The 4th Sunday in Lent at St Mark Church in Norman, OK
March 30, 2003
2 Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23 + Ephesians 2:4-10 + John 3:14-21
We know very little about Nicodemus. He shows up suddenly out of nowhere. He is leader, John tells us. He is a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, so we know before he even begins his questions that he’s smart, savvy, and a thinking man. He comes at night. We suspect that it isn’t because he’s busy all day, or that Jesus only holds class at night. He has a lot to loose, because his questions reveal that he has gone one step further than the rest of the Pharisees. His questions are not legal. They are sincere inquiries. He comes seeking understanding, and he will be back.
The church places him at the center of Lent. As much as the Samaritan Woman, a man born blind, and Lazarus have found a place in Lent’s traditions, so has Nicodemus. Thirsting for truth, he comes to Jesus. Longing to see, he comes to Jesus. Seeking life, he comes to Jesus, and what he receives is revelation of the Divine Mercy.
For Lent’s first three Sundays we have pondered the Covenant and its commands from our side. For Lent’s final Sunday we shall see it from God’s side. It is still about Faithfulness and Commitment. It is still about courage in suffering with a vision of victory for us. For God it is simply about Mercy, a mercy that astounds and sometimes confounds the powerful who think only of revenge, punishment, control, and power. The “depth and the breadth and the height” of God’s love pushes at the limits we sometimes set with our “three strikes you’re out” kind of justice.
Mercy is there and must be there with a God who does not force anything upon us. Free to chose, and made that way; we can accept God’s loving gestures, or we can refuse them. We can move into the mystery of that Divine Mercy and imitate the one in whose image we are made, or we can chose otherwise. In the readings from Chronicles and Psalm 137 we are reminded that before the Israelites could return to their land, they had to return to God. In the Gospel, Nicodemus is told that people can choose to believe or not believe in Christ, There has always been a choice, and today that choice is in our face.
It isn’t as though many people explicitly choose against God. These choices we make are far more subtle than that. It is the little infidelities added one upon another that eventually lead to a choice. It is the indifference we show to the message and the messengers who challenge and call us to mercy, not necessarily any violence. We silence them and still the message simply by ignoring them, and keeping ourselves busy with other things. It isn’t that we refuse God, it’s just that we’re busy with other stuff. It isn’t that we are big sinners, it is simply that we are not big saints. We’re not big at anything. God gives us choices to make, and sometimes we choose not to choose.
On Lent’s fourth Sunday, we are invited to begin – begin Lent if we did not choose to do so three weeks ago, begin rebuilding our lives like Israel who repented after seeing the consequences of their choices. Our broken lives are not broken forever. Our broken world is not beyond the reach of God’s healing love. Our broken peace is not without hope of victory; but it will not be God’s victory without mercy. We can live in a world that celebrates cooperation rather than competition, and finds that respect is more true to our nature than discrimination. Around this altar we can rejoice in the Love we have been offered and discover how to share this powerful, healing, forgiving gift. The choice is ours.