Rev'd Karen Hollis Minister
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I was taught as a young person to dislike and push against this text and its exclusivity with regards to any other way to God – I may not be alone here. As I in turn challenge those who taught me this passage in that way, I affirm all paths to God, including my own path through Christ. I need to wrestle with the text, but I do not need to proclaim exclusive rights to God. I recognize that my experience of life is better with Jesus and the closer my relationship is with him, the more meaning and love and connection I find in my life. For those who also struggle with this text, I invite you to unhook your pre-judgement and journey with me . . . Feel your heart beat . . . I invite us to listen and explore this text with our hearts. (go into prayer)

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.

It’s really complicated and confusing to live in the world today. I’ve been saying this for a long time; long before I moved to Canada and had to deal with borders and immigration, long before I had to learn how to import a car, learn a foreign banking system, or find an acceptable brand of sunscreen in a new country. Ringing in the New Year always brings with it tax season, which we can’t do anything about until all of the paperwork arrives in the mail. When a loved one dies there is a whole new layer of complication and time sensitive tasks that compound our grief. All these systems in which we live are
never easy to navigate and even harder to understand. Questions never seem to have short answers and there are so many variables that impact everything we do.
When I listen to Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus’ question this morning, I wonder if anyone had a response similar to mine – why? Can’t even our faith be simple?? Jesus, what are you trying to say? Because there are so many pieces in this passage to track – we have to be born again but not the normal way, thank goodness, the Spirit is doing things, someone went up to heaven or is going up to heaven, God’s Son is super important, there’s something about a snake, another bit about condemnation and somehow it’s all about God’s
This text could have been a lot simpler if we’d only read the lectionary text, but I added the first 13 verses to the gospel reading because, especially for this text, it’s so important to put it in context. By starting from the beginning, we’re able to remember that when Jesus says, “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,” he is in a conversation, he’s trying to answer the question Nicodemus asks – he isn’t making a billboard. He is trying to explain something to Nicodemus that is impossible to fully understand – but we try to put language on it and make sense of it because it’s important and we come alive in relationship with God. While the complications of the world drain and deplete us, learning from Jesus brings us life and energy we never knew was possible.
We find Nicodemus coming under the veil of night to talk with Jesus. Being a religious leader, he wouldn’t want to be caught talking
with this radical man of God in the daylight. While Jesus’ teaching and criticism of him are difficult and fly in the face of Nicodemus’ training, he is drawn in; there is something in Jesus’ words that Nicodemus needs, something he has been lacking and opportunity for deepening with God, but there is something – perhaps many things – in the way of his understanding. Perhaps he is trying to understand in the same way he tries to comprehend the world, the same way we try to make sense of insurance and taxes. THIS is not a message understood well with the head; rather it requires the heart (feel heart, breathe into heart). Jesus takes Nicodemus and is now taking us on a journey beyond human limits to the level of his spirit.

Unless you’re reminded of the story, as we were this morning, the snake reference seems random, but Jesus has taken an image from his tradition and applied it to God’s continued work in the world. When Moses lifts the snake on the pole, people who were condemned to die are able to look upon it and live. Jesus is lifted high both in his crucifixion and his ascension. In connecting these images – the snake, crucifixion and resurrection – Jesus takes the image a step further from life (look upon this snake and you shall live) . . . to eternal life (meet Christ and have eternal life). In the Christian tradition as it has been handed down, we think of eternal life as something we receive in the here after, but Jesus is referring to something that happens for us in real time when meeting Jesus. It involves an internal transformation that allows us to see and experience life differently. In this encounter, he is inviting us to live eternally in this life through “knowing God and
Christ, and having communion with God and Christ in this life.”(1 Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 2, p. 119) God is offering nothing less than relationship, through which we: (what do we receive or experience through relationship with God and Christ?)
Feel held in the love of God through the most difficult things Are offered possibilities that otherwise seem impossible
Are able to be filled up with God’s love, which is enlivening and
sustaining Others??
Eternal life is this experience of more, depth, hope, love, connectedness – all received through this relationship. God offers us eternal life in the midst of this life and we are not obligated to accept it. Think with me for a moment about your experience of life without God in Christ. When you are in a moment or season of turning from God, what is your life like? (you don’t have to answer, just think about it) For John, “condemned” is the absence of eternal life with God, the absence of the wellspring that infuses us with life that directly impacts us in so many ways. My life is more complex, more issuey, despairing, has more conflict it’s harder to embrace the joys around me. When I turn from God I am condemned to the noise of human constructs and concerns. When we turn from the light we are condemned to only what we see before us and we entertain things that do not come from the light. “Those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” I know the words are challenging, but think about your experience of life without God . . . when we turn back to God and LIVE our belief in the power of God in Christ, our lives are transformed.

God’s extravagant and expansive love is at the center of theology in the Orthodox church. They understand what Jesus does for us in this way: humans show their weakness for turning from God, so God becomes human and lives among humans with perfection, as all humans should have (don’t get stuck on that part). Jesus seeks out people in relationship over and over again as described in the gospels. At the end of Jesus’ ministry, humans take Jesus and condemn him to death on the cross . . . God forgives humankind. After Jesus’ resurrection, God continues to seek us out in relationship and in the power of God’s life and resurrection, all will be raised with God. There is no place God is not, no place to escape God’s love. God will reach into the darkest places of our world and restore life. God says, for those who love me, my love is warmth . . . for those who hate me, my love is like a consuming fire.