Introduction and Call to Worship
God calls us to find new life in him, the creative light which overcomes darkness. We come to him in worship and thanksgiving with our hearts open to hear his word, to repent of our sins and receive the new life he offers in the holy sacrament of the altar.
First Reading Genesis 12:1-4a
God tells Abram to set out on a journey where he will receive blessings and bless others.
Second Reading Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Paul argues that Abraham was justified before God not on the basis of his deeds but rather his faith and God’s promise.
Gospel John 3:1-17
Nicodemus visits Jesus, who responds with words about Nicodemus’ need to be born from above, of water and the Spirit. Jesus also declares that God’s ultimate aim is not to condemn but to bring life.
HOMILY “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.” (John 3:16)
This week’s theme for our Lent Course and study was ‘light’ and ‘energy’. We have been reflecting upon the importance of light from the first spark of creation, when God said, ‘Let there be light’ which God saw was good (Genesis 1:3,4), to our every-day use of energy and our need to be more sparing of all resources. Both groups recognised just how dependent we are; indeed, all life is dependent upon light, especially the Sun, our local star. That energy is often taken for granted but it is the very foundation of all life and essential for our survival, as is the earth we have the pleasure to dwell upon. God gives us so much and today’s Gospel according to John reminds us that Jesus too is a gift that brings about life which is essential for all people.
Nicodemus came to Jesus ‘by night’ (v2), but what does this mean, ‘by night’? Did he visit when it was dark, when traditionally Hebrew scholars studied late into the evening? Jesus was a busy teacher so perhaps meeting at night was the only available timeslot. But, given how important light is to John’s Gospel, that is unlikely to be the only meaning for there is something theological about ‘by night’! Perhaps Nicodemus was scared that his colleagues would see him with Jesus so therefore a meeting after dark was for protection. In John 7:51, he speaks up when the Pharisees try to find fault with the Lord but later, after our Jesus’ death upon the cross, Nicodemus assists Joseph of Arimathea in providing our Lord with a proper burial (John 19:38,39). Joseph is described as a ‘secret’ disciple because he was afraid of the Jews – could this be what the ‘by night’ really means, being afraid, hiding faith in Jesus? If he himself was a religious leader Nicodemus may well have decided to seek discussion with Jesus out of the public eye – perhaps at first he didn’t recognise who Jesus was. In Chapter 1 of John’s Gospel Jesus calls various disciples and it is Philip who passes on the message: ‘Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”’ (John 1: 45,46) Philip’s response is ‘Come and see’ – the truth revealed in full sight, in the light! Perhaps it was Jesus whom Nathanael was trying to protect, by coming to him by night? That idea might have some merit in view of the two other accounts of Nicodemus. My hunch is that, like many of us, Nicodemus was on a faith journey, in formation; the phrase ‘came to Jesus by night’ is therefore a metaphor for his personal darkness’ for to truly know Jesus is to live in the light of faith. Often, we find in scripture the use of the term ‘night’ to indicate a spiritual blindness or personal darkness. So ‘night’ in this passage may suggest something of Nicodemus’ own spiritual darkness, though his esteem for Jesus suggests a degree of enlightenment. But for Jesus a degree of enlightenment is not enough so he responds, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (v3) and ‘born of water and Spirit’. (v5) You see, we can only ‘see’ in the light and Jesus is the Light of the World who offers each one of us rebirth into light and faith.
Hearing (or reading) this passage, we may have some sympathy with Nicodemus. He doesn’t seem to get it all in one go. Yes, he is on a faith journey like us. He persists, returning again and again and he cares about Jesus and what he has to say, he listens and learns; he is enlightened by him. The same is true of us, if we persist in worship and study of God’s Word. Living in the light of faith is perhaps not always as easy as it sounds. We start by recognizing our reliance upon light for so much, for without it and its energy humanity wouldn’t survive very long and without Jesus, the light to enlighten the nations; now that really would be darkness. Yet God gives up Jesus to the cross because the driving force behind all that our Lord said and did is God’s creative love: ‘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.’ (v16) And His eternal and life-giving intention is not that people’s sinfulness, stupidity – darkness of heart may be shown up and punished but that all may find new life: ‘God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.”(v17) It is absolutely right that during the great season of Lent we should open our Eucharistic worship with the words: ‘God so loved the world.’
Friends, faith just like light and energy are gifts from God - and they are good! But, as with all gifts, it is down to us to recognise their value and use them accordingly. Jesus calls Nicodemus to a radical change of heart and mind, to new birth and to live by the light of faith. He calls us to do the same, that we may recognise him, the light who overcomes the darkness and the one who came from heaven, from God, and was ‘lifted up’. (v.14) on the cross. In him alone is forgiveness and new life, the light of faith. Then, our task as Christians today in a world of immense challenge, not least in the face of the climate emergency, is to point beyond ourselves to the real mystery of God and the challenge of his kingdom, for we are people called to ‘walk in the light of life’. (see 1 John 1:7) Today’s Gospel passage doesn’t tell us how Nicodemus responded to our Lord’s challenge of faith but, by his later actions just before the crucifixion and at Jesus’ burial, he appears very much on Jesus’ side. Perhaps, after all he has truly recognised the light of life and the horror of Good Friday, the darkness of evil. With Easter there is light abounding and there is hope for all of us if we too choose to walk in the light of faith and lead others towards Easter too. Amen.
1. Nicodemus comes to Jesus ‘by night’. Light and darkness is a theological theme which runs through John’s Gospel.
2. Jesus wants for Nicodemus a radical experience of birth from above, through baptism and the work of God’s creative Spirit. He needs to find the light of faith.
3. Jesus’ words mystify Nicodemus but his aim in the long run is not to confuse nor condemn but to give life. The same creative life that only God can speak.
4. We must align our own lives to this new birth and to consider how we might challenge others with God’s call on their lives, to live in the light which overcomes darkness.