Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Path to Your Door

“What’s new for Christmas?”  That’s not a question you ask very often.  We don’t want what is new in this season.  We want the familiar, we want the traditional, we want the comfortable.  We want the rituals we've performed for year after year, almost forgetting why we do them the way that we do, except that this is how we've always done it.  And this time of year, that seems good enough.  Not just good enough, it is the very reason for doing what we do.

In any other part of our lives, at any other time of year we would be bored.  We crave innovation, we want the new, the improved, the latest upgrade, the bells and whistles.  Yesterday’s news isn’t worth paper it is printed on, or the bandwidth is it occupying.  If it sits at the back of the closet and hasn’t been worn for a while, throw it out.  If it doesn’t match the new decor, toss it away.  If it doesn’t fit with the new you, get rid of it.  And go find something new.

Except at this time of year.  Now the back of the closet is a treasure trove of memories and history.  The corners of the attic hold the magic of time travel, back to a simpler age, back to wonder and amazement, back to when families were peopled with giants and wisdom, back when security was a strong arm holding you up, and comfort and joy were found in laughter around a dinner table.  These dusty old objects that take you back across miles and years, to first Christmases and last ones, to family reconfigured and relocated, to houses occupied and then emptied.  All these memories come tumbling back every time a box is opened and the childish scrawl is read again, or the date recognized.  “That was the year that ...”  You have to tell the story, if only in your own mind as you unpack, or to whoever will listen.  “Remember when we ...” we ask to everyone and no one in particular.  Some of the memories make us smile, some bring a tear to the eye, but they are all precious in their own way.  

We want to go home at this time of year.  Or we want to be home.  Or we long for a taste of home.  We’ve been too long away, too unsettled, too distant and we want to make our way back.  This season calls forth from us a desire to return, to the way it was, at least as we imagined it.  Or to the place where we were most at home, most content, most at peace with ourselves and the world.  That’s why every holiday season we talk about making the journey.  About hitting the road, the trip to Bethlehem, the path to the manger, let us go over and see this thing that the angels have made known to us.  And so they went.

I love that image and have used it many an Advent season.  This year however, it seems to me that Isaiah is asking us to think differently about that journey.  That maybe it isn’t about packing up and getting on the road.  Maybe we aren’t the travelers in this story, at least this time.  Maybe we serve a different function, maybe we are to take a different role in the drama of Advent this year.

Isaiah 2:1-5  The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  2 In days to come the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.  3 Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.  5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD! 

I know what you are thinking.  There is that heading out image again.  Let us go, it says.  So, come on, lets go!  First of all, I’m not arguing for status quo.  For sitting still like righteous bumps on a log.  No, there is motion, there is activity, there is work to be done in Advent.  Even though the keywords are watch and wait, there is plenty to keep us occupied.  Stay with me here.  But I’m asking us to rethink our direction.  Well, Isaiah is, anyway.

Notice the passive tense?  We have trouble with that.  Especially in busy times.  We want to be doing, to be moving, to be deciding.  But all this is not our work.  This mountain raising and nation calling work isn’t ours.  It is God’s It’s going to happen, we can count on that.  In fact that is our job, counting on it.  Holding on to the hope, to the conviction that God is in control. And if you don’t think that takes effort then you haven’t really tried it.  When a world around you has given up on hope, to hold fast is to take a contrary stand.  To say that you believe that there can be such a thing as peace is to make a radical declaration.  To live confidently, that despite all evidence seen with the eyes and heard with the ears, you will trust with your whole life that healing and wholeness is around the corner.

So, why is it so important to hold on to hope?  Why not just be surprised with the rest of the world?  Well, we could say that living in hope is a better way to live.  We could say that a life filled with confidence and joy is much more rewarding and satisfying than one shaped by cynicism and distrust.  

But that isn’t Isaiah’s argument.  Isaiah simply announces that there will come a time when the nations will stream to the mountain of the Lord.  There will come a time when people will want to learn God’s ways and will want to walk in God’s path.  And he says that this will happen because there is teaching happening, there is the Word being proclaimed.  This will happen because there are those who will welcome.  This will happen because there are hosts on the mountain of the Lord.

