John 20: 19-31
For sure this is the first Sunday after Easter, because ministers who are organized are taking the Sunday off (and the fact I’m here this morning says much about me). More importantly, on the first Sunday after Easter, the lectionary always brings back the story of Thomas, the one who is known to have doubted the resurrection of Christ. Much has been said across the years on this text. Countless sermons and reflections have reminded people that doubting is not necessarily a sin. In fact, doubts are a healthy part of the life of a believer and frequently lead to a deeper faith and renewed spirituality. Christians should be too harsh on our poor Doubting Thomas.
However, something changed in the last few months. We have learned new expressions like fake news and alternative facts. We have discovered the existence of people paid to create and spread conspiracy theories on social media and cable shows. Politicians are not even hiding the fact that they are taking some bad news and spin them into something good for our society. These days, our problem is not that we are doubting, but not doubting enough. We have moved beyond the ‘Just believe me’ used by con artists. In many cases, it is very difficult to discern the difference between truth and falsehood. Skepticism has become an important skill to cultivate in order to protect ourselves from major deception. In this context, only a few days after Easter, there might be a small voice inside of us wondering if the resurrection really happened or is it good story made up by the first disciples to support their claim and agenda. Maybe after all Thomas was not such a bad guy for doubting.
If Thomas is mentioned in the four Gospels, it is in the one according to John that his personality is revealed. In the story of the resuscitation of Lazarus, Thomas is the Debbie Downer of the group when he claims after Jesus’ decision to return in Judea, “Let us also go, that we may die with him!” Later, when Jesus speaks of his impending death and ascension to heaven, he essentially replies, “I have no clue what you’re talking about”, probably speaking out loud what others were scared or embarrassed to say. Thomas is a practical and no-nonsense guy. He just calls it as he sees it.
Try to be in Thomas’ shoes… or sandals. One day, some of his very good friends show up and claim they have seen their old master; they have seen the Lord. A few days after Jesus’ crucifixion, they declared, many disciples were all gathered in a house, all the doors were locked, and Jesus came and stood among them. It was him for sure because they saw the marks on his body. Honestly, very honestly, what would you have said in Thomas’ place? ‘Yes, I totally believe you. Of course, Jesus’ corpse can walk through walls and doors and talk to people. There is nothing strange in all of this.’ Or would you rather believe that if something sounds too good to be true, it is almost certainly untrue? Would you demand more proofs, assurances or evidences to validate the accuracy of this claim? Would you ask to see or experience it for yourself, as they all did?
Thomas is expected to believe without having seen. However, for an average human being, seeing plays a very important part in believing. After a tragedy, like the crash of a commercial airplane for example, the grieving family members and loved ones often feel this urge to go on the site of the accident. They hope they can be shown debris or anything else that can bring them closure, that would help them move on with life. They want to see. Thomas is not closed to the news of Christ’s resurrection; he just needs a little more in order to believe. He wants to see for himself the marks of the nails and touch them as well as his side. He just requires tangible proofs. A few days later, his wish materialized. The Risen Christ appeared once again, this time in Thomas’ presence, and the disciple came to believe.
One of the reasons of Thomas’ struggle may be his difficulty to grasp the meaning of resurrection. Last week, I preached about Mary who believed on the first Easter morning that she could resume her life with Jesus as if nothing happen, as if nothing changed. She eventually understood the difference between Jesus of Nazareth and the Risen Christ. Somehow Thomas follows the same pattern. For many months, he walked alongside Jesus of Nazareth and he was expecting that the Risen Christ would have exactly the same body and physical attributes than before his burial. Nothing would have changed. However, like I said last Sunday, resurrection implies profound transformation. The Risen Christ is not a human being like you and me. It is a new reality that can be experienced everywhere, at any time, by everyone. Through Christ’s resurrection, we are invited to address the world from a different perspective. We are called to believe in something bigger than what our minds can conceive.
