2 Lent – March 5, 2023
John 3:1-17

         Our gospel story from John this morning invites us to eavesdrop on the visit that Nicodemus pays to Jesus shortly after Jesus clears out the temple. The fact that Jesus and Nicodemus have their conversation at night seems fitting not just because the darkness offers a measure of protection and secrecy for Nicodemus, away from the eyes of his fellow Pharisees, but because Jesus speaks here of a mystery.

In response to the question that Nicodemus asks about being born anew, Jesus doesn’t really provide a clear explanation. Yet in his words about water and Spirit, about birthing and love, Jesus offers something better than an explanation: he extends to Nicodemus, and to us, an invitation to a relationship and to a journey of transformation.

In her 2013 book, Christianity after Religion, historian Diana Butler Bass points out that the English word “believe” comes from the German “belieben” — which is the German word for love.  To believe is not to hold an opinion. To believe is to treasure. To hold something beloved. To give my heart over to it without reservation. To believe in something is to invest it with my love.

This is true in the ancient languages of the Bible as well.  When the writers of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament wrote of faithfulness, they were not writing about an intellectual surrender to a factual truth.  They were writing about fidelity, trust, and confidence.  As they saw it, to believe in God was to place their full confidence in Him.  To throw their whole hearts, minds, and bodies into his hands.

There is a poem, made famous by King George VI in his 1939 Christmas message to the British Empire entitled “The Gate of the Year” or “God Knows”. It was written by Minnie Louise Haskins, and it goes like this:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown”.
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way”.
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

I love that…”Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.”

We’re meeting two people this morning who did just that. Who were living that life of faith; who believed in God; who trusted God. In our first reading today we heard, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’”

Think about that. What a devastating thing. God is saying, I want you to leave your country – I want you to leave your relatives – I even want you to leave your closest family.  I want you just to go.  I will show you – but not yet.  Abram could not see where he was going – he simply set out into the darkness, and put his hand into the hand of God, and set out from Haran in faith.  In that extraordinary walking in faith God blessed him so richly and made of Abram the one through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed.

And then there’s Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night.  So, Nicodemus goes out into the darkness essentially saying  “I want, I long to see.”  And Jesus says, “You cannot see the Kingdom of God unless you are born from above, or born anew.”  The way to gain the sight needed to see the Kingdom and then enter that Kingdom, is to allow our sight to be restored through the forgiveness of sins. To put our trust in the one who died for us on the cross and to live the rest of our lives living not by sight but by faith,

Abram and Nicodemus entered the darkness and learned to see again: they learned to walk by faith and not by sight. Their stories challenge us to ask ourselves some searching questions about our own life of faith.  Can you think of times in your life when you could say “I really trusted in God then?”  Times when you felt you were taking a step into something unknown – or when you didn’t know where you were going but had that experience of putting out your hand into God’s hand – and letting yourself be led by God.

What does it mean to believe in Jesus?  To hold onto him?  To trust him with my life?  For Nicodemus, it meant starting anew, letting go of all he thought he understood about the life of faith.  It meant being “born again,” becoming a newborn, vulnerable, hungry, and ready to receive reality in a brand-new way.  It meant coming out of the darkness and risking the light.  No wonder Nicodemus walked away baffled that first night.  Jesus was calling him to a relationship with him. He was calling him to fall in love, and stay in love.  Why is belief important to God? Because love is important to God.

John 3:16 “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.” Amen.