That’s us.  Company’s coming.  That’s what Isaiah is telling us.  Yes, in part we know that it is the Word made flesh that comes to dwell among us.  We know that the king is coming and we make ready by preparing him room so that this time he isn’t turned away at the inns of our lives and left to sleep in a feed trough out back where no one but some smelly shepherds and wacko wise guys from out of town drop in on him.  We know that this is a part of our task this Advent season.  

But Isaiah isn’t satisfied with just that, as important as it is.  There is a world out there hungry to learn, and they just might be beating a path to our door.  There is a world out there dying for justice, and they might be huddled under our portico right now.  There are wanderers who has strayed down so many paths that their feet are sore and their hearts are broken, and they sometimes stumble their way into our hallways and aisles.

Company’s coming, are we ready?  Are we ready to host, to teach about the ways of the Lord, to guide them into paths of right living?  Are we ready to welcome them into the presence of the Lord of life, the Prince of Peace?  Are we ready to love them like he loves them, to embrace them, to connect them, to claim them as brothers and sisters?  This hosting thing isn’t easy.  And there are days when we want to be left alone, when we want everyone to find their own way, follow their own paths.  Yet, holding on to hope means that we have signed up for this duty, for this joy.  Joy?  Well, of course.  Throwing parties is all about joy.  About making others feel welcome, feel wanted.  It is about setting aside our own comforts for the joy of another.  The joy of including.  The joy of growing the family with the one we’ve been waiting for, without even knowing who it was who was coming up the path to our door.

So, how do we do that?  How do we sweep the paths and light the lights so that those who wander near might know that they will find a welcome here?  Isaiah seems to think it is simple.  He switches from the passive to the active at the end of the passage.  He switches from God’s task to our task in one verse.  Come, he says, O house of Jacob, come you who inhabit the family of God, you who serve as hosts on the highest mountain, you who let the teaching flow out and the welcome be all inclusive, come.  Let us walk in the light of the Lord!  In other words, we live our welcome.  We must be the light that we set in the window so that the path to the door can be found!


Saturday, November 23, 2013

What Have You to Do With Us?

Well, I’m all alone again.  And as much as I enjoy the solitude ... (Solitude relatively speaking, since I’m not really alone, I've got the crazy dogs (who don’t understand why I’m not worried about whoever it was that stole “mom” away this morning, since they are frantic, barking at the closed garage door which swallowed her up not all that long ago.  They bark and run into the office to get me out of my chair to come and worry with them, because they are sure some evil has befallen her.  That’s why they are so excited when she comes home (not so excited when I come home, but that’s another story) It is like Easter Sunday every time mom comes back from the dead)

As much as I enjoy the solitude ... (not really solitude, since I've got the upstairs cats too.  Who every now and then stage a vocal protest about the apartheid situation in our house, or not getting enough food, or someone closed the door to the bathroom, or the fact that there isn't enough sunlight streaming through the windows, or something, who knows what goes through cats’ minds?  Except some strange migratory behavior that causes them to gallop from one end of the upstairs to the other, sounding like a herd of wildebeests thundering across the Serengeti plain.  How two cats can sound like the armies of the Apocalypse, I’ll never understand.)

Besides, it is the week before Thanksgiving.  So, you can’t be alone, there is an air of anticipation, of imminent arrival.  La Donna is away because she has gone to retrieve Maddie from college.  She comes in like a force of nature ready to disturb whatever sense of equilibrium this empty-ish nest has come to settle upon.  A few days later Rhys will be gathered up from his college experience and brought into the mix to tell us what horizons he has explored and mountains he has climbed.  In the middle of that my sister from California flies in to join the festivities and spend time with mom and dad in their new setting in Warren.  So, she will be in and out for a time, hardly know she is there some of the time, at least until the dogs greet her not knowing is she is a stranger or a familiar one when she returns from a day with the folks.  I mean, come on, California!

And then on the day itself, we’ll gather up mom and dad from Warren.  And then my brother and his wife with their two grown daughters will drive from South Bend and the house will be filled to bursting (We are giving the dogs the day off with a couple of nights in the kennels, in case you are wondering).  We've already designated corners for folks to retreat to should the need arise.  We've been there before, you see.  For the most part, we enjoy one another’s company.  For the most part we get along like a house on fire - lots of heat, and yelling and running here and there.  How’s your holiday shaping up?