Maybe this is why we struggle so much with understanding the concept of the Risen Christ. It is much easier to get our head around the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He was a man who lived in the Middle East approximately 2,000 years ago. He was a great teacher. He was wise. He was compassionate. He invited people to love one another. Everyone, believers or not, can accept this. However, when it comes to the Risen Christ, we are unsure about what we can affirm. We are told in the New Testament that the Risen Christ was Jesus… but not quite Jesus… but still Jesus. Make up your mind! We were told by ministers and Sunday School teachers that what happened in the tomb is a complete mystery. Well, it does not help us much to explain it today to our children and grandchildren. Trust me, it will come soon enough. “You ought to believe this because some dead dude said so” is a claim is hard to swallow these days. Most often, our lack of words and explanations concerning the Risen Christ makes us feel inadequate. We say that if we cannot explain the corner stone of our faith, what kind of Christian are we? We come to believe that our interrogations and desire for more proofs and evidences make us unworthy to be called a believer.
The good news for all of us who struggle with the idea of the resurrection is that the Risen Christ is in the business of finding people where they are. In the Gospel according to John, on Easter morning the beloved disciples walked inside the tomb, saw that it was empty and believed. Mary Magdalene met the Risen Christ in the garden, desired to cling to him and eventually came to believe by letting him go. Thomas missed Christ’s first appearance to the disciples, demanded more evidence and believed when he received them. Christ was able to meet different individuals in different ways and none of them were criticized, chastised or denigrated.
Each and every one of us are different and we all assimilate knowledge and information in our own ways. For some of us, reading the stories of the Bible is enough to accept the promises of God’s unconditional love and life beyond death. For others, faith and spirituality are grounded in one profound and transformative experience. There are some who discover the existence of the Risen Christ in the radical and unbounded inclusiveness of a group or congregation that welcome us when we needed the most. None of our individual journey is better or holier than another. Our personal experience is always true and valid.
The story of Thomas is the story of all of us who did not witness with our own eyes all the things the Gospel describes. On some days we struggle because there is no one-size-fit-all faith, spirituality or explanation for the resurrection. We are not sure whom we should trust. We have doubts. And yet, we are here this morning. We have come to trust that this unbelievable news proclaimed by Jesus’ disciples is life-giving. For our own personal reasons, we are saying yes to the Risen Christ who reaches out to us. Amen.
John 20: 1-18
On the first Easter morning, when Peter and the other disciple learnt that the tomb was empty, they ran to Jesus’ grave. Over there, they only found the linen wrappings and the cloth used to bury their master. The other disciple went in, saw and believed. And then, they both returned to their home. However, Mary Magdalene remained by the tomb, all by herself, weeping. Why did she stay in the garden? What was she expecting? Who knows? Maybe she was too much in grief to go back to her place. Maybe she lingered there hoping to feel Jesus’ presence one last time. Maybe she was unable to move on with her life.
Much has been said and written about Mary across the centuries. From what we can learn in the four Gospels in which she is mentioned, she began to follow Jesus fairly early in his ministry. She accompanied him on his last journey to Jerusalem. And, when all the men had fled, she stayed and witnessed the crucifixion with a small group of women. Without a doubt, Mary was part of Jesus’ inner circle. She was very close to him.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ brutal execution marked the end of this wonderful journey. For Mary, hope died with him on the cross. On Easter morning, when she saw the stone rolled away she did not shout, “Christ is risen!” She did not assume resurrection. No. She claimed, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Later that day, when she saw a man, she believed he was the gardener and asked him, “Where is his body?” because he must have taken it. This was the only logical explanation; the only possibility Mary could conceive. It is only when she was called by her name that she understood who was standing in front of her. It was Jesus! He came back to life! And together they will be able to resume their existence as it was before, as if his death never happened, as if this was just a nightmare. Everything was back to normal. Everything would be wonderful again. However, Jesus had to stop Mary by saying, “Do not hold on to me.” He has to tell her that something had changed. What was in the past would never be again.
