All Saints, Cochrane

Almighty God, whose Son was revealed in majesty before he suffered death upon the cross, give us faith to perceive his glory, that being strengthened by his grace we may be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

May the words of my lips, and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Introduction

We’re in the season of Lent, and so I’m going to begin with a little confession. I can’t dance. Not very well, at least. I’ve managed to fake it a bit, but I still find it quite challenging. One of the first things my wife and I did as a couple was to sign up for dancing lessons, where I was able to demonstrate my extreme inability to comprehend simple instructions and skills needed to actually dance.

There was just something weird about what the instructor was saying that kept me from being able to translate her words into what my feet and hands were supposed to be doing. That didn’t keep me from continuing to attend the lessons and trying to learn how to dance.

Apart from confessions, Lent is also known as a time when we seek to grow in our faith. On Ash Wednesday, the priest gives the exhortation to keep a Holy Lent, “by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and by reading and meditation upon God’s holy Word.”[1]

These disciplines call us to examine, by the power of the Holy Spirit, what our faults are, and then to combat and control that which draws us from God by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Concluding the exhortation is the call to read and meditate on Holy Scripture, in order to come to know God more deeply.

It is through the practice of our faith, and encounters with God, that our faith is strengthened, and our hope is confirmed.

In our Gospel lesson today, we see another example of someone who seeks to grow his faith. The Pharisee Nicodemus gives us an example of what it means to seek to grow as followers of Christ.

Nicodemus and Jesus

Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night.[2] When he arrives, he tells Jesus that he knows Jesus comes from God because of the things he has done. Nicodemus has seen or heard of the signs and miracles Jesus had performed, and responded to the power of God in faith. Now, Nicodemus was a Pharisee and so in addition to perhaps having heard Jesus’ first miracle performed at the Wedding at Cana,[3] he was also familiar with how Jesus had cleansed the Temple, which had upset some of the people and Pharisees. Despite this, his fear of what his brother Pharisees might think of him is overcome by his faith in God, and he comes to Jesus by night.

Their conversation proper begins with Jesus famously discussing the need to be born from above, of water and the Spirit, to enter the Kingdom of God.[4] Jesus discusses what we now know as the Sacrament of Baptism, which cleanses us of sin and makes us, as Jesus says, a new person. We are made right with God and have the possibility of entry into the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus becomes utterly disoriented and confused by this. Jesus says, you must be born from above, but Nicodemus hears, ‘you must be born again,’ and asks his questions about how you can be born again when you’re already old, or crawl back into your mother’s womb to be born a second time.[5]

It highlights his complete lack of understanding.[6] Yet at the same time, there is a sense of earnestness in his questions. He’s asking because he’s perplexed; there is no sarcasm or dismissiveness. He’s just heard something, which he believes to be from God, and wants to understand it, even if it seems to make no sense.

That speaks to the faith that Nicodemus has in God. It is not a blind faith. He doesn’t just say, “yes, Lord,” but rather admits his ignorance and wants to be instructed. He doesn’t just want to obey God, but wants to know God.

Nicodemus has been confused by all of this. That is part of the learning process. We come in with our assumptions and what we think we know, they become disoriented by new information, and then once we are able to reconcile that new information with the old, we are able to reorient ourselves towards this new understanding.

So how does Nicodemus come to figure out what Jesus is talking about? How does their conversation conclude so that Nicodemus can come to deeper faith?

The frustrating part of this is we aren’t told. The conversation ends and Jesus addresses the reader. This is much clearer in the original Greek where he goes from addressing Nicodemus as “you” in the singular, to finishing out this passage addressing “you” in the plural.[7]

Nicodemus does appear again in the Gospel of John, however. In Chapter 7, the Pharisees are trying to arrest Jesus, and Nicodemus stands up for Jesus. Nicodemus is even identified as a follower of Jesus there.[8] He is later identified along with Joseph of Arimathea as being a follower of Jesus and helps prepare Jesus’ body for burial after his crucifixion.[9]

This is a far cry from the faith which was barely able to overcome fear such that he had to meet Jesus in secret. He has clearly grown and he’s managed to overcome his confusion.

We aren’t told exactly how this works itself out. There’s something valuable to be taken from that. One of the realities is that how we resolve these ideas and challenges in order to grow in our faith will be different for each of us.

What matters is that Nicodemus was able to go from that state of confusion to eventually being a disciple of Christ who would defend him from those who would arrest him, and who helped care for our Lord after his crucifixion. He never gave up, and by the grace of God he came to a place of Spiritual maturity.

Conclusion

I still can’t dance. At least not if you ask my wife. It doesn’t mean I’ve given up on it. I continue to strive to dance. I’m still taking lessons, and I still try to practice.

What Nicodemus reminds us is that whatever the confusion, or whatever the challenge, we are called to persist, and hold firm to the faith we have and our good desire for it to grow.

 By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we continue to trust, we continue to learn, and we continue to be receptive to what God is teaching us.

[1] BAS 282

[2] S. Jn iii. 2

[3] S. Jn ii. 1-12

[4] S. Jon iii. 3-10

[5] S. Jn iii. 4

[6] S. John Chrysostom, Homilies on John, 24.2

[7] All instance from 11b to 17 are in the plural.

[8] S. Jn vii. 50

[9] S. Jn xix. 39

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