Our Sister Phoebe, a Deacon

Theological musings inspired by the Spirit and totally Ellen…

>Let it Be

>I have a number of favorite heroes and heroines from scripture, just as I’m sure some or all of you may have. In the Hebrew scripture, I count Elijah, Ruth, Deborah, Jael, and Daniel. In the Christian scripture, there’s Peter, Mary — all of the Maries — including Magdalene, Stephen, our sister Phoebe, a deacon, and of course, Jesus – and Nicodemus. Nicodemus shows us that sometimes discussion is inadequate in experiencing the understanding God. Sometimes, you have to just let it, to get it — and by that I mean one needs to let God take over, let these inspired and inspiring words sink in. You have to shut up, open your heart and mind, and let the beauty and mystery of God’s love happen to get what’s going on. And how wonderful and inspiring this Gospel of John is! It stands apart from the Synoptics, for its advanced Christology, its mystery, its allusions to water, life and light; and as we’ve heard in the scripture passage this morning, Nicodemus goes to Jesus under the cloak of darkness and ultimately comes to the light.
When Nicodemus meets Jesus, perhaps you get a sense, as I do, that things are changing for him. The location of this meeting isn’t mentioned, but given that Jesus has upset the local authorities and the local economy by chasing the merchants and money changers, the cattle, doves and sheep out of the Temple right before this visit, it is somewhere in Jerusalem. Perhaps Nicodemus was a witness to Jesus’ protest, or had seen and heard him elsewhere in the city. Perhaps he was present when the Temple authorities decided that Jesus had crossed the line, was a threat and must die. Whatever the circumstance, the teaching he’s witnessed and his station in society compels him to go to Jesus. Nicodemus comes in secret during the night so as not to be seen. And he’s a man in the dark.

You have to feel for him: he approaches Jesus wanting answers, and no doubt risks his life in doing so because he’s a Pharisee, he’s a man of reputation and Jesus is still an unknown, a Galilean rabbi who’s cause a bit of trouble. Nicodemus addresses Jesus with respect – rabbi – a little one on one rapport – and receives puzzling responses. Is Jesus being deliberately rude? I don’t think so. Jesus is responding in a way that initiates an intimate dialogue – he answers questions with questions of his own, questions that provoke deeper thought, prayerful consideration. Questions that sometimes reveal innocence or naivety. We don’t get the answer we expect, but we get word play: wind and spirit, the lifting up of Jesus – up on the cross and then into heaven – and the curious statement from Jesus that you can’t enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit, that you must be born from above. Is it any wonder that Nicodemus goes away dazed and confused, takes these statements literally? He doesn’t have the filter of two thousand years and countless commentaries and critiques to ‘get it.’ He either doesn’t understand, or chooses not to. I think it’s the first, for he’ll later defend Jesus at his trial and offer costly spices for his burial. At some point, the light glows brightly for him and he understands.

This is a bit more than my experience. I can relate to Nicodemus, whom I like to call the patron saint of the clueless; I count myself among those lucky few. Aren’t there times when you find yourself stumbling in the dark, looking for the light? When you’re so confounded that all you can do is just scratch your head and nod, pretending to get it? Don’t we have all the answers? Not on your life. Aren’t there moments when you do come to an understanding, you cry, “Ohhhhh! So that’s what he meant!”

And maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Sometimes we have to step back and just live in the awe. We can be like Nicodemus and walk away, dazed and confused, with answers that answer nothing, but there’s beauty in that. As we grope in darkness, we find ourselves dependent on a God that comes to us and connects us, giving us a bridge to salvation and eternal life.

How can this be, Nicodemus asks?

It can be because God makes it so.

It is not that we are expected to undergo a physical renaissance, but that we undergo a transformation within, a spiritual rebirth, which is more meaningful, more powerful.

And if we step back and take it all in, we can let it be.

Eventually, we’ll get it.

Go forth in the name of Christ.


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