Paxtonvic’s Blog

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Coming to Jesus under cover of darkness

The Gospel for tomorrow is based on the story of Nicodemus from John Chapter 3 v 1-17.

I start off with a thank you to our regular givers for keeping the good ship St James afloat financially… then get into the gospel itself.

But like many Im sure the developments this evening in Libya overshadow my thoughts and I know I havent been able to make a satisfactory link between anything Ive written and this new conflict the UK is heading in to.

 

I would like to first of all say a big thank you. When ever I did this, some of you were going to be away – but for those who are here today, I want to say a big thank you for all your generous financial giving in 2010. The end of year accounts have been drawn up by Peter, and they show a remarkable level of sustained regular giving – infact as you might have read in 3 in1, £605 was given every week in 2010 to help pay the necessary £631  on weekly expenditure. All this on top of the money that has been steadily raised through the CHUFT appeal.

Many things provide the foundations for a secure and thriving church community, and I  have to honest and say without the backbone of regular giving our church community here in Little Paxton  wouldn’t be here, there wouldn’t be a Vicar, the building wouldn’t be sustainable and we wouldn’t not be in the process of major works for improvement and development. Hence my big thank you.

There is always an opportunity for regular givers to review their giving. There may be a need to reduce what is being given, there may be the possibility of increasing. There may be new people who would like to set up a regular giving arrangement. But above all, every year around this time it is so important to say thank you. We all know that giving isn’t just in monetary ways and so I must add another foundation of our church, just as important – the many hours that are given voluntarily by so many of you. Onwards and upwards as the cliché goes… not least as we look up towards the bell tower and eagerly anticipate the arrival of builders and bell hangers after Easter.

I wonder what for you provides the foundation for your every day living? What is it that makes you feel safe and secure and enables you to face each day with confidence?

Some of you might say – it’s my family and loved ones who give a sense of stability, some of you might say its my faith or outlook on life. Others of you might add that the security of having a home and food and an income of some sort provides a sense of well being.

As we all only too aware ,9 days ago a massive earth quake under the sea off the northern coast of Japan shook the foundations of much that had provided stability and security for the peoples of the Japan especially those in coastal regions who felt the full force of the ensuing Tsunami. Thousands of people have been killed and tens of thousands are without homes and food. Now the added threat of radiation from malfunctioning nuclear power stations adds more uncertainty to an already harrowing situation. I was listening to Radio 4 as I drove to Diocesan Synod yesterday morning in Ely and a Japanese lady was interviewed who is living in London but who has relatives in Japan. When asked what sustained people in her native country when faced with earthquakes, she replied that the Shinto faith which many in Japan follow gives them courage and dignity when faced with danger – and one of the things many of the English commentators have commented on is the way that people kept calm in the face of events that would terrify most of us.

Maybe you might like to explore this Shinto faith in more depth ( Shinto meaning The Way of the Gods” )

Natural disasters bring home perhaps more than anything else to us that much of what we in the west often take us strong foundations in out lives, not least our material possessions  can so easily be swept away by events that cant be predicted and controlled.

So where do we turn with confidence to find foundations that will abide in  good times and in harder times? What can we believe in that gives real depth and meaning to our lives? A God who we assume  will keep us safe from harm at all times rings a bit too hollow when faced with the apparent capriciousness of the natural world and unpredictable personal troubles.

This was the serious question which a man called Nicodemus had on his heart one night as he came to Jesus under cover of darkness. He was a learned Jewish man, his faith would have had the strongest foundations in the OT scriptures,  the Jewish law, the Torah, and his belief in the one God who led the Israelite people out of Egypt.  So why was he bothering with Jesus? What more was he looking for?

We might find the answer to this question if we find out a bit more about him. And thanks to John’s gospel, we can do that.

First, we know that Nicodemus was a Pharisee (v1). This was a sect within Judaism  strongly committed to a particular understanding of God’s law and how it should be observed. It was very reliant on tradition.  They received prominence in the gospels because they appeared to be a  major source of opposition to Jesus.

