Message for February 20, 2005  /  Second Sunday in Lent

Rev. Carol Kniseley  /  Resurrection Lutheran Church


‘Nick at Night’


According to the February edition of the Ladies Home Journal, there has never been a more politically correct time to “search for God”.      According to the article, 90% of Americans say they believe in God.      Almost as many people believe in miracles, an afterlife, and heaven.    I find it interesting that more women than men say religion plays a significant role in their lives and that a recent survey revealed that 64% of all Web surfers use the Internet for religious and spiritual purposes.     And yet, although 75% of Americans consider themselves “religious or somewhat religious”, many of them find that no one place of worship can meet their religious needs.    Sociologists call these folks the “Nones” (pronounced ‘nuns’) because this is how they answer the question, “What is your specific religion?”


From 1990 to 2001 their ranks more than doubled to nearly 30 million in America alone.    These are individuals who don’t believe that any one religious organization has a monopoly on truth.    They actively experiment and seek.     The truth is, they have “multiple religious belongings.”     These are people who may go to a Catholic Mass on Wednesday, a lecture on Buddhism on Friday, and on Sunday attend services in one of thousands of nondenominational churches that have cropped up in recent years, with an emphasis less on liturgy and more on community.   


All going to prove that there has never been a time when people haven’t in some form or fashion engaged in a search for God.     In fact, the Gospel writer John goes out of his way to make sure we know of one specific person whose name was…Nicodemus, the original “Nick at Night”.      Nicodemus was a good man. A very good man in fact, who had one foot entrenched in the Jewish law.    He was absolutely convinced that in order for a person to draw near to God, they had to first of all change.   And that if you change the outside, you change the inside.  Jesus…on the other hand…would beg to differ.


Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless one is born again, he cannot be in God’s kingdom.”    Nicodemus’s  response is sincere.   He didn’t ask Why?   He asked How?   And isn’t that the question we all want to have answered?


Think with me for just a moment back to your own birth.    Imagine standing there looking at yourself.     What do you see?   Brand new hands.   Brand new eyes.   Never before used mouth…or fingers…or toes.   No pre-owned parts.    All original material.    


Now tell me, who gave you these parts?    Who gave you eyes so you could see?   Who gave you hands so you could work?   Who gave you feet so you could walk?   Did you make your own hands…eyes…or feet?   No.   You made nothing.   God made everything.   He was the one who made everything new the first time, and he is the one who makes everything new the second time around.  The Apostle Paul was absolutely correct when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17,


‘If anyone belongs to Christ, there is a new creation.   The old things have gone;  everything is made new!”


Nicodemus assumes rightly that Jesus is talking about a whole new birth.   But what he doesn’t understand…is that it is not a physical birth that Jesus is alluding to…but a spiritual one.  At our new birth…God gives us new eyes…so that we can see by faith.   A new mind…so that we can have the mind of Christ.    New strength…so we won’t grow tired.  A new vision…so we won’t lose heart.    A new voice for praise…and new hands for service.     And most of all, a new heart…that has been cleansed by Christ himself.


When, might you ask, did this new birth take place?    On the day of your baptism, God washed you from the inside out…until you were squeaky clean.   And like a newborn babe, he watched as you took your first steps on the journey of faith.    But now we need to engage another question about each of our births.    How active were you in the process?     Did you somehow communicate with your mother when you were ready to come out…radioing ahead that all systems were go and the world had better look out?     I don’t think so.     For all intents and purposes…you and I were pretty passive in the whole birth process.     You and I were not born because of anything we did.    Someone else felt all the pain and did all the pushing…meaning our first birth was due to someone else’s effort.


Bingo.   The same is true for our spiritual birth as well.    When we think about it, it was through God’s pain that we are born again.    It was not our struggle to set ourselves free, but his.    It was not our blood that was shed for our sin, but his.   And that is exactly why Jesus went on to paint for Nicodemus…and for us…a picture that no one else could possibly see at the time.   Not until Jesus’ lifeless body was being taken down from the cross…and with Nicodemus’s help…laid in a tomb.    It would be then that Nicodemus would recall Jesus’ words on this day:


‘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…’


And there we have it.     New birth.   Eternal life.   All because God so loved the world.    Not just the Jews.   Not just those who say they love God.   The truth is, God doesn’t want anyone to be lost…including the seekers of today who like Nicodemus dare to engage in the conversation…even when they’re not sure what to say.    


In many ways our new birth is exactly like our first.   In our new birth, God provides exactly what we need.    Someone else feels the pain.   Someone else does the work.     And just as parents are patient with their newborn infant, so God is patient with each one of us.    But, there is one distinct difference.


The first time…you and I had no choice about being born; this time we do.   The power is God’s.    The effort is God’s.    The pain is God’s.   But the choice rests with each one of us.   


‘For God so loved the world…that he gave his only Son, so that everyone…


seekers, non-seekers, professed believers and those who don’t even have a clue as to where to begin looking, people of all races, creeds, and political agendas…infants, children, youth, young adults and senior citizens…all persons seeking to find some semblance of meaning in their lives…


everyone who believes in him…may have eternal life.     And now…you know the rest of the story…according to Nicodemus, the original Nick at Night.