“Do not hold on to me” are probably the most essential words to remember for congregations like ours. Almost all of you know that an important staff shake up is coming soon. After many years of faithful services, Sally, Glenda and Bev are retiring in only a few months. Many of us are sad about this news, with good reasons. Some might feel like Mary standing in the garden, lost and wondering what will happen next or even if there is a future after this. Maybe others are already waiting impatiently the coming of new people just to get back to normal as soon as possible, to continue exactly what we are doing, to put this difficult moment behind us.
However, the story of Easter teaches us that resurrection is not going back to business as usual. It is not the same as resuscitation. Resurrection can only happen after an unavoidable and definitive death. Resurrection can only be experienced after we accept to let go, not of the surplus, the old junk or the clutter that fills our existence, but what we might love or cherish the most. Resurrection can only show up when we leave behind possessions, ideas or certainties, even if we cannot see a path forward or ways to replace them. When we are ready to stop holding on to the past, as wonderful as it might be, we can create a space where new life emerges, where transformation becomes conceivable and where possibilities never yet imagined reveal themselves.
For Mary, resurrection meant letting go the man she loved dearly. Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross and would never come back. The Risen Christ was now standing in front of her. Mary had to accept that he was not the same. No wonder the disciples ever recognized him right away after the resurrection. They did not forget their old master. He was just different. It was not quite him and at the same time it was him. His essence, message and ministry remained the same.
This radical transformation allowed Mary and the disciples to discover a new way to believe and to be the church. They were forced to give up being told what to do and how to behave by a charismatic and inspiring leader. They understood that the Risen Christ could not be with them in the same way Jesus was. But with time, they discovered inside of themselves the strength to continue their journey. They found the determination to engage the world like they never did before. Jesus’ resurrection led them to become more than they taught they were.
Like Mary and the first disciples we are invited to follow the same path. In our families, our neighborhoods, our congregations and in our world there are so many opportunities for new life, new possibilities and new wonders, if we find the courage to embrace the transformation brought the Risen Christ. Of course, it is not easy. Things never go as we have planned. Most of the time we are caught off guard. New challenges emerge constantly. There is always something we never taught possible that shows up. Death, departures and retirements will always be parts of our daily existences. However, when we learn to let go, accept that the future will be different – not better nor worst, just different – and believe that life beyond death is possible, we can discover hope and confidence. We can trust that new ways will bring us to new territories. We can believe that wherever we will go, the Risen Christ will be with us forever. He will show us the way. He will teach us to receive and navigate all the transformations we face in our lives.
On the first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene discovered that her life would never be the same again and this was good news because change and transformation help us to see the world differently, to create spaces for new life, to encounter the Risen Christ when we expect it the least. As author Mary Gordon wrote, “For me the meaning of the Resurrection is the possibility of possibility”. And for this, hallelujah and amen.
Here, "Jesus was buried with care (10:38-42), so Mary Magdalene comes not to complete his burial, but simply to mourn and honour Jesus..."
Darkness and light are important themes in John from the prologue to Nicodemus visiting Jesus at night to Jesus’ claim, “I am the light of the world.”
Within the traditional story John makes us aware of his concerns. It was still dark means Mary is still in the darkness, she has not seen who he is. She has not seen the light.
John 4: 5-42
About a week ago, a friend of mine and former intern at this church, Jessica McCrea got her first tattoo. I know because she posted it on her Facebook. After serious reflection, she decided to have on her forearm the words “Nevertheless, she persisted.” For those who do not understand the reference, approximately 1 month ago there was a debate in the U.S. Senate about cabinet nominations. Democrats were opposing some appointments and Republicans were in favour. Some would say there is nothing special here, just politics as usual. However, at one point, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s speech was terminated against her will by the leaders of the Senate. When asked why they used an arcane rule to stop her, Senator Mitch McConnell answered: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
These few words have stricken a very sensible chord with numerous women. Many can see themselves and their personal experience in these words because they have been shushed, quieted or told they are too much, they are not enough, they are doing it wrong, they are disturbing established rules… Many still remember to be instructed early in life that little girls needed to be seen, not heard. Many has been “advised” by a group of men to smile a little more and dress differently if they want to get something achieved. And when it does not work, these men usually come back and say, “We told you, but you did not listen to us. You had to be stubborn and do it your ways. Well, too bad for you. This is what happened to those who refused to be a good little girl.” The expression ‘Nevertheless, she persisted’ has become for strong women everywhere a new mantra, a new slogan of resistance for those who are called nasty and loud for just being themselves.
