John 3:1-17 (NRSV)
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.' Jesus answered him, 'Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.' Nicodemus said to him, 'How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?' Jesus answered, 'Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, "You must be born from above." The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.' Nicodemus said to him, 'How can these things be?' Jesus answered him, 'Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
'Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 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.
Have you met Nicodemus? The one who comes in cover of darkness, alone, afraid, not sure of the response that he will receive from God.
Have you met Nicodemus? The one who hears the Good News - You are loved! There is hope! You can begin again! - but can't imagine those transformative words are meant for him.
I met Nicodemus in my office. He arrived as a middle-aged woman who just couldn't stop drinking. She was sure that God couldn't forgive her because she wasn't able to forgive herself. "I've hurt too many people. I've lost too many jobs. My family doesn't want to see me." When I talked about a forgiving God who offers new life, her words echoed Nicodemus. "How can this be?"
I met Nicodemus in the hospital. He was rarely seen in church, but he wanted to see me because he was consumed with pain and filled with fear about what might happen next. When I asked if I could pray with him, he answered, "No, Pastor, not with me. But maybe you could pray for me when you get home. I'm not sure God wants to hear from me right now." He could not believe that God had sent his only Son into the world especially for him, and for all of us sinners.
We have such Good News to share and yet so often we encounter the Nicodemus who lives in all of us. He is that part of us that doesn't seem to understand about grace and can't quite accept forgiveness.
We all have people in our congregations - deacons, trustees, Sunday school teachers - who, like Nicodemus, might be able to say what they have been taught and even quote what they "should" believe. They can tell Jesus, "We know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." But they have a hard time taking these words to heart and accepting the new life that is offered.
Jesus speaks words of hope, not to condemn the world, but to save each one of us. That is what the Nicodemus in us needs to hear.
God of new beginnings, help me to hear your words and believe them. Even when I see Nicodemus in the mirror, remind me that your love is greater than my doubt. And help me share that Good News with others. Amen.