Second, we know that Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. This had a combination of a legal and an administrative function and members of it were  particularly sharp. Nicodemus therefore probably had a  forensic mind, and a keen interest in any new religious movements.

Third, we can be fairly sure that he was well respected. The phrase ‘Israel’s teacher’ (v10) was an honorary title and the fact that Jesus called him this meant that this respect was widespread. This was a person who was a well-regarded senior religious figure.

Nicodemus comes to see Jesus. He doesn’t bump into Jesus in the street, he makes his own way to Jesus. Given his status in society this was a risky thing to do. So, he comes at night so that there is less chance of being seen.  We have to take Nicodemus seriously as someone who is prepared to put themselves on the line to meet Jesus he was above all a keen seeker for meaning and truth in his life.

Nicodemus was also someone who was eager to learn.

When John wrote that Nicodemus came to him in the night, he means much more than he came under cover of darkness. He implies too that he came in spiritual darkness, searching for light. He asks Jesus questions and he receives some surprising answers.

First, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again, that a radical change must take place within him “ of water and spirit” . This is all very puzzling

Jesus goes on to say that he himself is the key to being born again (v13-15).

In v14 he highlights his own central place in this process being born again.

He refers to the story in Numbers 21:4-9  where the people of Israel are punished for  their lack of faithfulness by finding venomous snakes around them. They repent and when a bronzen serpent is made  and held up by Moses one look at it and the people are healed of their snake bites and live.

Its all very difficult for Nicodemus to understand – Jesus goes on to say that when he, The Son of  Man,  is lifted high on the cross those who believe in him will have eternal life – this is all part of Gods redemptive plan for the world.

Jesus is saying that entry to the kingdom of God is not based on fulfilling laws or having certain religious experiences but undergoing the radical transformation that God wants to give us all, a new heart and a new spirit. Moreover, that new creation is to be reached through Jesus himself, through faith in him, and his death on the cross.

No wonder Nicodemus was confused – his whole religious outlook was undergoing a seismic change – the foundations of his life were moving  in a dramatic way. There were hard lessons he was needing to learn – that this man he was encountering, Jesus, was the passport to eternal life. It was in his very meeting with Jesus – with Jesus stealing into his life – that he would be reborn.

.Just one more word about Nicodemus. The writer of Johns gospel wants to follow through with this man.

Chapter  7:50. We find Nicodemus standing up for Jesus when temple guards complain about his teaching  during the Feast of Tabernacles.  Nicodemus enters as the voice of reason  He is not aligning himself with Jesus clearly but he is being very brave.

The second passage occurs after the death of Jesus (19:38-42). As recorded in the other gospels Joseph of Arimathea takes away the body of Jesus to bury it. But John also records that he was accompanied by Nicodemus who brings a large mixture of spices which were used to treat Jesus’ body. Presumably Nicodemus had servants or other ways of carrying all those spices. He and Joseph wrap the body and place it in the tomb.

The fact that Nicodemus is one of the two who buries Jesus, who did not flee as the disciples did, must mean that he had become a follower of Jesus. His being born again and coming into the light of Jesus meant that he became a follower of his saviour.

The man who came to Jesus at night found the light of life. That encounter with Jesus gave him a new and abiding foundation with which to live out the rest of his life.

May our encounters with Jesus continually change our lives to so that instead of hitting rock bottom when faced with  bewildering suffering, whether ours or others peoples,  we may find our rock and salvation, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

March 19, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. I am a counsellor in Canada. I had given my client an assignment to paint her prayer with the intention of anchoring or building a foundation of that which is important to her. She used the words from a prayer by St Columba. Since I knew nothing about St. Columba I went to the internet and fortuitously found your blog that had St. Columba’s prayer and your current blog about foundations. I love these moment’s of happenstance. I get the lovely feeling of God giving us a “wink” that we are on the right path!

    Cheers!
    Sylvia

    Comment by Sylvia | March 22, 2011 | Reply


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