John 3:1-17 – Second Sunday of Lent 2020

This Sermon was delivered at St John the Baptist, Bressingham and St Remigius, Roydon at their Eucharists on the 2nd Sunday of Lent, 8th March 2020. Reading: John 3:1-17

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

If I had not been away last week I would have been able to preach on the Temptation of Jesus in the Desert. I think that this was a challenging passage for many people to think about today as we can often find ourselves feeling embarrassed about the more, shall we call them “Supernatural” elements in the scriptures. It seems to me that our culture has managed to blind itself to these supernatural elements in the Gospel by using ‘rationalism’ as a tool to dismiss the miraculous within Scripture. When we rationalise things away we introduce a safety net, a distance, between us and the text as we find ways to understand it which don’t offend our modern sensibilities.

Yet at its core, the Gospel is offensive. It’s not that it is rude but rather that it is unapologetic. God is real, God is present and God is active. This is the reality which the Gospel presents us with in the life of Jesus, that of God bursting in upon our consciousness and by his words and deeds challenging us to reconsider what we think we know about life. 

Last week, this was made vividly clear by Jesus’ interactions with the devil in the desert, and his subsequent angelic support.

Today we have heard of Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus. A conversation which seems to have thoroughly confused Nicodemus even though he was a learned and well regarded religious leader. In reflecting on each of these passages, and on those which we are to explore throughout the rest of this lenten season, I have found myself gravitating to a prayer which I wrote and used a lot while at Theological college. Each week, in each of the villages and at Roydon, this prayer shall be the lens through which we shall reflect on the passage.

“Open my eyes to more than me. Open my eyes to the things that be.”

“Open my eyes to more than me. Open my eyes to the things that be.”

By praying this, we acknowledge that our own perception of life is exactly that – our own. And often this means that we can find ourselves too close to our lives to be able to see them clearly. It’s the same principle at play as when we find it easy to give others good advice, but hard to give ourselves good advice. If we’re prepared to be humble and to ask God to open our eyes to see things as he has created them and knows them to truly be, then we can move beyond our own limited perspectives and personal or even cultural  biases to try and see things in a fresh light.

Open my eyes to more than me.
Open my eyes to the things that be.

Open our eyes.. Well this is certainly something which Nicodemus was struggling with in this conversation with Jesus. For he had complimented Jesus, saying that it was clear that no one could do the signs he was doing if they were not a teacher sent from God. Jesus responds enigmatically by saying: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” This puzzles Nicodemus, how can one enter a second time into the Mother’s womb and be born again? 

This is a perfect example of our tendency to rationalise things away into absurdity and thus to miss the point. For Jesus here is not concerned with the slightly grotesque image of physical rebirth but rather of being born into a new life. A new life which is entered into by both water and spirit – the symbols which we now associate with Baptism. Jesus continues by saying “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” 

In truth we can all be rather like Nicodemus. We hear the words of Jesus and they kind of make sense, but it can be easy to feel like “I don’t get it”, to think to ourselves “I don’t understand God”. 

Yet Jesus doesn’t give up on Nicodemus, and he doesn’t give up on us either. He wants us to understand heavenly things, the spiritual realities at stake in our lives and so he goes on to explain: 

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

‘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.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I rather suspect that Nicodemus didn’t quite understand what Jesus was saying to him here. Indeed I suspect that even his disciples who were with him would find that they didn’t really understand until much later on. It would take seeing Jesus lifted up on the cross, and the discovery of the empty tomb and eating with him after having witnessed his death for these words to begin to take on their true significance. 

We shall join the disciples in that journey through Lent towards both the pain and confusion of Good Friday and the joy of Easter. And as we do, let us ponder in our hearts about the spiritual content of our faith, about the reality of the divine presence which we encounter in the sacraments and the way in which “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.”

Open my eyes to more than me.
Open my eyes to the things that be.”


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