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Called to More

Ellen Rohan Ball
Sun, Jun 03

The First Sunday after Pentecost
John 3: 1-12

I confess I have come to love this story of Nicodemus. I actually have not studied this scripture much; as it is with so many bible stories that have famous lines, i.e. the “born again” Christian movement of the 70’s and to the present, we tend to remember the famous verse but not the story around it.

So who is Nicodemus? He’s very interesting…a Pharisee, and one of the ruling council; this would have made him likely from a pretty important family. Learned, for sure…invested, and someone with a lot to lose by any interest in Jesus.

What I like about him is that he’s curious…despite being someone at the top of his game, he’s looking for more, and he’s interested in Jesus.

And so the night visit, to avoid notice. You know there is a funny way people walk when they don’t want to be seen, and I imagine this rather important man trying not to look like himself, walking probably to a poor part of town to find Jesus. And then when he finds him, he cannot come up with something more brilliant to say than “You must be from God, you do such wonderful things”…probably in a rushed kind of confession. I wonder if Jesus smirked a little at this…Nicodemus, brilliant teacher and poised arbiter of the law by day, now coming off more like an excited schoolboy in talking with Jesus.

And then comes Jesus’ surprising reply…to see kingdom, to enter kingdom, you must be born again—born of water and the Spirit.

And I wonder…was there ever a time when Jesus did not lay out more for someone to do when asked? People can be so close to what Jesus is looking for, and he’ll still lay out a challenge for them. And so it is with Nicodemus, who completely misses the metaphor of being born again, and goes into a ridiculous query over how on earth he could re-enter his mother’s womb. I laugh to myself, imagining if his mother had been present she would have had something to say about the matter.

Nicodemus then fades from the story, but will appear later in the Gospel. And we are left with wondering what Jesus’ reply does mean?

It’s a complex answer, and one can only guess at what Jesus was saying. And again, a word about Jesus…he so often speaks to people in their own particularity as well as in some generalizable way. We don’t know Nicodemus well, but I imagine, again, that he was learned, prominent, and in his Jewish tradition would have considered himself a child of God simply by being born into a Jewish family. Jesus challenges this notion; not that it’s insufficient to follow God in the Jewish tradition, because that’s what Jesus does, but to follow God perhaps in a rote way; a way that clings to tradition and a sense of one’s role being handed to you.

For Nicodemus, this meant that Jesus was challenging him to be something beyond what he was born into…calling him to More.

And by More, I don’t mean a gospel of overwork, or even of purely works in a competitive way…I mean More, like different. We all have a birthright of some sort…we are born of different races, in different parts of the country and world, and then into different family settings, and this gives us a kind of birthright that really affects how we all develop. We can consider this birthright an advantage or a burden. At some point, Jesus calls us out of it…to step away from it to experience something new, as he did for Nicodemus, who he challenged fully to undo his birth—no small task.

All of us are here for a reason. Some of us may like the food…we have wonderful fellowship, incredible music, strong work for justice. And in and through all that, for everyone here we are on a walk to God, and this can play out differently for everyone.

To see the kingdom, enter the kingdom, we have to be born anew.

For some, there are new members here today who have pledged to follow “Jesus as the center of our faith”…an incredible commitment, and step in a life of faith. Others have worked in ministry for years, to then later today to be recognized for it and begin the next step that way.

And for the rest of us…we are here for a reason, and Jesus calls us to more. We can learn to start by praying hard…not out of just habit, but to really talk to God. We can learn to kick the ball hard in our faith lives, our work and ministries. Just this morning in the education time we talked about having one foot in this church community, one foot out…the other foot being in our work, or home, or other faith communities as a way of reaching out and being connected elsewhere.

Where can that be for you? Again, no matter how strong you are in your life of faith, Jesus will call you to more.

And by the way, whatever happened to Nicodemus…does anyone know how his story comes out? In fact, he shows up in the middle of the Gospel, now defending Jesus when the council wants him arrested. He simply puts forth the query that Jesus should at least be questioned before being arrested, and that’s enough to arouse suspicion. Then at the end of the gospel, Nicodemus helps bury the crucified Jesus…brings the embalming materials and makes sure he is buried…now publicly a follower, risking everything.

Friends, if we can do the same we’ll be doing well!

And what about Nicodemus, by the way?

May we be the same. Amen.

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