I thought this week I would spend my time elsewhere, but Nicodemus drew me in once more.
Oh, I have been wrestling with Nicodemus and his nighttime encounter with Jesus for as long as I can remember. (Go ahead and search John 3:1-17 on this blog and you will get a sampling of where I have been led before.)
This is what captured me this time through: By all accounts, Nicodemus was no longer a young man. Indeed, given that the average lifespan in the time of Jesus was considerably less than it is today, by now I probably have decades on him, at least in actual years. So it is to be expected, suppose that now I listen to his experience through an entirely different lens than I did even not so many ears ago.
Put simply (and perhaps overly diplomatically) Nicodemus is closer to the end than the beginning when we meet up with him today. At least in terms of actual physical time.
He as well as says so himself when he asks, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?”
And yes, his stature in the community is pointed out when Jesus says, “Are you a teacher of Israel…” Presumably it must have taken many years and considerable hard work to reach this place in the eyes of those among whom he lived.
And at the point of Jesus’ burial in John’s Gospel, Nicodemus brings a small fortune’s worth of spices — more than he could possibly carry himself. He was by all accounts, a wealthy man, also something more likely to be so later in life than early.
Indeed, from all that we are told, Nicodemus was no longer young.
And for me, at least, this time through, the wonder of this is this:
As is so often the case in the larger Biblical Witness, with Nicodemus we hear once more of God doing new things with one whose life one could easily have concluded was already long ‘settled.’
I mean, think of even this handful of others with me:
Abram and Sarai, who were nearing the end of their lives when God set them on a whole new path. (Genesis 12:1-9)
Elizabeth and Zechariah who had yearned for a child but were late in life when John finally arrived. (Luke 1:5-25)
Simeon and Anna in the temple who had been waiting decades with hearts wide open for the arrival of the Messiah. (Luke 2:25-40)
Surely you and I can recall dozens of instances such as this, not only in scripture but in our own lives: examples of those who knew the nearness of God and who were so very open to:
- having their minds changed,
- their deepest hope yet fulfilled,
- even their very lives upended long after one might normally expect such as this to be behind them.
Countless ones who even later in life experienced being ‘born anew,’ as we hear about it now because God led them to an experience of the wondrous holiness of all that God is and all that God does in such a way that nothing could ever be the same again.
And maybe it is because I now relate to Nicodemus a little more than ever before, but this time through as I tag along under the cover of night and listen in on his conversation with Jesus, I find my own imagination sparked, my hope deepened a bit more in terms of wondering what God may also have in store for me still. I mean, if God could open up the imagination of this one who by anyone’s expectation should have been pretty well ‘set’ in terms of what life held for him in this journey of faith; if God could lead this one to new and deeper understandings of how God works in this world and everyone God so loves? Surely, God cannot yet be done with me, with you, with any one of us either.
And yes, I am so grateful have seen such as this again and again:
- I think, for instance, of my old friend, George, a pastor who I worked with when I was a fledgling pastor. He was, by then, in his 70’s and speaking out publicly about the need for inclusion of all people. He reminded us, long before the church was willing to take such a public stand, that our LGBTQIA siblings were equally beloved by God and we needed to live like this was so. And oh, I will not ever forget the night we rented out the local YMCA for a lock in for our youth. Pastor George came and led some workshops for us. Those young people sensed in him a kindred spirit and could not get enough of what he was so very willing to share. I do not know if this was true of him all of his life, but at the end of his life he was open to amazing newness. The very sort that Nicodemus was open to, which Jesus so generously gave.
- Or I think of a group of mostly retired folks who have been meeting weekly by Zoom during this pandemic. This shared learning about the ongoing battle for civil rights in this country began before Covid-19 forced us to gather remotely, but they found ways to keep engaging the conversation, reading book after book, asking hard question after hard question, listening deeply to each other as we have grown in often entirely unexpected ways and new understandings about our place in the world and how we are called to live more deeply into God’s Vision for us all. It is something to witness, I tell you, as they have shown the lively openness of Nicodemus week after week after week, living reminders of how we are all invited to be born anew: to such newness of life. (If you want a sampling of what we have explored, send me a note and I will pass a book list along to you!)
- Or I think of a woman who was ordained into ministry just this last weekend, entering this life altering challenge at a time in her life when most would be sitting back and looking back at what all her life has held. Or of another whose family gathered for a Covid delayed memorial service this weekend and of how together we recalled how he entered every encounter with every health care professional he met in his last years — and there were many — with a kind of wonder at the diversity of people we are gifted with in the world, eager to learn their stories. And oh, I can only begin to imagine the countless ones you have encountered — perhaps yes, even yourself, all those who have felt the stirring of God in our imagination, our hope, reminding us that though to the world it would seem you should long be ‘settled,’ your path set in stone, long past such newness, it is not so. Because God is not done with you yet. Just as God was only getting started with Nicodemus.
Oh, this time through I do hear the story of Nicodemus’ visit with Jesus in the night in a way I never have before. And I find myself wondering what God might just have in store for me as well. How about you?
- Indeed, what experiences of ‘being born anew’ fill your heart and pique your imagination, as you listen in on Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus now?
- Where and how might God be calling you to embrace new understandings or ways of being or whole new places which may just be the beginning of rebirth for you?
- Oh, what does it mean to you that as with Nicodemus, God is not done with you yet? What might it look like for you to step out in such faith, being open to such ‘unsettling’ of all that you thought was long ‘settled?’ As with Nicodemus, where and how and to what might God be calling you into conversation about next? And what does that mean in terms of your understanding of your place in the world?