Lots of food, lots of family fellowship, but space as well.  Lots of voices, stories told and retold, laughter and understanding and, let’s be frank, misunderstanding, and nerves and guilt and hurt feelings and words used to lash out, to protect, to wound even because pride gets in the way when we least expect it.  And the voices are less a comfort and sense of home and hope and joy and more like sandpaper on our soul.  The voices are less a welcome and more a burden, like they are pulling you in too many directions, like they are each wanting a piece of you until there is nothing left and you have lost yourself in the very place where you should be found.  You are uncertain in the very place where you should be sure.  You are nobody in the very place you should be somebody.

Well, you are saying, that escalated quickly!  OK, maybe I exaggerated.  But maybe not.  Family squabbles can be some of the worst.  No one gets on our nerves like family.  Still, it is not like they drive us completely around the bend.  I mean we don’t end up in a cemetery, howling at the moon and chasing away the folks who try to bind us in chains or anything.  Right?

Mark 5:1-20  They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.  2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.  3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain;  4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him.  5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.  6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him;  7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me."  8 For he had said to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!"  9 Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many."  10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.  11 Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding;  12 and the unclean spirits begged him, "Send us into the swine; let us enter them."  13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.  14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened.  15 They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid.  16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it.  17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.  18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him.  19 But Jesus refused, and said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you."  20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

 There’s a whole lot in here that would take weeks to unpack.  A whole lot of questions raised that I’m not going to even attempt to answer..  And yet, despite all that, there is a haunting familiarity to this story.  Maybe we are not out of our minds, but we know what it is to be pulled in so many directions we don’t even know our name anymore.  Jesus asks the man, what is your name, and the demons - the addictions, the responsibilities, the distractions, the  brokenness answers.  We are Legion, we are many, so many, too many to count, overwhelming.  He was drowning in them, whatever they were.  Couldn't keep his head above water.  Maybe he thought he could, maybe he had been swimming along, treading water, but then he lost it.  Caught in a lie, dropped something important, couldn't cover for himself anymore, and he went under.

Who knows, he was lost, drowning, and still he preferred the whirlpool he knew to the shoreline he didn't.  “What do you have to do with me, Jesus?”  You aren't going to take away my demons are you?  I've gotten used to them, they are comfortable.  Sure, I’m in pain, cast out, chained by family and friends, but still, I've managed to make a life, such as it is.  You aren't going to ask me to swim for shore, are you?  You aren't going to ask me to grab the lifeline that you throw to me?  Are you, Jesus?

Oh, that all the things that pull us in so many directions would go diving off a cliff and drown in the sea.  Oh, for those moments when we are clothed and in our right minds.  Praise be to God,  when those moments do come, they aren't an end but a new beginning.  “Go home and tell your friends.”  Jesus makes a big assumption here.  That he still has a home and that he still has friends.  Maybe he means the friends that tried to chain him when he was at his worst.  Maybe he means the friends that were so startled by his transformation that they asked Jesus to leave town.  Maybe he means those friends.

Or maybe Jesus just redefined friends and home both.  You notice it says he goes to the Decapolis.  That’s ten towns.  That’s a region not a home town.  He doesn't just go to where he used to live, he goes wherever he can reach.  He goes wherever they will listen.  Maybe he goes back to the source of the voices that once drove him crazy.  But now they are home, now they are family.  Part of the gift of new life is that home is redefined, even as you are redefined.  And then it isn't about proving yourself, or holding your own, or getting even.  It’s about loving, as he loved.  Happy Thanksgiving.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ears to Hear

You’d think that since we are talking about a blind man who receives his sight this weekend, that I’d title this “Eyes to See.”  But no, it’s about ears.  And not because that it the repeated statement by Jesus in the gospels.  Well, ok, partly because that is the repeated statement by Jesus in the gospels.  He spends a lot of time healing the blind, and only a little bit of time on the deaf.  But he talks about hearing as though it was a choice more often than either of them.  

Let those who have ears to hear, hear!  That’s what he says over and over.  Like it is a choice, a decision we make or don’t make.  Like we enter into the words and move around in them.  Like we try them on for size, checking the fit.  Is that me he’s talking about? We can wonder.  Where am I in this story?  Who am I in this teaching?  Jesus never forces us to understand, he just offers the opportunity and then leaves it up to us.

