A Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent (05/03/23): We Know and What We Know We Say

John 3:1-17

“We know” says Nicodemus. What does Nicodemus know? He knows a world in which things work in certain ways. We would perhaps call them the laws of nature. We would say that there are the boundaries of the possible. For example; children are born, they grow up, and there is no reversing that process. Nicodemus knows!

No wonder then that Jesus’ words leave him stammering.

“Ho-ho” we say, “how foolish.” We know Jesus doesn’t mean that. “Born again?” why, that it is a metaphor. It has a “spiritual” rather than literal meaning. Actually we know too well what born again means, it’s a phrase that belongs on a placard, it’s a slogan, and quite honestly it frightens most of to death. Whatever it is that Christianity is about, we don’t like the way it looks when it is put that way. “Have you been born again?” is a question put by an earnest questioner which we really don’t want to have to answer. Put that way it’s the equivalent of asking; “have you decided yet: Are you for Jesus, or against?” Or perhaps more uncomfortably is implies; “are you one of us, or one of them.” “Born again” becomes a kind of certificate of authenticity. It is a phrase wielded to mark out the real Christians from the counterfeits and the pale imitations.

We know? When did anyone ever choose to get born? Birth is a worryingly unpredictable process. Every bit as unpredictable and uncontrollable as where the wind blows

We know! What do we know? How could we know? We want to know a God that is small enough to fit into our preconceptions about what is possible. We want to know a God small enough to fit into our box. We may not like the labelling that “Born again” implies. We may take a different view of what Christianity is about. But we want a God that is every bit as comforting, secure and predictable as those who proclaim themselves born again.

We know? What presumption it is to presume that we could ever begin to know anything about God! How arrogant of us it is to declare ourselves clear about what God is like, what God wants and what God doesn’t want.. It should be enough to make a preacher fall silent. “How can that be!” Nicodemus started out self-confident and certain of his knowledge of the world and of God. His rapid fall from such confidence into utter amazement should make us all wary of assuming we know anything at all about God.

What we know, we say, and we testify to what we have seen. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son. . . .” Now there’s another phrase that’s a slogan which belongs on a placard. We know what that means, don’t we?

Why of course we do: Jesus came into the world to make things go better for us! He came to fix the mess that we’ve got ourselves into individually and collectively. Or least he came to make us feel better about it. And any mess that we don’t see him fix now, well that will be sorted out in the hereafter, in that eternal life. We are all presumption and self-centredness The smallness of our vision and the inadequacy of our imagination reduces God to being a solution for our problems. As if God were existing for us! Whereas the truth is, it is the other way round. God’s love extends not only to those who are with us, however we define that, not only to human beings – in their prideful self-awareness, God’s love extends to the whole of creation. The Son of Man enters the world to demonstrate the grand sweep of that love. We need to be reborn in order to be caught up in the unimaginable plan of salvation that God works through Jesus Christ. Christ’s cross doesn’t just address us, even us at the extremes of our existence, answering our questions about our life and death. Rather Christ is lifted up to reveal God’s love for all that God has made and God’s intention that it all should be reborn and remade.

The wind blows where it chooses” The moment of course we think we’ve fix on God, God slips away from us. Like the wet bar of soap that we can hold onto only so tightly, squeeze it any harder and it will slither out of our grip. Knowledge of God is like the wind, we cannot see, and certainly cannot control, but we can see its effects, as it ripples the leaves, or uproots whole trees. We can only allow ourselves to be swept along and up by God. We can only be open to the possibility that God will lead us where we did not expect to go, show us what we had not seen and teach us what we did not know.

“We know” we say. What do we know. That God is a God of surprises, and is liable to work in unpredictable ways. We would call it The Good News or the laws of grace. It is the unlimited possibility of God’s love. We are born of water and the Spirit. We are involved in a process that is constantly renewed and going on into everlasting life. We know

We Know and What We Know We Say by Christopher Wood-Archer is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 

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