Lent 2: We wonder
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One summer when I was in college I interned with a pastor who is considered one of Australia’s leading Christian moral voices. If there was something that the main-stream media wanted a Christian view of they often interview this man whose name is Tim. Tim also used to be a politician. I was with him for one of these interviews. I remember my astonishment as we went through the interview with a TV reporter and it was like Tim and the reporter were following different scripts. The reporter would ask a question and Tim would answer something on a totally different track. When asked about other political issues or something more personal, Tim would still answer as if he’d been asked a question about the moral issue at hand even if it had nothing to do with the question. And at no point did either party stop and say “hey, you didn’t answer my question”. It was like an agreed upon game – each had the track they were going to follow and it didn’t really matter what the other person was doing. I walked away very confused but also with a much great respect or possibly skepticism for politicians who only answer what they want to even when it is not the question they were asked.
I felt a similar kind of bafflement coming to the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus in our text this week. I call it an encounter because it doesn’t really feel like a conversations. Jesus seems to be answering in riddles and throwing curveballs instead of responding to questions. And I seem to be with Nicodemus – a bit befuddled and left wondering what is going on and what is being said.
This is a dense theological passage that seems to keep introducing new points instead of explaining the last one. Just when I feel like I’ve pick up the thread of where it is going, Jesus changes tack again and I have to try and catch up. We read that Nicodemus came to find Jesus in the dark of night and there is a double meaning there. Nicodemus was a bit in the dark – he doesn’t understand what Jesus is saying and the point Jesus is trying to make. We are left feeling like Jesus and Nicodemus are talking past each other on different planes.
Pondering this starts me wondering – what is going on here?
Reconnecting to wonder – what is it, what are we missing
First, I think we are invited to reconnect with wonder.
We are in a time where we have information overload and yet there is so much we don’t understand. This passage invites us to ponder things in a different way, it invites us into wonder. At one point Nicodemus asks “How can these things be?” We think we need to know so many things and have it figured out but how do we admit that we need to keep learning.
Nicodemus starts by saying that he thinks Jesus must be from God because of all the signs that Jesus has done. Many times we want this proof, we want to know that God is real and to have God’s agenda clearly laid out. But as the texts continues there is a mind-bending invitation into things unseen, not into concrete signs and miracles. “Jesus invites Nicodemus into a conversation of wondering and mystery that travels away from predictable and logically clear paths.” (Leader, p. 38)
When was the last time you were really caught up in wonder? I remember once at New Year’s I went up onto a roof in the middle of the city. At midnight fireworks were set off from roofs all around us. Literally every direction I looked there were explosions of sound and color. I was jumping around so full of delight and wonderment. Or I think about the wonder I feel when I plant seeds and watch for the first few days as the seedlings emerge and I marvel at these tiny miracles of life. There are amazing things that happen all around us but do we slow down to see them.
When we see wonder in and through the eyes of children we think it’s cute. But do we allow ourselves the space to wonder, to dream, to ask the hard questions – is wonder just a softer way of saying doubt?
Then I start asking why is it easier for children to wonder about things? Is it that they don’t have the burdens of the world so firmly on their shoulders yet? Do we have space to wonder as adults? Our biggest challenge is to stop. Do we let ourselves gaze out the window and daydream?
The wonderment that I see in this passage comes from Jesus’s responses to Nicodemus. When Nicodemus says that Jesus must be from God because no one can do these signs without God. Jesus responds that no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above. And I can almost see Nicodemus’s confused look as he tries to figure this out. So…how can an old person go back into their mother’s womb to be born a second time?
The miracle of birth is confusing and amazing enough the first time round. We don’t really understand all the parts of this creation, this new life emerging from the dark, warmness of the womb into the light of a new life. When we are born we have new eyes and need to learn everything about this life we have entered. As Jesus talks more about being born of water and the spirit we are invited to wonder about our baptism and the new life we enter into. Do we have to learn everything again? Do we get a new start? And do we get times like Lent where we get to hit the reset button or at least pause as we consider how we want to spend this one, wonderful life.
The life of faith that Jesus is talking about here is knowing that in faith there is mystery. If we could figure it all out I’m not sure it would be faith any more – faith is an invitation into wonder. When we think we have got God figured out we take away some of the mystery and power that God holds. Can we enter into that understanding with openness?
Gift of wonder – light and darkness, giving up control
This part of God, which is mystery and spirit, is explored by talking about wind. I live on the side of a ridge and this winter I regularly get out of my car and feel like I’m going to be blown over. The wind gusts so strongly that I have to have weights on my welcome mat so that it doesn’t blow away. I’ve had some time to listen to the wind and ponder its power. The wind, that ungraspable part of God’s spirit – which is Sophia wisdom. The uncontrollability of this wind/spirit - We can’t bottle it, shape it – but we can feel it and go with it. The spirit/wind – you hear the sound of it but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes to – we join in with this spirit/wind as we join this Jesus through new birth.
This kind of wonder and entering in with the Spirit requires us to let go – we don’t guide this kind of wonder, God does – trusting if God made heaven and earth God can guide us. God is with us, God will help us – God takes our hand like we take the hand of a small child and leads us. We can relax a little because God knows the way so we can look around a bit in wonder.
Can we be this kind of wonder full?
Nicodemus continues in his bewilderment and asks – How can this be? Jesus response is essentially asking “How are you a learned insider and you don’t know this?” Could Jesus just as easily turn to you or me and ask this question? How do we not understand this yet.
Because like Nicodemus we are still in the dark. And maybe some darkness is a good thing. Why is it that we think darkness might be bad? Is it that we lack control of the dark and lack control in the dark. We have to wait and be patient for our eyes to adjust. In the Genesis passage from today we hear how Abram is called by God. Abram is not told where he is going. He is told that he will be blessed and without even asking a question, Abram goes.
We often want a plan, a clear path ahead but just like Abram we may only have the direction we need to move in. This thought in our scheduled, planned, thoughtful world is terrifying. We like to control the next step – we don’t want to just step out in trust.
In this Lent season can we step out into the dark, giving up some of our need for control and realizing some of the beauty. It is only when we go out into the darkness that we see the vastness of the stars.
In Australia our seasons are opposite to here in the US so instead of Lent leading into spring and Easter – Lent really is a time of going into the dark as summer ends and the days grow shorter and colder. Lent for all of us is an invitation into the dark, but to look there for the next step ahead. Do we need to step into the dark – is that what the invitation into wonder is?
Nurture our wonder – we need a bit to prepare us for the next step – where might God lead?
In this season of Lent let us nurture our wonder. As we step out we know that God is with us. The Psalmist says: The Lord will keep you from all evil; God will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forever more.
And with Nicodemus we are given a glimpse of what is to come – the ultimate wonder where God in Jesus turns life and death on their heads. (Quote John 3:16-17) This great invitation to believe in this wonder – that God could judge us for all kinds of things – but Jesus didn’t come to condemn only to save it.
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