to be at? Do you have faith? Are you focused on your relationship with God? Have you wasted your opportunities to live as one of “God’s accomplishments” as Jesus would say?

Paul in writing to that early church in Ephesus writes words that hopefully apply to all of us and to anyone who lives as a Christian, “You used to be like people of this world. You followed the rules of destructive powers. God is rich in mercy … God brings us to life with Christ … God does this because of God’s great love that God has for ALL of humanity. You are SAVED by God’s grace BECAUSE of your faith.” Paul was challenging those church members to focus in on their lives … he talks about future generations being rescued because the current generation, which is all of us, should be sharing the message of God’s “greatness of God’s grace that God has shown us through Jesus Christ … God’s gift for all who accept it.”

And, here we are in the season of Lent … we have lost an hour of time but the more important question for each of us to consider is whether we right now have been losing our lives to fit in with the world. We need to consider whether we are willing to take on the challenges of faith … to search and find once again a relationship with God through Jesus Christ that God planned for us to have.

As I was driving yesterday afternoon a classic song came up on my playlist from those great Philadelphia singers, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes. It was unplanned but I chuckled because of the pending time change … the song “Wake Up Everybody” is to me a song of great clarity for how we are to live. Not how we must live but how we are to live.

If you heard about a man named Jesus who was out on the streets preaching about loving ALL of our neighbors … a man who was declaring that those amongst the powerful who treasured war and hate were going against God … a passionate and powerful voice who said that God wants us to care for the poor, to feed the hungry, to house the homeless … would you rush to see Him in person? Or would you be more comfortable sneaking to have a conversation when no one could see you?

The song WAKE UP EVERYBODY declares, “No more backward thinkin’ … time for thinkin’ ahead. The world has changed so very much from what it used to be. There is so much hatred, war and poverty. Wake up all the teachers time to teach a new way. Maybe they’ll listen to what you have to say. Cause they’re the ones who’s comin’ up and the world is in their hands. When you teach the children, teach ‘em the very best you can. The world won’t get no better if we just let it be. We gotta change it just you and me. Come on preachers start preachin’ what you teach. Teach the truth. WAKE UP … now it don’t matter what race, creed, or dolor. Everyone we need each other. WAKE UP EVERYBODY!”

I wish I could sing it like they do … but friends if you have been allowing your faith to sleep … if you have thought that all it took was to say you are a Christian but you never changed … never were born anew … if you enjoy the world’s darkness more than God’s light … time is flying by. The prophet Jeremiah shared God’s hopes … “the Lord God declares, ‘For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope, and a future.”

Paul wrote, “We are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus, to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.”

That’s God’s plan … God’s hope … God shone the light for us to follow in Jesus Christ but as Jesus told that man whose day job was being powerful and seemingly religious … “You must be born anew.” You must change … you must leave behind your connections to the world and live as a believer so that your life reflects “the truth that comes to the light so that it can be seen that your actions were done in God.”

And, we know that on that day when Jesus was hung on the cross that who was there to care … Nicodemus. And, once the tomb was empty and the world could shout HE IS RISEN <<He is Risen Indeed>> I have no doubt that the Pharisee named Nicodemus was there living a life as a follower of Jesus Christ … his questions answered, his discovery of God’s love in Christ real … not afraid to be one of God’s people no matter what the world might say.

It’s time to WAKE UP EVERYBODY … the world needs those of us who know Jesus Christ to actually live and act like He is the essential teacher and Savior in our lives. AMEN

© 2017- St. Paul's United Methodist Church, West Deptford, NJ