Sitting With Jesus

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston

 I. Shaking Of The Foundations

What happens when what you begin to doubt the things that you have built your entire life on?  What happens when you know someone who may have the answers, but that person would be an embarrassment to the life you have established for yourself? Where do you go and what do you do?  What happens when the very foundation of your life seems to be crumbling beneath you and life as we know it makes no sense?  What happens when the one who may have all the answers may have you question the very essence of your life and being?  What happens? What do you do?

As we mentioned last week, the real Jesus and his teachings were contrary to the traditional rituals of the “holy” men, the religious scribes, Pharisees, and chief priests.  What Jesus was teaching was threatening the very collapse of the structural arrangement that the religious leaders had with the Roman Empire.  His teachings focused more on the humanistic soul of people rather than rote memorization of scripture and empty rituals masked as worship to God, the holy temple functioned more as a structure of religiosity that sought more control than to connect with the Divine up above.  So, you can imagine what Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a leader within the religious community, may have been feeling when he started to doubt the system that he had built his career on, the faith that he had been taught his whole life.  When he started believing that there may be truth beyond what he knew.  When he started to believe that the structure he grew up in, the structure he was fostered in, the structure he built his whole life around needed to torn down, blown apart – because the truth could not exist within the system.  He was probably thinking that there may be some truth to what this Jesus guy may be saying.  But even that admission would be accepting the fact that the whole structure must be burned down in order for the essence of God truth to rise as a phoenix from the ashes, to admit that new life was made possible through the death of something else.

So, he did what anybody would have done.  Anyone who was wrestling with an issue, anyone who had to reckon with the shakiness of the foundations of their life. He waited until the darkness of night, crept in secret so that no one would see him, no one would recognize him in the darkness of the night.  Even the hush tones of the evening would not allow for people to know what he was doing, no one would know the taboo that he was indulging in. But in the secrecy of the evening, he took his place that he might sit with Jesus.  He was turning to the one we now know to be the salvation of the world, the giver of life, and place of genuine truth.  But he was genuinely taking the time to open his heart and learn a new ideology by just sitting with Jesus. Nicodemus’s world seemed to be falling apart, and he was turning to the most controversial person for the answers, sitting with what some might consider to be the enemy, yet sitting at the feet of Jesus. Our scripture falls in the area of the pericope where Jesus was in the middle of teaching him the spiritual, theological teachings that are uniquely found in the gospel of John.  And even though the crux of our scripture is deep within Christ’s theological lesson to Nicodemus, it must be remembered that these statements that we build doctrine around came about as Nicodemus chose to sit with Jesus.

 II. The Lies We Have Been Told

            In this Lenten season we too are like Nicodemus, choosing to sit with Jesus.  We are on a natural quest where the foundations of all the things of life, the structures that have created who we are, the structures that have even created the very religion we call our own, have been tainted by the world and culture around us.  Society has created for us what we think we should know and believe, and yet that doesn’t seem quite right.  Maybe we need to tear down all the structures that seek to bind us and control us, maybe we need to take the time to sit with Jesus. We are on a spiritual journey where the whole world seems to have lied to us.  The world has said that the rich are the only people of substance, that we should suck up to those who have a title so that we can get something from them while we ignore and neglect the poor.  The world tells us to overlook the humanity of the poor and homeless because of their clothes or their appearance.  The world has told us that money is our god, that we have nothing if we don’t have money.  The world has told us that our goal should be the “American Dream” of working hard to establish wealth, fame, and superiority over others.  The world will tell us to that we can pat ourselves on the back for paternalistically giving to the poor as if we are the savior or messiah that changed someone’s life while simultaneously looking at people as if they are pathologically broken and inhuman.  The world tells us that oil is king but that it is not of concern to take better care of the earth that God has given us stewardship over.  The world will tell us that fair treatment of all people is not of concern because there are some people that belong on the top and some belong on the bottom.  The world even tells us the Christianity functions in a way that rejects my brother, sister, on nonbinary sibling because of their sexuality.  The world even has crafted an ideology of Christianity that is more connected with prosperity, judgment, hate, and favoritism than love, peace, and justice.  The world has given us a set of rules that we have been born into, a set of rules that have shaped our behavior and the way we interact in the world.  But as we come to the Lenten season, we are challenging the system we are in, threating to break the bonds of the structure we live in, and we seek to sit in the presence of Jesus.  As we sit with Jesus, we are looking to grow closer to him, and learn from him because we have realized that what the world has told us is a lie, what the world has taught us is insufficient, what the world has taught us does not speak the truth.  So, both we and Nicodemus are choosing to sit with Jesus, Nicodemus coming in the physical setting of the night of his life, and we coming in the metaphorical darkness of the night as the foundations of our world are legitimately being challenged by the very being of Jesus.  Jesus teaches the theology that boggles the mind and challenges the bounds of society. And as Nicodemus learned things that transformed his life in the midst of his night, we too can learn from the transformational teachings of Jesus in the midst of our night.