We come to today’s passage from the Gospel according to John with all this cultural and societal baggage. Ha! The story of the Samaritan woman. It’s a classic for churchgoers. We believe we know it so well that that we barely pay attention to it anymore. Jesus and his disciples are on their way back to Galilee after a short trip in Judea. They have to go through Samaria and we know that Jews did not share things in common with Samaritans. It’s a hot day. In the village of Sychar, Jesus decides to rest by a well. The disciples go for food. Then, Jesus sees a woman and asks her to give him something to drink. By doing so, he crosses gender, ethnic, political and religious borders. What a great story!
Maybe… It is just that we have been told countless times that the Gospel according to John is different from the other ones. The first three Gospels focus their attention on chronology and events of Jesus’ life. The fourth Gospel is all about symbols, allegories and metaphors. Just last week, we met Nicodemus who taught he actually had to go back inside his mother to be born again. By this story, we are led to understand that we need to look beyond a literal interpretation of Scripture. However, only a chapter later, when it comes to the story of the Samaritan woman, we seem to forget all of it and we revert to read this Gospel at the first level.
It was about noon. A Samaritan woman comes to draw water at Jacob’s well and we say aha! This woman should not be there in the middle of the day because back then water was usually drawn during cooler times, like mornings and evenings. This must mean that there is something wrong with this woman. She must be an outcast from her village. She must have a shady past. She most have been shunned. Even if, like I said before, the Gospel of John is highly symbolic; it is the one in which Jesus said, I am the Light of the World; previously Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus during the night and remain in the darkness because he does not understand his message; and at noontime, where there is the most light, the Samaritan woman meets Jesus and discovers he is a prophet, it does not seem to matter. Even if there are millions of reasons to go back to a well during the day, like she ran out of water sooner than planned, she broke her water jar or she was too busy to come early in the morning, it does not seem to matter. She is not where we expect her to be. She is not behaving according to the norms of her society. There must be something wrong with this Samaritan woman.
Usually, when someone looks for a justification, our bibles could be very helpful. Verses 17 and 18: Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have right now is not your husband.” And once again we say aha! I knew it. She is a woman of little virtues. Even if King Solomon might have had 700 wives and 300 concubines, no respectable woman would have had 5 different husbands and living with another without being married. Even if the Second Book of Kings, chapter 17, tells us that after the Assyrians invasion, Samaria was colonized by people of five foreign nations, worshipping five different gods and during Jesus’ time, the Samaritans were closer to the Jews without being in essential agreement – 5 husbands and 1 not quite married with – it does not seem to matter. Even if in ancient times and still today there are plenty of reasons for someone to have multiple relationships during one’s lifetime, like her husbands died, she has been abandoned, divorced or being an unattached woman forced her to live with a man who could protect or provide for her, it does not seem to matter. She is a nasty woman without morals. She is a whore. She is a prostitute. She needs to repent and change her sinful ways and only a man called Jesus can save her.
The Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well most likely had a past… like all of us have one. We all have moments in our lives we would prefer to forget or erase. We can also assume that the Samaritan woman was not necessarily rich, powerful or highly educated as today’s women can be. She knew her status in her community. She had been told the rules of her society. She had been instructed not to talk or interact with Jews males. Nevertheless, when the opportunity for an open conversation about the hot-button topics that divide Jews and Samaritans from one another shows itself, she persisted. She disregards expectations and cultural norms in order to embark with Jesus on a journey of discovery.
