theunfamiliarname

Homily for Lent 2A

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2011 at 10:19 pm

History is full of misunderstandings.
People saying one thing & being heard to say another.
So is the hymnbook.:
Comedian Billy Connolly talks about singing with great gusto as a small child of “Gladly, the cross-eyed bear”,
some sort of stuffed toy in need of an optometrist.
Of the Christmas carol, “A wain in a manger”
(“wain” being a scots word for baby).

In broader pop-culture, there’s that famous moment
in “Purple Haze” when Jimi Hendrix sings,
“’Scuse me while I kiss this guy”.

In our gospel this morning
we have a classic case of people not mishearing
but misapprehending each other.
Speaking across each other.

The scenario is this: Nicodemus, a Pharisee,
one who takes the letter of the Law very seriously,
comes to Jesus.  At night.
This is a big hint in John’s Gospel.
For light and darkness, day and night,
are used as metaphors in his account
for those able to grasp what God is doing.
Remember in his Prologue John says of Jesus,
“in him was life, and the life was the light of humanity”?
And “the light shines in darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it”?

Nicodemus comes by night.

As Jesus’ body is taken to the tomb, John’s Gospel points
back to this encounter,reminding us that Nicodemus
“first came to Jesus at night”.  Suggesting that he was
in a very different place by that point.

But for the time being, they speak,
Nicodemus the wise teacher, expert in the Law,
and Jesus, teacher and prophet from marginal Galilee.
And if you know John’s Gospel well –
and the next few Sundays we will be with John –
it’s an intriguing  encounter to happen so early on,
for Jesus has just arrived in Jerusalem,
causing a stir by cleansing the Temple.

The other Gospels all have that event
much later in Jesus’ ministry.
I would simply say to you that in my opinion
John’s Gospel is organised and constructed
in a very different way to the other three.
Chronology, what happened when,
is not John’s key interest.

Now I’m sure he and those he wrote for
were aware of the other Gospels written.
What John does is give us a theological canvas
on which he paints the events of Jesus’ ministry,
for a community who already know the basic events
of Jesus’ life, and particularly of Holy Week.

John’s Gospel is structured as more of a reflection,
a meditation on Jesus’ life,
than just a biographical account.

John, for example,
famously doesn’t tell us the details of the Last Supper,
but that’s only in the same way
that a fish might not tell you about the sea.

The theology and symbolism of the Last Supper
and the Eucharist are simply everywhere in John,
and so he makes another, very profound point
when he focuses on Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet.

But back to Nicodemus.

He and Jesus converse.
Nicodemus the Pharisee, expert in the letter of the Law
cannot comprehend what Jesus speaks of.
“No-one can see the Kingdom without being born from above”.
The same words mean “born again”.

Nicodemus is a Pharisee, for whom words –
godly words – are  very important.  He takes them literally.
“How can someone be born a second time?” he asks.
Jesus is confronted with someone
who is so fiercely and narrowly focussed
on what for them constitutes God’s truth,
that they leave no room to manoeuvre.
No room for God’s Spirit, God’s grace, God’s poetry.
For renewal and revelation.

Jesus gently challenges Nicodemus,
trying to draw his eyes from the page
to the Spirit at work in the world,
not contained or constrained by what we define
as “the rules” under which God might work.

It’s a gentle but cautionary tale
for any of us who would be gatekeepers
of this of THE Church.
God famously moves in mysterious ways.
And those who would serve God
must also be receptive to
“what the Spirit is saying to the Church”.

Nicodemus is in some ways a character
representing all who have a vested interest
in the religious status quo.

All of us who cannot comprehend
what God might be doing,
in or through or despite us.

We are invited this Lent,
this season of Annual General Meetings (of all things)
to open ourselves to the Word that was in the beginning,
Christ Jesus, through whom all Scripture is read afresh,
to see and to hear and to feel
where the Spirit might be leading us,
beyond the confines of these walls,
to places and to people that are longing for light.

“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.”

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