What are we looking for? Nicodemus- Sermon

John 3: 1-17 (Briarwood, March 2014)

Good morning.

Let us pray.

Dear God, out of the relentless noisiness of life we come here to put ourselves in hearing distance of your word. We come because in many ways over the years you have come to us; in the beauty of the world, in the gifts of music and art, in those who love us. So now startle us once again, speak the word you have for us today and give us the courage to hear and respond and follow, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In May of 1987 – does it seem so long ago? – In 1987 the Irish rock band U2 released an album called The Joshua Tree.  It went on to sell over 25 million copies.  Its second track became the band’s second number-one single in the US.  The second track was nominated for two Grammy Awards in 1988.  It topped the charts in over 20 countries.  In the same year the band joined with Greater Calvary Baptist Church in Harlem to practice for a concert at Madison Square Gardens.

The only instrument they brought for the rehearsal – which was taped – was an electric guitar.  They used the church’s conga drums.  The footage of the choir and band singing this second track on Joshua Tree became a classic.  The band included it as part of their next and equally famous album.  It showed up in movies and TV shows, and still does today, in a 2014 episode of Glee.  Bands from garages all over the world have covered it.  The Rolling Stone magazine lists this track as among the top 100 best singles of all time.

There was something about that second track on The Joshua Tree that touched a chord in people all around the world.

That track is called,

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m looking for”.

And It goes like this:

I have climbed the highest mountain

I have run through the fields

Only to be with you

I have run, I have crawled

I have scaled these city walls

I have spoke with the tongue of angels

I have held the hand of a devil

It was warm in the night

I was cold as a stone

I believe in the kingdom come

Then all the colours will bleed into one

I’m still running

I’m still running

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

It is a song that echoed

through a few generations.

That touched people

in a way that sometimes only music can.

So much of the song

spoke to something

deep down

in a lot of people

around the world.

I have climbed the highest mountain

I have run through the fields

I have run, I have crawled

I have scaled these city walls

But I still

haven’t found

what I’m looking for

This Sunday is the second Sunday in Lent.

The Sundays leading up to Easter.

And on these Sundays

we are going to journey

with people from the Scriptures

who seem to be looking for something

or someone.

And who encounter Jesus

in their life journey.

There will be a woman at a well.

A blind man and his family.

Two sisters who lose a brother.

And today a man

called Nicodemus.



Nicodemus is a teacher, a leader, a Pharisee,

with a seat at only table that mattered

for the Jews,

the Sanhedrin.

He is respected.

He is successful.

He is confident.

He is a scholar.

He is a decision-maker.

He is in a position of some power and security.

And yet,

he comes to Jesus

by night.


When the city of Jerusalem

is not like ours,

bright with light.

but darkened.

Walking around

at night in Jerusalem,

with the customary robes

and by staying in the shadows,

it was entirely possible

to get somewhere

without being noticed.

Which is what Nicodemus wants.

Not to be noticed.

For no one to see

that he is meeting Jesus.

He is searching.


But he doesn’t want anyone to know.



Nicodemus, according to Deborah Kapp,

“is not ready to go public with his interest in Jesus,

so he makes an appointment in the middle of the night,

when he can keep his faith secret,

separated from the rest of his life…..

Nicodemus is not yet ready to declare

his faith in the light of day,

not prepared to let it change his life.”


Nicodemus is searching

for a faith

that can be kept separate.

From everything else.


Like every second

school child

this year,

carrying around

their rainbow looms.

They come with these little

coloured rubber bands,

and so as not to

mix up one colour from the other

one type of clasp from the next,

they carry them around

in those little plastic boxes,

divided into compartments,

little lids on the top, like for pills or fishing lures

so that there is separation.

That’s Nicodemus.


What is he looking for?

He’s looking for a way

to follow Jesus

without it going public

without it affecting anything else.

A way to understand Jesus

that is safe, contained, controlled.




And like it or not,

being a Nicodemus-like Christian

is all too possible

in our time.

The old theology professor

at Knox College


in the 1930s

Walter Bryden

saw a movement

in the mainline church

that some have traced

from now to then:

it is something like this,

when following cultural norms

push following Jesus in the private sphere only.

When it is not OK,

to witness to the living Christ in the world,

out of fear of how we might sound or look.

When faith in Jesus is appropriate

for family and personal morality

but inappropriate for public issues.  (Kapp)


It’s then that we become Nicodemus-like Christians.

Our belief

is disconnected,


compartmentalized from the world.



And to Nicodemus

Jesus doesn’t judge

turn him back,

or send him packing

off into the night.

Jesus rewards his intention

his search

he meets Nicodemus

and invites him

welcomes him

to try to understand

something about faith in Jesus

to try to help him find

what he’s really looking for.



Jesus teaches Nicodemus

about the nature

of having faith

in him.

The one come from God.

It’s something touches

every inch of who we are,

and more;

like a rebirth

like being born from above

being born of the Spirit,

where we acknowledge and welcome

the Spirit of God to touch everything we are and do;

being born of the Spirit,


like the wind

that blows where it pleases

to new and unimagined places

beyond the boundaries we might enforce.


We read this morning about Abraham and Sarah.

They “are the righteous and faithful mother and father of us all because one day they hear God’s call and listen and obey and take a monumental risk and open their hands and let go of everything they had earned and accumulated and upon which they were totally dependent for their self-image and their future security, and place their future, however much or little there was left of it, in God’s hands.”

That, the Bible says, is what faith is. That is what the new life in Jesus Christ looks like, what being “born again,” to use a troubled-but-important phrase, looks like.”  (John Buchanan)


Jesus comes right out

and says it:



I am talking here

about being born from above

born again

I am talking about heavenly things;

things that come from heaven;

things that are eternal

things that transcend

and inform

and shape

all of us,

and all of what we’re looking for.


The heavenly, heavenly,

earth shattering thing

that Jesus is talking about

the substance of a faith

that reaches everywhere

matters everywhere

that Martin Luther calls the gospel

in miniature

is that


the living God

so loved the world.

Jesus testifies

that the living God

doesn’t just so love

you or me.


Or some small part of our globe,

God’s love is not a compartmentalized love

the whole



God’s passion

ends at the world.

Following Jesus means

seeing the love of this God

and living life

by the Spirit from above.

As if re-born.





solely inner


it eventually perishes.



But Jesus makes the promise

the gracious invitation

to us

to listen

to hear

to let go

to be born again

to have life

that is eternal.

“It may be God’s summons to put the place up for sale, open your hands, let go of everything and walk into the wilderness with nothing much by way of certainty but God’s love.

It may be God’s summons to do something outrageous, like visiting Jesus at night, like joining the church, giving your love to a child, your money to a cause, giving your life away. . . .

And it may mean simply saying “yes” to the voice that has been calling you, prodding your conscience, compelling your love; saying “yes” to God’s great love for you in Jesus Christ.’

“Born again.  It’s not a threat.  It’s a promise.”  (John Buchanan).

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son,

that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

Thanks to be God.  Amen.

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