When the disciples come back with something to eat, they cannot believe what they are seeing. They are dumbfounded that Jesus would speak to a Samaritan woman. While they are still scratching their heads about their master’s behaviour, the disciples do not notice she already had left everything behind and she is sharing of the new life she has just found. Nothing predisposed the Samaritan woman to speak about faith or proclaim the good news. There were many reasons the leaders of her village could have invoked to ridicule or silence her. Nevertheless, she persisted and the Samaritan woman became the first missionary in the Gospels.
We often believe that one characteristic or story can define an individual. Sometimes we think that life would be simpler if everyone could be identified, organized or put in a few predetermined boxes. We like to assume that all the ENTP of this world thinks this way and the ISTJ behave that way. That is where stereotypes come from and we all know from experience their limits.
Jesus seems to understand that the Samaritan woman is someone more than what people believed or expected. For this reason, he sees her. She exists for him. She has worth, value and significance, a treatment different from which the Samaritan woman is accustomed.
Today, as we are reading this famous passage, we are challenged to ask ourselves about who we do not see. Who are we defining by one single visible characteristic? Who are interrupted, shushed or silenced by our society or in our churches? Sadly enough, the list could be very long: those who are racialized, disabled or homeless. What about linguistic minorities, recovering addicts or women who simply want to take their rightful place in a men’s world? Our call is not to develop politically correct policies or wondering if we have the time or means to include more people in our structures. Our call is to reach out to people beyond stereotypes and clichés. Our call is to connect and build bridges with individuals who are not necessarily meeting our expectations or corresponding to our desires. Our call is to help every human being, not to become what we want them to be, but to achieve the full potential God gave them.
The Samaritan woman we meet in the Gospel according to John is the spiritual matriarch of all the nasty, loud, persistent and fearless women from across the centuries. In a world that would like nothing better than silencing her, she stands her ground. She crosses boundaries. She defies assumptions. And by doing so, today she gives hope to all the nameless people of this world because nevertheless, she persisted. Amen.
John 11: 1-45
This week I read a quote that made me smile. It says, ”It’s never too soon to give up hope!” “It’s never too soon to give up hope!” These words also made me think about our human propensity to give up when we face obstacles and road blocks. You probably went through the experience of belonging to a group that had an exciting new vision or proposing a new initiative, and when the idea encounters some initial resistance someone starts to say, ‘It will never work. Why should we bother or make another effort if they would not even listen to us.’ You might have worked on a project that did not unfold as expected and then been told to trust the process, there was a way out of this, a solution would eventually emerge and there is light at the end of the tunnel, before someone adds, ‘yes, and the light is a train that will run over us. We better give up before while we can still do it.’
This sort of hopelessness can be very contagious. We might be truly convinced of the validity of our beliefs and aspirations, but, at the same time, we are also influenced by the people and society surrounding us. We can invest ourselves in the construction of a better world based on inclusivity, justice and peace. Then we turn on our TV and we are told over and again that we ought to be scared of strangers and the next tragedy can happen here, at any moment. We listen to our politicians who keep repeating that our system is broken. Even our churches are stuck in their decline-and-death narrative. In front all of this, we begin to wonder. Is it possible that I am wrong? If he and she and they say that it is over, they cannot all be wrong. They must read the situation accurately. They must be right. We are sometimes tempted to give up, even if we still want to believe, even if we know that hopelessness is not the solution, even if we are hearing this little voice from inside inviting us to keep hope.
Hopelessness plays an important part in today’s reading from Gospel according to John. The story of the death and raising of Lazarus is not necessarily the easiest one to understand. Jesus and his disciples were on the other side of the Jordan, outside Judean territory. Over there, he receives a message from Martha and Mary of Bethany. They wrote, ‘Lazarus, your friend, our brother, is gravely ill.’ Surprisingly, Jesus responds to this disturbing news with an apparent indifference. His answer feels like, whatever. For two more days, Jesus hangs “in the place where he was” before finally deciding to go.
