JOHN 3: 1-8


He knew he had to be changed. That’s the real story of Nicodemus my friends, this man who hung out with the elite Pharisees who were wrapped up in themselves, quick to put down those who weren’t part of their circle, and the developers of their own set of realities had worn Nicodemus down.

And, this man of faith kept hearing about the works and teachings of this man Jesus. Frankly, this Jewish leader knew that if he continued along his path of life that he would be swallowed up in the misery and enveloped in the dark clouds of fear and division. So, he knew he had to meet up with this Jesus of Nazareth. But, he couldn’t admit his need to see Jesus to those with whom he spent his days so under the cover of darkness Nicodemus came to see Jesus because he needed to move forward … he needed to shred his old life. He frankly, needed to be born again!

Friends, the arrival of a New Year brings so many promises of hope. In fact the shirt I am wearing this morning says WE CHOOSE HOPE over FEAR! HOPE over FEAR; one would think that most living and breathing and thinking human beings would have the instinctive control of our personal decisions to always choose HOPE over FEAR yet fear has so much power … fear crushes love by using language and actions that diminish the human condition leaving each person with the choice of alignment but hinting that aligning with hope will cause the bulrush of the purveyors of fear to target the hopeful.

But, on this New Year’s Day of 2021 I am hear to remind each of us that the God of Creation … the God who is truly God not some human uplifted to unworthy stature by desperate followers … not a brass calf nor a golden throne keeper … God has for each of us is PERFECT LOVE. John the disciple who shared the visit of Nicodemus in his Gospel writes later that “GOD IS LOVE … and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.”

It should be no surprise to any of us that Jesus who that night shone the bright light of salvation in Nicodemus’ heart declared that those who follow Him will be known as His followers because of our love for all others … it should be clear then that our faith walk with God is a walk as John wrote “where there is no fear because there is no fear in love and perfect love casts our fear. We love because he first loved us.”

So, where does that put us on a New Year’s Day during a 24 hour cycle where literally millions of people are making resolutions about their plans for the year. Although I do not make resolutions … I know that this beard grown because of the arrival of isolation and COVID will be trimmed back later today … I know that this belly that has grown through isolation will hopefully begin its diminishing process but the most important thing we all need to do effective in this moment is to totally SHRED the year 2020 from our minds and move forward.

WILL YOU DO IT … gather all the stuff that has been bringing you down … all the garbage that you have been willing to listen to or perhaps even share yourself in your words and social media posts … all the hate and name calling … all the FEAR … oh my friends, we have allowed FEAR to overcome our sensibilities we have relied on humans telling us our neighbors and our brothers and sisters are attempting do great damage to us just because they vote differently when truthfully each is just as good of a neighbor and just as patriotic as those who are on the other side yet rather than relying on God’s lessons of love we have allowed louder voices and people made millions of dollars for the sole purpose of getting us angry to lead us.

Think about it … and I know in the beginning of the pandemic I was counselling Nurse Cindy from Medford Lakes whose entire day was spent watching the talking heads of television and she was living in panic, fear, anger, which affected her mental health, her relationships, and her physical health. WE … the collective WE … invest our time watching and listening to men and women whose job is to divide when we say we are Christians who believe in the true God whose message is to come together in love … we claim to be followers of Jesus yet we invest literally hundreds of hours watching or listening to individuals paid millions to divide us and they are not leaders … they are contagious destroyers of the human spirit and soul. We now have networks creating incredibly inane stories about people they don’t like that have no basis in truth but the goal is hate and divide.

I want to ask you friends … are you ready? To move forward … to come to Jesus … ARE YOU WILLING TO SHRED IT ALL … leave the past behind and move forward.

Paul teaches us “Beware of the dogs … beware of evil workers. This one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal of the heavenly CALL OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS.”

And, Nicodemus states the facts as he has come to accept them as he looks into Jesus eyes, “We know you have come from God. No one could do these signs unless God is with Him.”

And, Jesus my friends begins to share the transformation that we need if we are willing to shred the life that is now part of history books so that we can follow Him. “Jesus answered Nicodemus, “I assure you that unless someone is born again IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO SEE GOD’s KINGDOM.”

Friends, Jesus was not talking about a momentary hand wave in a revival church service where an evangelist with a clicker counting numbers calls everyone up forward because that evangelist cares only for the moment but God requires the transition … God requires the new birth in Jesus Christ … a birth into the love process; the love life; and the willingness to stand and accept the Spirit of God as our guide. Just like Nicodemus, none of you should be “surprised” by this because you know exactly who you are … you know exactly what your connection with God is and whether you read the Holy Scriptures each day … whether you pray … or whether you giggle when you see the hate meme’s on social media targeting the politicians or the political philosophy you dislike.

Jesus said, “Don’t be surprised that I said to you” AND, right now in this moment you need to know Jesus and God are directing this at us in this moment of worship … DO NOT BE SURPRISED Jesus said, “that you must be born anew. God’s Spirit … you will hear its sound.”

So, are you ready to shred 2020 and for that matter anything from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, or any other year that has been bringing you down, tormenting you, taking you away from God and Christ. Are you ready to shred those influence makers who energize the non-loving part of your humanity that causes you to gloat when your opponents lose and to scream and rant when the other side wins? ARE YOU READY to SHRED IT and MOVE FORWARD for the sake of your personal eternal life … for the sake of your health and stability … and for the sake of those who come in contact with you throughout the year?

Most of us can quote JOHN 3:16 by heart … “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Of course we usually forget to add verse 17 but Nicodemus heard the entire teaching of Jesus that night. Jesus added, “God didn’t send His Son into the world to judge the world but that the world might be saved through Him.” However, Jesus continued reminding Nicodemus who was a leader whose day time job had him hanging with the powerful dividers and condemners of his time that “the Light (meaning Jesus) came into the world and people loved darkness more than the light for their actions are evil. All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. Whoever does the truth comes to the light (Jesus) so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”

Same as today … we have the choice … but faith and belief is not merely saying you raised your hand or stood up in church one day. Faith is a choice … faith is represented in actions this is according to Jesus not just my words but the Messiah’s words. So, I ask again on this first day of 2021, are you ready to shred what has been the past so that you can join with me in the perfect love of God, loving our neighbors and leaving fear behind for the hope and the truth of God? I hope so … it’s time to be in the light … SEND IT PLEASE! AMEN

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