Yesterday, unexpectedly, I was given the task–the privilege–of preaching and leading the worship service at two churches. This was because of a last-minute but wise decision on the part of their regular pastor, my guy, whose inner rumblings had troubled him greatly all Saturday night.
The Scripture reading for the day was from the third chapter of John’s Gospel, the story of Nicodemus, who comes under cover of darkness to see for himself what it’s all about, the talk he has heard about one Jesus of Nazareth. Ah, yes, I knew where to find a sermon about Nicodemus; it turned out to be one I had preached in these very churches, back in 1991. Away I went, Bible and old sermon in hand.
This is not the way I like to do things, you understand. Spontaneity is not my thing. Once in church, before my congregation, I found the pages of my written-out sermon to be only a dim record of a long-ago effort on my part. You would not have called it an inspired sermon, exactly!
So I talked to the folks about Nicodemus and the “teaching” he received from our Lord, that God’s Spirit is something like…the wind that blows where it will. Nicodemus could be the patron saint of all seekers and respectful inquirers, those who value dialogue and open-mindedness, those who are able to lay aside for the moment what they have heretofore believed to be true.
He will in fact show up later in John’s Gospel, twice–and there are hints that eventually he became a disciple of Jesus. These are the Christian Scriptures, after all. Even if he did not, his life was changed by that late-night conversation with the wandering preacher and healer.
We are given such an appealing picture, here, of two spiritual seekers seated comfortably by a campfire, musing over the ways of God. There is even some typically male banter (as I interpret it) “You’re a great teacher in Israel–how come you don’t know this?” Since yesterday, therefore, I have been thinking about John’s Gospel, the third chapter, out of which is taken, ironically, a verse often used to exclude those who have not accepted Christ, John 3:16. I think of gracious hospitality and of a learned and respected teacher who was not yet finished with learning, and who seldom, if ever, referred to his old notes.