Quite obviously the disciples do not want to follow their master back in Judea. They rapidly remind him of what happened during his previous visit to Jerusalem, just a few verses before. The crowd tried to stone him. For the disciples, those people were a lost cause. They will never listen to Jesus. They will never see the light. Why should he care about their fate? Nevertheless Jesus says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples reply, “Jesus, you do need to go. If he has fallen asleep, it is a good sign. The worst of his illness has past. Let him rest.” Once again Jesus has to draw the line between the dots for his disciple by telling him that Lazarus is death. The disciples surely believed that it's sad, but since he is already death, what is the point to go. Eventually, Jesus has to put his feet down like so many parents and says, ‘Ok. Enough of this. We are going.’ Thomas, probably speaking for the rest of the group says, ‘The master wants to go back, so let us go and die with him, because there is no way this journey will end well. There is no hope there will be another outcome.’
Jesus and disciples eventually arrive at Bethany. He is welcome by Martha and then Mary, and both of them, separately, rebuke Jesus for his tardiness with a passive aggressive comment. “Lord, if you were here, my brother would not have died. But since you did not show up on time, I guess he is dead now. What is the point to have a powerful friend like you if we cannot get a little miracle once in a while? Maybe it is too much to ask.” Jesus tries to comfort Martha by saying, “Your brother will rise again.” But Martha replies to him, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection in the last day. But today he is dead. His body has been in the tomb for 4 days. It began to decay and stink. There is simply no more hope for him now. It is over.”
As we read this story, we cannot but feel the presence of a dark and gloomy cloud wrapping up everyone. Jesus tries to speak, explain and reassure, but nobody seems to listen. The people’s hopelessness only generates even more hopelessness. To break this cycle, Jesus has to do something big, something that will catch the attention of everyone, something spectacular that will force all to understand that it is never too late. There is always hope. Jesus decides to bring back Lazarus to life. Jesus says, “Take away the stone". Jesus cries with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Then he orders the people present to unbind his friend, and let him go.
Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone believing in me, even if they die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die”. Jesus is not speaking of immortality or resurrection, but a different way to engage our world. Through him, his disciples of all time have become convinced that brokenness, despair and death do not have the last word. Because of Jesus, we are still allowed to dream of a new world based on equality, mercy, justice and peace. We know that when we struggle, face tragedies or reach the deepest point of our existence, we still can believe in hope, which is maybe the most irrational and unyielding of all emotions, a mystery that makes life bearable for those lost in a bewildering universe.
After the raising of Lazarus, many came to believe in Jesus’ message. This powerful sign also set off a chain of events leading eventually to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. Jesus has become too dangerous for too many, because hope is maybe the powerful thing in the whole universe. With hope in our lives, nothing can stop us, nothing is impossible. With hope in our lives, we can continue our journey forever. Amen.
John 3: 1-17
Like most of my colleagues, I try to remain current with the actual state of the Church and its possible future by reading many books and articles. For some reason, it seems these days that I only come across texts like “the 5 mistakes congregations keep repeating”, “7 lessons for ministerial success” or “the 10 characteristics of thriving churches”. These articles are usually well written by knowledgeable people. However, I personally struggle with these reflections because they tend to reduce religion, faith and spirituality to a simple list of visible actions, decisions and characteristics. We know that life in itself is complex and there are many aspects of our existence that are not tangible or can be experienced by our human senses. We cannot touch or hear love, but it surely exists and we can witness its manifestations in our world. In the same way, God cannot be seen or tasted, but we believe the Holy One is present in our midst and works through and beyond our structures, processes and human intellect. Despite the attempt of a few religious leaders of our world, God cannot be boxed, controlled or restricted to only one way to be the Church.
In the Gospel according to John we meet one of those men. Nicodemus was an important person of his society. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, which can be described in today’s term as a mix of our Supreme Court and a legislative body overseeing religious affairs. Without a doubt, Nicodemus was considered a power elite among his people, a leader and an educated man who was chosen to identify acceptable religious structures and norms. In short, he was Mr. Big Shot and he was surely used to being listened to and obeyed.
