You have to feel for a guy like Nicodemus. All of his life, he has been told the same thing over and over again, that the people of Israel are God’s people, God’s family. Then Jesus comes along and says you’ve got it all wrong. God’s family is open to everyone. Jesus completely undermines everything that Nicodemus has been taught. It’s sort of like being told all your life that Pluto is a planet, only to have a group of scientists come along and say, “Oh no, Pluto is not a planet.” That was very upsetting to me. These scientists took away my pickles. That is how I remembered the order and names of the planets, “My Very Endearing Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles.” No one likes having their pickles taken away. And, Nicodemus didn’t like having his understanding of God’s people taken away. By the way, in our house, Pluto still is and always will be a planet.
Nicodemus was a child of Abraham, but not through Ishmael’s side of the family. He was a child of Abraham through the line of Isaac. That made Nicodemus a child of the promise. That meant that Nicodemus belonged to God’s people. In addition to that, Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling council, a keeper of the Law, the Law that distinguished God’s people from all the other peoples of the world. Despite all that he had going for himself,
Nicodemus was, here late one night, talking with Jesus, in solitude and secrecy. Clearly, at some point prior to this night, Nicodemus had either heard Jesus teach, or seen some of the miracles that Jesus performed. Maybe he was a witness to both. Whatever it was the he saw or heard, Nicodemus found himself questioning his own assumptions about where he fit into God’s unfolding story. Somewhere along the way, Nicodemus realized that his pickles were being taken away. So, he had to find some answers. That is why he sought out an opportunity to talk with Jesus.
It must have been disheartening for Nicodemus to hear Jesus say, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God, unless he is born again.” With that one statement, Jesus took the last of the pickles. Jesus said, in effect, throw out everything you thought you knew about who can and can’t be part of God’s family; because, God is starting a new family and if you want to be part of it, you need to born again. In other words, being part of God’s family is not about genetics or personal ancestry. It is about something even more.
“God is doing something new,” Jesus says to Nicodemus. And, as a way of explaining just what it is that God is doing, Jesus uses an example, from Israel’s history. The people of Israel were in the wilderness, during the Exodus, trying to make their way to the Promised Land. As they had done many times before, the people complained against Moses and God. So, God sent poisonous snakes into the camp. They bit and killed many people. In turn the people cried out to God for help. God heard their cry and responded by giving Moses the cure. Moses was to make a serpent out of bronze, place it on a pole, and hold it up for people to look at. Anyone who looked at the serpent on the pole would live. What does this have to do with Jesus’ activities? Everything!
You see it’s not just the Jews this time, but all of humanity that is under a curse, the curse of sin and death, and the only cure is to look at Jesus, dying on the cross, and finding life through believing in him. In the wilderness, there was a common curse upon everyone and so for everyone, there was a common cure, the serpent lifted up on a pole. Likewise in the world, there is a common curse upon everyone, and so, for everyone, there is a common cure, Jesus dying on the cross. Notice again what Jesus said, “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone,” did you hear that word, “everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
“God is doing something new,” Jesus says to Nicodemus. And, it is for everyone. Why? Well, the next verse sums it up, “For God so loved the world,” or, we could say, for God so loved everyone, “that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Paul expanded on this idea when he wrote his letter to the church in Rome. Paul wrote, “Nothing in heaven and on earth shall every separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.” There is not a person on the face of this earth, past, present, or future, that God does not love. That doesn’t mean that every person on the face of this earth wants God’s love. Nevertheless, there is not one person that God does not love. When Jesus is lifted up on that cross, he is lifted up for everyone. He dies for every person on the face of this earth, so that everyone can look to him and live. This is the new thing that God is doing in Jesus Christ, opening up God’s family to everyone regardless of who they were.
When I have an opportunity to baptize a child in the church, one of the things that I enjoy the most about that moment, is when I carry the child around the sanctuary. As I am walking, I talk with the child, introducing the child to his or her new family. I want to let the child know the names and the faces of his or her new brothers and sisters. At the conclusion of this walk, I stand in the back of the church, and I make an announcement that we as the body of Christ are receiving this child into our midst. All of this action is done to indicate that a new reality is taking place. This child, who has been born to a particular family, in a particular place, at a particular time, is being reborn into a new family. Through the waters of baptism and the prayer invoking the Holy Spirit, the child is being born anew into God’s family regardless of the child’s background.
Being born into God’s family is not about race or nationality. Gender is of no concern. Who cares if the child is Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, rich or poor, educated or uneducated. It also doesn’t matter if the child is a Steelers fan or a Patriots fan. None of that matters in becoming part of God’s family. All that matters is that God loves this child and welcomes this child with open arms. And, because all that other stuff doesn’t matter, then God’s family is open to everyone who wishes to be part of it, an important thing for us to keep in mind as the church.
This everyone is included policy is hard to accept for the Nicodemus’ of the world; because, we want to pick and choose who is in and who is out. Yet, as the church, we are not given that option. We don’t get to decide who is allowed to be part of God’s family. That is up to God. What we do instead, is reach out to the world with God’s love.
One time, I came across a story that, “When Jesus ascended to heaven after his resurrection, the angels asked him, ‘Did you accomplish your task?’
‘Yes, all is finished,’ the Lord replied.
‘We have a second question,’ said the angels. “Has the whole world heard of you? Does the whole world know how much you love them?’
‘No,’ said Jesus.
‘Then what is your plan,’ the angels asked?
Jesus said, ‘I have left twelve disciples and a few other followers to carry my message of love to the whole world.’
The angels looked at him and asked, ‘Do you have a plan B?’
Brothers and sisters, there is no plan B. The task has been given to the church to go out into the whole world and proclaim God’s love to everyone, to give everyone the opportunity to look to Jesus dying on the cross, so that by believing in Jesus everyone can find life. Yet, in order for us to do this, we need to look at the world through the eyes of God’s love.
A couple of weeks ago, I invited us to offer up a very challenging prayer. In invited us to say to God, “God what do you think of me.” Last week, I expanded on that prayer a bit and invited to say to God, “God help me to see myself as you see me.” Well, this week, I want to expand this prayer a little more and invite us to say to God, “God help me to see others as you see them.” When we see others as God’s sees them, the love that God has for everyone, will naturally flow forth from our lives and into the lives of others, regardless of who they are.
We are to shine the light and love of God into other people’s lives. Yet, it is not for us to pick and choose on whom we shine the light and love of God. What we do as the church and as Christians in the church is for everybody. We shine the light and love of God upon our families whom we love. We shine it on our neighbors whom we like. We even shine it on our neighbors that we don’t get along with. We shine it on those inside the church and on those outside the church. We shine the light and love of God on the stranger that we meet at the supermarket; and, we even shine it upon our enemies, whoever they may be. We shine the light and love of God upon those who are ready to receive it, and upon those who will never receive it. We shine it upon the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the black and the white, the male and the female, the American and the foreigner. Our reflecting the light and love of God must be to everyone and for everyone. Why? Because, “God is doing a new thing,” Jesus says, “and, it is for everyone.”Why? Because, God still loves the whole world.