Saturday, 19 March 2011

Nicodemus meets Leonard Cohen

Whilst we are settling into life in Wauchope, reading the local papers, visiting the local farmers’ markets, and becoming accustomed to the different pace of life, we also have to work! For us (as the name of this blog indicates), that includes working on Sundays.

Worship for today, the second Sunday in Lent, was focussed on the story of Nicodemus, a teacher and leader who “came to Jesus by night”, for a somewhat interesting theological discussion. Nicodemus is best remembered because as he talked with Jesus, he heard the momentous words that, in order to enter the kingdom of God, a person must “be born from above”.

We weren’t going to get into a detailed exegetical exploration of the meaning of this little phrase (and the complex theological baggage that has become associated with it, courtesy of the less-than-accurate translation popularised by the King James Version – “be born again”). We covered that ground in Wednesday’s Lenten study group; the sermon was opportunity to look more broadly at the story.

So today a member of the congregation read all three passages on Nicodemus in John’s Gospel (not just the bite from chapter 3, but also the end of ch.7 and ch.19). And the sermon comprised a series of imaginary first-century conversations, in the Jerusalem house of Boaz and Deborah, about the strange way he was acting and the curious ideas he was exploring. It was the self-styled prophet from Galilee who was (in the eyes of these first century Jewish neighbours of Nicodemus) leading him into dangerous territory.

To his credit, Nicodemus, we are told in John’s Gospel, followed through after his initial conversation with the Galileean prophet—in fact, he supported him in a debate in the Jerusalem council, and after the prophet had died, he joined in the task of anointing the body and laying it to rest. His belief in what this prophet had taught, was now clear for all to see. Nicodemus had taken risks, explored his faith, and made significant changes.

He was no longer just dabbling in ideas “during the night”; he had come out in the open for all to see. No more “secret life”; now he was a follower of Jesus.
Our hope for the congregations where we were preaching today, is that they might catch a sense of what it means to follow Jesus in this way—to ask questions, to take risks, to discover new things about faith, to launch out into new ways of being people of faith. Of course, this won’t happen after one sermon. But we are planning a series of Lenten studies and Sunday sermons which will follow through the characters in John’s Gospel who encounter Jesus, take risks, and set out on new ventures. (More about them in the coming weeks!) And we are working with the church council to consider ways in which the congregation might take risks and seek new developments.

Driving back from the lunchtime service today, we were listening to Leonard Cohen’s song, In my secret life. Gradually the connections with Nicodemus became clear—moving from clandestine discussions “at night”, to public declarations in the council, to assisting at the burial of Jesus.

Cohen sings, “I’d die for the truth in my secret life.” But in his song, he hasn’t quite found the gumption to act that way in his real, public life. There may well be many people who feel like that. I think we are hoping to develop a kind of committed faith that doesn’t hide things in a “secret life”, but speaks and acts in brave and risky ways. I guess we’ll take a rain check and report back at a later time about how it is going!

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