John 3:1-17 March 19, 2014

by Paul Landahl
Coordinator for Candidacy

I find this Nicodemus character in today’s Gospel very interesting.  First of all he comes by night to seek out Jesus.  What were his fears that caused him to come to Jesus at night in the first place?  Did he not want to be identified with Jesus out in the open?  Certainly he had knowledge of Jesus.  He acknowledges Jesus as a teacher who has come from God.  He is awed by the signs that Jesus has done.  He must have witnessed some of those signs in daylight.  And before he can even ask a question, Jesus gives an answer to the question that Jesus saw forthcoming.  “You must be born from above to see the Kingdom of God.”

There certainly have been many times in my life when I was fearfully approaching situations, and even before I could form the questions I wanted to ask, I felt an answer falling over me.  That’s the amazing thing about Jesus, as our troubled, restless spirits try to overpower us, we are being drawn to Jesus.  And in the darkness of our struggles, a light becomes visible, if only those fears could be put aside.

As that light begins to flicker for Nicodemus, he asks the “how” question.  He knew Jesus was not talking about physical  birth.  Jesus knew what Nicodemus was thinking and so his answer comes.  “You must be born of water and the Spirit.” 

Nicodemus, this is not a head trip.  This is not about how religious you are or how much learning you have acquired  “You must be born from above.”  It is not your doing.  It is God’s doing.  This is a heart trip I’m talking about.

And then Jesus uses the wind as an example of the Spirit.  It’s a word that we need to hear as we try to control the Spirit’s activity in our lives.  “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.”

And Nicodemus’ response is “how can these things be?”  Do you mean that I give up control of my life?  That the activity of the Spirit becomes a controlling factor in my life?    

How open are we to that kind of activity on the part of the Spirit?  The word that Jesus speaks is filled with promise and with pain.  There is no easy road to life – you must be born again.

Luther:  You rise in the morning and make the sign of the cross on your forehead and say I am a baptized child of God and I have been born again and again and again….

No one has said that this is easy, especially for those who are engaging in the first call process and those awaiting assignment of their internship site and ministry in context congregations.   I have been involved with candidacy since the beginning of the ELCA and even before that in a predecessor church body.  I have tried over those years to talk with students about being open to the activity of the Spirit as it comes to their first calls and still I hear the question, “how can this be?”  The Nicodemus spirit is alive and well at LSTC, especially at Assignment time.

“How can this be?”
“After all, I have never been in that part of the US before”
“We have family located where we wanted to go”
“Did anyone read my paperwork”
‘I want to get away from my home area and see a different part of the US”
“I can’t believe that this is where God wants me to serve.”

And so the “How can this be?” questions roll off our lips.  However, the Nicodemus/Jesus story throws something new into our lives.  Could Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, be good words for us also?  They have been for me at the start of my ministry and continuing even to today.

My first call story:
Warren, Michigan – missionary at large
Training at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church – James Kennedy
Calling experience
Door to door visitation – I could not get my car to stop
1st service – 89    2nd service – 33
In 3 years we were off mission support – self supporting

We may feel alone and filled with fear at times.  But born anew by love, the old life left behind, we pass from darkness into day, and life, long sought, we find. 

Joseph of Aramathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus…..Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came……They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths.

We may feel alone and filled with fear at times.  But born anew by love, the old life left behind, we pass from darkness into day, and life, long sought, we find.



John 3:1-17

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