One night, Nicodemus goes to meet a young rabbi from Nazareth called Jesus. Nicodemus’ goal is not necessarily to debate him or evaluate the accuracy of his faith. On the contrary, he seems to have developed some sort of respect for Jesus by saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do (miracles) apart from the presence of God.” For people like Nicodemus, the equation is quite simple. If you can do miracles, you are sent by God. No miracles, not sent by God. How hard is it to understand?, he might have said. Jesus replies that miracles are nice but one has to learn to go beyond them. Human beings cannot truly experience the realm of God with their human senses. We cannot see, hear or touch God’s kingdom. One has to become able to engage our world completely differently, almost as he or she was a new person, as if one was born anew or from above.
I only can imagine our poor Nicodemus listening to Jesus with a very perplexed face, before finally saying, ‘What are you talking about? Born again… like the full adult me... going back inside my mother and then… Are you serious? It does not make any sense.’ Obviously Nicodemus failed to understand what Jesus was saying… as most of us do when faced with similar questions. We live in a scientific and technological world which tells us that everything has an explanation and everything eventually can be understood. We do have today scientific terms and information for what was considered previously a miraculous healing. However, on occasions, when we are confronted to the darkest side of humanity, unexplainable succession of events or senseless tragedies, we often wonder how can these things be. Why did she develop a cancer and not me? Why did he walk into that specific store, at that specific time? Why did they give exactly what this group needed to achieve its goal? Most often, even if we analyze the situation with our minds, use the best technology or ding in our Bibles for some sort of divine explanation, we simply do not know. We cannot put our finger on it. It does not make sense. How can these things be?
Nicodemus struggled to understand Jesus’ message because he let himself be stuck with one level of thinking and could see beyond it. For him, and for countless others in our world today, faith and spirituality is essentially a question of knowledge, doctrines and dogmas. Religion is the visible and quantifiable results of learned behaviours, beliefs and practices. How healthy is your congregation? Just count the number of people who show up for worship on Sunday morning or the amount of money in your bank account. How hard is it to understand?, we might say. However, today’s text reminds us that, yes statistics, money and accomplishments are important, but we also need to look at faith and spirituality from a different angle. Religion is also a question of relationship and spiritual growth. Revelation and inspiration can lead to a new vision and understanding of life. The new world Jesus came to announce can also be experienced through a beautiful musical prelude in church or a few minutes of meditation at home.
Believing in the existence of God ought to be more than acknowledging miraculous signs, visible proofs, extraordinary events, supernatural accomplishments or fantastic phenomena. Our faith and spirituality also have to be anchored in a trustful and faithful relationship with God that often goes above words. It is this hunch, this intuition, this gut feeling that leads us to do things that do not make sense otherwise. Faith is to believe that something can be without receiving any proofs in exchange. It is accepting to live in the “I don’t know” and “I’m not sure” and yet still moving forward. It is accepting that each time we struggle with a difficult question, we might not find one single answer, but discovering many more difficult questions. It is accepting that there is such a thing than a mystery that is beyond our understanding and our wisdom.
For most of us this is really difficult to accept because it forces us to exist in a state of tension between the destination and the journey. It is like going on a walk on a beautiful warm afternoon. There is a part of us that wants to reach our destination or look at our FitBit to see if we getting closer to our 10,000 steps. There is another one that just wants to stop once in a while to look around, take a picture or talk to someone we cross. Even if we tend focus more on our point of arrival than how we got there, both elements are important and essential to our well-being. In the same way, God’s kin-dom becomes a reality when we both practice and live our religion. Jesus’ words make sense when we learn them and go beyond them in our daily lives. We can become a better person, a new person, a renewed person when we are ready to accept to look at life with both our knowledge and experiences.
When Nicodemus went to meet Jesus, was he expecting to encounter essentially an interesting teacher who performs impressive stunts? Was Nicodemus profoundly transformed by his conversation with Jesus? Did Nicodemus actually exist and approach Jesus? I don’t know, but it does not matter to me. Beyond the words of this story, I believe there is a God always looking for ways to reveal self to those who accept the challenge to engage the world from a different angle. Amen.