That’s why I titled this study the way I did, because I choose to listen this week.  Usually I’m doing the talking.  But this week Pastor Chris is preaching and so I get to listen.  And I am reading and preparing enough to be present in the hearing.  I’m trying to have ears to hear.

The danger is that I’ll sit there thinking, that’s not how I would have said it!  Or sometimes it’s “I wish I had said that!”  But this time, it is my intent to just listen.  To hear, to see.  

Mark 10:46 - 11:1   They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.  47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"  49 Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you."  50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.  51 Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again."  52 Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.  

They told him to be quiet.  They told him to keep to the margins, to stay away, to not interrupt.  But he kept on shouting.  But here is the amazing part, Jesus asked him what he wanted.  I know, you’re thinking, what is so amazing about that?  He was shouting for attention.  Of course he is going to know what he wanted.  But I have found that that isn’t always true.  Sometimes the loudest shouters don’t really know what they want.  They only know that they aren’t happy, or aren’t getting their way, or are forced into some change, some position that they don’t want.  So, they may be able to answer Jesus if he asks them “What don’t you want?”  Or “Why are you unhappy?”  But Jesus doesn’t tend to ask what is wrong, he asks what would make it right?  What do you want me to do for you?

Bartimaeus didn’t hesitate.  Let me see again.  Not, solve all my problems, or make bad things or bad people go away.  Let me see again.  Then from there, I’ll follow you.  For there I’ll let your will become my will as I daily search out the path that you would have me walk.  Let me see again, so that I can be about the business of opening eyes to who you are and what you have to offer this world that clings to its blindness.  Let me see again, so that I can find you whenever I need to.

That’s my prayer this weekend.  Let me see again.  Let me hear again.  I come to sit at your feet, Jesus.  Join me.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

What Are You Talking About?

Well, Maddie has found her circle.  The group of folks who know her best, who call her by name and meet her in her need.  We all need to find where we belong, don’t we?  The problem here is that this circle is made up of folks who work in the Emergency Room of the hospital in Springfield, Ohio.

OK, she has other friends, college friends, she is really doing well on that front.  But he has made multiple trips to the ER and now they know her by name.  The latest occasion was for what was self-diagnosed strep that turned out to be tonsillitis.  A pack of college girls and the internet can be a dangerous thing, just sayin’.

But she is fine, got some medication, took some time to rest and now is back at it.  The phone calls continue, however.  See, Maddie likes to talk.  When she is nervous, when she is excited, when she is anxious or hopeful or just plain Maddie, she likes to talk.  Sometimes when I got pick her up, I don’t have to say anything for a couple of hours of the drive back home, she will gladly fill the space with the sound of her own voice.  

Now we have a new description of when Maddie likes to talk - when she is on drugs.  Now, hold on there, that’s not what I mean.  After one of her visits to the ER, she came away with a prescription or two; one of which sent her just a little out of phase with reality.  She called and chattered away to both La Donna and me and neither of us had a clue what she was talking about most of the time.  And when we did know, we had no idea what that subject had to do with anything else we might have been saying at the time.  It was hard to follow, and yet entertaining at the same time.  And it made me feel like I was in a conversation in the Gospel of John.  

There is a surreal quality to most of the conversations that take place in John.  Especially these early ones.  Like if you were listening in your expected response would be along the lines of “huh?”  Sometimes it seems to be Jesus who is off track, at least that was last week’s experience.  Jesus comments kept coming out of left field and Nicodemus’ head was spinning trying to keep up. 

This time, however, Jesus seems to be a little more focused in the moment, it is his conversation partner who keeps coming in from somewhere else.  Almost like they were trying to avoid talking about the issues at hand.  Take a look and see what you think.

John 4:5-26  So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.  7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."  8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)  9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)  10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."  11 The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?  12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"  13 Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."  15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."  16 Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back."  17 The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband';  18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!"  19 The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet.  20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem."  21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."  25 The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us."  26 Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you." 

