Monday, March 2, 2015

You Shoulda Seen It

You Shoulda Seen It
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
March 1, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 3: 16-21
Jonah 2: 1-9
Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

16 “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.
17 “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. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”[1]

Much has happened since we were last together. Due to the snowy weather that has buried us lately we missed two distinct chances to worship together, Ash Wednesday and Last Sunday, and so find ourselves without any markers deep into Lent, at least a week and a half in. . . and the snow has not melted, though we have plowed our way through it to be here this morning, and we continue from where we left off two weeks ago. It was on that Sunday that I preached on John 3:16 as the definition of Love, the idea of sacrifice of self, and the week before that we began talking about this exchange that Jesus has with Nicodemus that we close this morning.  In order to close this out, and understand this last portion, we must remember that Nicodemus has come to Jesus in the middle of the night, remember that he witnessed to Jesus that he was definitely a teacher sent by God, and that Jesus then did not receive the compliment very well. He went on to challenge Nicodemus, telling him that he is very much missing out, then gave Nicodemus the teaching that so many have for so long taken so much heart in, and then as he does in this morning's reading accuse Nicodemus, it would seem of preferring the darkness over the light because he has something to hide. Let's first take this in the most literal way possible. It all takes place at night. John goes out of his way to say that Nicodemus came at night, that it appeared to be a secret meeting between Nicodemus and Jesus, all seeming that Nicodemus has something to hide by it all. But hide from whom? Is he hiding his meeting with Jesus from the people? Is he hiding his meeting with Jesus from the other Pharisees? Nicodemus says, "we know" you come from God. Who is the we? It would seem the other Pharisees. . . but did they send him, or is he on his own? The answer to these questions is not given, but do you wonder if Jesus wondered about their answer? Because Jesus doesn't seem to care about who Nicodemus is lying to, just that he is lying, preferring to keep things hidden, preferring the darkness to the light. So here it is, Nicodemus is standing before Jesus, he knows something is special about him, but he just doesn't realize. . . he doesn't see it. . . and therefore, at least at this point he is an example of not believing and receiving. He doesn't see it, and he shoulda seen it.
He is a teacher of the law, a religious professional, and a man of God, someone who has dedicated his entire life to the service of God, but he doesn't see it. But John does and the disciples do, and in the next chapter, the next story a Samaritan Woman will have a greater clue and make a greater witness to who Jesus is than this man, Nicodemus. Why couldn't he see it? He shoulda seen it?
Perhaps we can take what Jesus said and apply it here, he cannot see the light because he chose the darkness over the light. . . but at which point. We've already said that the most literal is that he has come to Jesus in the night like he is embarrassed about coming to see Jesus at all, and then it would make sense that, that is the darkness Jesus is referring to, and that may be, but that still doesn't get at why Nicodemus could not recognize Jesus as God, believing and receiving being what is set up here as important so far in this gospel. What are we to make of this, and it's placement here within the beginning of the Gospel. The language mirrors the beginning, the talk of the light and the darkness, and the light coming into the world, but some choosing the darkness instead. . . here we have Jesus reiterating that very important teaching. . . and there it is also the parallel of believing and receiving, hinted at in the "those that believeth in him, may have eternal life. . . " believing and then receiving, here eternal life. But to many this teaching especially the John 3:16 part is not taken in its narrow context to just be about Nicodemus, but rather expanded to each of us personally, so maybe we could do the same to this second part, because if John's Gospel to this point is about believing and receiving then that is important, and choosing the darkness over the light would seem to be a real barrier to that, as shown here, regardless of the questions surrounding Nicodemus. We do not know Nicodemus's mind and heart, but we do know our own.  
What is the darkness that we desire instead of the light. Are we like Nicodemus just seeking out Jesus in the dead of the night? Or is it much more intense than that? Or do we find that we very much do believe and receive Jesus Christ, and can't then even relate at all to this light and dark dichotomy? I would imagine that as much as we hold John 3:16 to our hearts, there is a bit of John 3:19 in us too, especially when the times get hard and we are very much in the deepest darkness of the pit. I chose to change the Old Testament reading to the Jonah passage because that pit imagery is so very real there.
The waters closed in over me;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped around my head
6     at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the Pit, [2]

There is darkness in the pit, there it is, running away from God, running away from the knowledge of God running away to a place where only God can reach down and pull you out of the pit. It is ironic to think that in the complete darkness of the pit is where God reaches down his hand and pulls Jonah out. God is the one who brings lives up out of the pit, out of the darkness, because often the darkness is despair, not just a place to hide. But here we find out that the darkness is truly our own illusion, because it isn't a place where we can hide away from God, because just like Jonah can't run away, neither can we, the darkness is not darkness because God is there and God is light, and the light shines through the darkness. We may prefer the darkness, but the darkness isn't real, it isn't a place to hide. . . Think about sin for a minute. Think about the first sin for a minute, according to the story in the garden . . . God comes to walk with Adam as he does in the cool of the day, but Adam is there, but Adam is hiding from God. . . as if he could. . . as if there was a darkness deep enough to hide from God. . . but there isn't. God may call out "Where are you?" but God already knows where you are, just like Jesus, despite what Nicodemus says, knows that Nicodemus, coming in the night thinks there is something about this truth that he needs to hide from. . . holding himself back.
John here in the gospel uses an interesting word to pair against the light and darkness motif, and that is truth. . . Those who do what is true. Again Jesus is really bringing some interesting talk here. Look at the ideas that are piled together. . . condemned and saved, believing saved, non believing condemned already. . . those are the first pairings, but the next judgement, light and darkness. . . evil deeds. Doing evil, hate the light, do not come to the light, light equals exposed. Now true. . .  is doing in God. That's alot to take in, and it comes on the heels of For God So loved the world that he gave his only son. . .
Believing in the truth about Jesus means believing in the full truth about God, and that is that he is in control of this entire world, and there is no place dark enough for us to hide, no place dark enough for us to be in control, and no place dark enough for him to forsake us, if we come to realize that he so loved the world, and us in it, that he would Jesus, despite our darkness, despite our propensity for choosing darkness instead of the light. . . despite us, God's love is stronger.  And it is for Nicodemus it seems as well, because Nicodemus isn't finished as a part of the story. John 19:38-40
38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. [3]

Does this mean that Nicodemus came to choose the light instead of the darkness, that he had come to have enough respect for Jesus, that though he came to him in the darkness the first time, that the second time he comes to him is in the light of the crucifixion, being one of two who take Jesus' body and anoint it, preparing it for burial. You can't imagine that that action would be something that he could hide. Many of the disciples at that point had deserted and abandoned Jesus, but Nicodemus is there then. . . is that an act of truth, and act done in God. It was enough for john to include it.
Paul seems to echo that idea when he wrote in his letter to the Romans:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, [a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able toseparate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Not even darkness can separate us from the love of God, because darkness and what we hide is an illusion, we instead bare our souls to him. . . and find we are forgiven.         

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 3:16-21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jon 2:5-6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[3]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 19:38-40). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.