John likes pairs – dark and light, spirit and flesh, Kingdom and world.  Some scholars argue that this conversation is supposed to be a pair with the one in the previous chapter.  In chapter 3, we have Nicodemus, the named, leader of the Jews, a male in a male dominated society, but wealthy and powerful who comes to Jesus at night.  Here we have an unnamed woman (it is troubling how many unnamed women there are in the bible - so many that we can’t help but notice and pledge to not overlook those our society deems unimportant), who is an outsider with the troubled history who encounters Jesus at high noon.  

But she is far more than just a cipher, a symbol with no ultimate value, a zero.  She is the object of Jesus’ love, though she tries her best to avoid it.  That is what is going on here.  Jesus wants to love her, to heal her and save her.  But just when he gets closer she moves away.  She distracts him with questions designed to change the subject. Designed, we might assume, to protect herself from unwanted attention.

What do we know about her?  Not a lot.  She was a Samaritan, hated by the Jews for polluting the bloodline and for worshiping in the wrong place.  She was at the well at the wrong time, which turned out to be the right time.  Water drawing time was morning.  The women of the village would gather together and visit and catch up, the social intercourse that made small town life so wonderful and so painful at times.  And, oh yes, they would draw the water needed for the day.  But this woman chose to avoid all of that social interaction.  To come at the wrong time so that she could avoid the conversation.  And what did she find?  Conversation.  A frighteningly intimate conversation.  A troublingly informed intimate conversation.

That’s what else we know, she is not very good at marriage.  Centuries of tradition tell us that she was a woman of low morals, running from man to man, not taking wedding vows very seriously, she was a bad person in need of redemption.  Recent thinking wonders if perhaps she was a victim, treated as property, tossed away when she no longer entertained, or the consequence of bad luck passed from brother to brother until the latest refused to do his statutory duty and marry her, thus forcing her to live in shame, the object of gossip and disdain; a broken person in need of redemption.  

Does it matter?  Well, in one sense, no.  Jesus was here to love her regardless of her past.  She needed a new start, she needed transformation, she needed to be convinced that she was capable of being loved.  She needed someone to listen deeply enough and persistently enough to not be distracted by her words and to hear her heart.

And that’s what she got.  The story continues, as you know.  The disciples come back and are shocked by the scene - just as the woman was shocked at the beginning, and they interrupt while she slips away.  But she doesn’t go and hide.  After this exposed encounter she goes to the very ones she was avoiding and invites them to come and see him.  “He told me everything I had ever done!  Can he be the messiah?”

Now what are you talking about?


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Questions in the Night

Nothing good happens in the middle of the night.  The phone rings at 3:45am, and ninety nine times out of a hundred it is bad news.  Something has gone wrong.  Someone is in trouble.  Somebody is desperate.  Or lost.  Or alone.  Or afraid.  Count on it.  

On the other hand, sometimes babies are born in the middle of the night and the news is too good to keep until the sun rises hours later.  Breakthroughs are made by those burning the midnight oil.  Love is found, hearts are mended, peace is waged, and  journeys begun in the small hours of the night.  

Are you a morning person?  Leaping out of bed at the first slivers of light on the horizon, ready to embrace the possibilities that lie before you?  Certain as the noonday sun, unfolding like a flower under the life-giving rays of light, grabbing the gusto of each bright moment, living where there are few shadows and fewer doubts?  Are you a person of tasks to accomplish and lists to complete, going and doing and connecting and relating?  Is this you?  God bless you and have at it.   Or... 

Are you a night person?  Ready to ponder the meaning of existence under the influence of the stars, writing deep thoughts while the moon waxes and wanes?  Does the darkness inspire the poet in you, or the wee hours raise questions you have to pursue despite the wagging finger of the clock hand ticking away precious seconds when you should be sleeping?  Join the club.  There are thoughts to think in the middle of the night.

Of course it is nonsense to believe it has to be an either/or.  No one is summed up so simply, no one is defined so completely in one or the other.  No one fits in simple categories, do they?  Of course not.  Well, then, neither does Nicodemus.

Who?  You know.  That guy in the Gospel of John, who just shows up and doesn’t have the decency to wear an identification badge.  So, we don’t know whether he is a good guy or a bad guy, or worse, a guy who can’t decide.  Those twilight people (not “Twilight” - not talking Team Edward here), neither one thing or the other.  Wishy-washy: that was the worst thing Lucy could think of to call Charlie Brown.  Pick a side Nicodemus, will ya?  Or did he?

John 3:1-17  Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.  2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God."  3 Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."  4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"  5 Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.  6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.'  8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."  9 Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?"  10 Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?  11 "Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.  12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?  13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  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.  17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 

It was the coming at night thing that got him into trouble.  Was he ashamed to be seen talking to Jesus?  Was he afraid of what his companions would say?  He was a leader of the Jews, John says.  Probably in the Sanhedrin, the governing body of Israel, not priests or rabbis necessarily, but also not divorced from religious issues.  The whole church/state divide was not a issue for them.  They were God’s people so to govern was to care for souls as well as bodies, to run the state was to be concerned about the purity of the faith and about obedience to God.

So maybe it was a junket, a fact finding mission that politicians are always taking.  Maybe he was sent by the Committee with Oversight on Delusional Messiahs to check into this Jesus thing.  Or maybe that was just the time of day he functioned best.  So, after clocking out and telling his secretary that he was done for the day and picking up his briefcase and checking his email he headed out.  Glancing at the clock tower over the statehouse he realized that it was too late for supper at home, his wife had already gone to bed.  So, he headed to his favorite diner that was open late for something that would upset his already churning stomach.  His favorite waitress was still on duty and brought him his usual without even having to ask.  When she came back to fill his water glass and plunk down the pink antacids he lived on, she said “That Jesus guy is in town.”  

He sighed when he heard that, and debated pretending he didn’t.  It sounded like work, going to check him out.  He thought about ignoring the tip and making his lonely way home.  But sitting on a subway at this time of night didn’t appeal to him either, so before he talked himself out of it he said “Where?”  She told him what she heard and how some of the other girls were going to see what he was all about in the morning.  And that she was thinking maybe she would go too.  Just to see, she shrugged, knowing that her best customer wouldn’t like it very much.  He gave his usual generous tip anyway and shambled out into the night.  He headed toward his subway stop, but then just keeps walking.  Heading toward the edge of town, he finds himself hoping.  What he can’t decide is if he hopes he is there or he isn’t.  

He works on his approach as he walks.  Butter him up, he thinks, start with a joke maybe.  “I’m Nicodemus, I’m from the government and I’m here to help!”  That’s always good for a laugh, to break the ice.  But no, he decides, flattery, that gets them off their guard and I can perhaps find out what his story is.  Flattery with a touch of “we’re watching you,” that’ll get him.  “We know you are a teacher who has come from God...”  Yeah, that’ll get him.

Well, it didn’t.  Jesus took control of the conversation from the start, answering questions he didn’t think to ask, tripping him up with metaphor and image, and then boldly claiming who he was, reminding us all that we are in the Gospel of John, no Messianic Secret here, that’s for sure.  Even a cursory read of the Gospel makes it feel like Jesus is trying to pick a fight.  And Nicodemus is on the ropes throughout this whole conversation.  “Can one enter into the mother’s womb and be born a second time?”  “How can these things be?”  His head is spinning, he is lost in the rhetoric, in the commands, in his inability to grasp deeper truths.  Even Jesus wonders at his ignorance.  “Are you a teacher and you don’t get it?”   How should he respond to that?  

He doesn’t get a chance.  Jesus bull rushes on, trampling over whatever thoughts he might have had and plunks down what is probably the most remembered verse in the whole New Testament.  And Nicodemus’ world was turned upside down, or right side up.  And he was never the same again.  He appears two more times in the Gospel and both times it is to stand up for Jesus, it is to take his side, regardless of the tide of opinion.

It is All Saints Sunday this weekend.  Which is a time for remembering that all of us, any of us have mixed motives at best.  We aren’t called saints, those we remember aren’t called saints because they did everything right and always had the right reasons and the right intentions.  If that is how we remember those who have gone before, then our memories are fuzzy at best.  No, what makes us and them saints is that they were loved, by us, yes, but more importantly, by the one who came that we might have life, by the one who invites us into eternity.  What makes them and us saints is that we came with questions, maybe the wrong questions, but we came and we heard and maybe, by the grace of God we learned.  And we tried to love like he loved.  Night and day.