 III. The Absurdity Of Scripture

            Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” Jesus references Moses and the serpent in the wilderness, the story goes that the that the people of Israel began to speak against and question God and God’s appointed servant Moses.  So fiery serpents were sent among the people to bite them and many people died because of their lack of faith.  But when the people asked God for help Moses was told by God to make a serpent and place it on a pole and lift it up.  When people would look on the serpent, they would live rather than die.  That means that the in this instance, the world had gone awry, and a symbol that surely symbolized death was lifted up and put on display, that is might bring salvation and life.  And this is the same reality for the world.  The world has gone awry and rejected the ways of God, yet the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, was beaten, bruised, and lifted up on the cross, a sign of humiliation and death, yet Jesus is the salvation that brings new life to the world for all those who believe.  That means that when we are live our life, we have to actually believe and hold onto the thing that makes no sense, we have to hold onto the thing in our world that seems preposterous and reeks of death.  We must believe the impossible, to live and have the audacity to believe that God can do what others believe is impossible. We must believe in that, because contrary to what the world says, it is the source of salvation and new life.  As we sit with Jesus we are reminded that God brought new life out of death.  Therefore God has the ability to make the new things we see for ourselves and the church possible, because we live in a space that connected with God is untamed and lives out loud.  We live in a space where we are liberated by God through Jesus Christ and the unimaginable is possible.  Through faith in Christ, growth in our church both spiritually and in church membership is made possible.  Through faith in Christ people will turn to Cheltenham United Methodist Church as a resource and a hub of the community.  Through faith in Christ we can create the walking path and labyrinth in our yard that not only explore new ways of the divine but connect with people from all over.  Through faith in Christ we can make a music festival possible.  Through faith in Jesus Christ we can do the transformational things that we have not even thought of.  Because Jesus Christ proclaimed that in the death of Jesus Christ there is salvation.  All who believe this have eternal life. 

And why have we been gifted this? Its genuinely puzzling, it bends all logical sense.  But God loved humanity, all of humanity, black, white, liberal, conservative, rich, poor, adults, children, elderly, the famous, and the forgotten.  God loved the whole world, so much so that God sent God’s only son that he might die and be lifted up, so that the whole world would be extended the chance of salvation. So we as the people of God must tell the world what we know and believe to be true.  God intimately loves us so much that he brought eternal life.  And we often take eternal life to be what we see when we reach heaven, the time that we look forward to see.  But when the scripture references eternal life, it is talking about life in connection with the eternal – life connected to God.  Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are able to live in communion with God.  It is not about what the afterlife brings for us but building genuine relationship with God.

 IV. Absurd But No Less True

But the reality is that we believe in something that is down right crazy, we believe the impossible.  We believe that life can come from death – in the death and resurrection we believe that Jesus brought new life and in him is that essence of the phoenix rising from the ashes.  Maybe the things that have foundationally shaped us need to be burned down in a symbolic death as we hold onto Christ who is the Phoenix that rises from the ashes.  We believe that God loved us so much that God gave God’s only son that we might live, and we believe that life can come from death.  But again, as the world looks on this makes no sense, but that does not make it to be any less true.  This reminds me of a story I heard on Brene Brown’s podcast “Unlocking With Us” where she interviewed Glennon Doyle.  Glennon Doyle spoke about how one day in school her daughter was told that the habitat for polar bears was disappearing, that gradually polar bears were becoming homeless.  As a young child her daughter was distraught – what to do? Someone should so something about the polar bears – these were the thoughts of her daughter.  Doyle said that for months their lives became surrounded by saving the polar bears…sponsoring polar bears, raising money for polar bears, her trying dissuade her child’s obsession by getting someone to call her daughter as an official leader and say the polar bears are okay.  Doyle is literally thinking this has gone too far, I have had enough, my child has stepped into a place where this is becoming ridiculous.  But she said she put her daughter to sleep one night, and her daughter said the simplest thing, “No one cares about the polar bears, but if we don’t do something about the polar bears we are next.”  And at that point Doyle admits that no matter how outlandish this child had been, she is right.  And she is right, we need to care for each and every part of the globe that God has gifted us.  But my point in sharing this is not so proclaim we need to care and take of the planet, although we do.  Nor am I saying that we need to focus on saving the polar bears.  But what I am saying is that what we believe may make those around us feel like we are going overboard, like we are doing too, much or that what we believe sounds crazy.  But we must stand firm in the joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ and keep doing the work that proclaims the gospel to be true. Because just as this little girl knew the truth, so do we. And we must not be afraid to share it with the world.  But that means we must dare to live a life that says we are excited about the life that Jesus bring and we believe it to be present in the life of the church.  That means we must give of our tithes and offering to the church that new life is made possible in Jesus Christ.  We must support the ministries of the church like Bible Study and the Homeless run that people might be drawn our work and people can be led to new life. We must dream big possibilities for the trajectory of the church that the God might bring new life through our work.

 V. Conclusion

So what does this mean for us it means that as we sit with Jesus,  we are to hold on to the teachings of Jesus that tells us that we must believe in the suffering savior who was lifted up high on the cross that we might be forgiven and that we might find new life, that the world might be saved through him.  We stand on this foundational thought and we must share this with the world because we know that through Jesus the world has salvation, through Jesus there is new life.  And through Jesus the walls of the structures that sought to demand order or destruction are torn down – and a new ideology of life exists through him. Because Jesus was sent as living sacrifice we are liberated from the lies that the world tells us.  Because of Jesus the poor are seen a human beings that are blessed – those that deserve help and resources. Because of Jesus we know that it isn’t money that is lord over us, but we are shaped by God’s love and compassion.  Because of Jesus we know that we should do good for others because they are worthy of God’s care and not to glorify ourselves. Because of Jesus we are called to care for God’s creation. Because of Jesus we treat others we love and equality.  Because of Jesus we are transformed.  Because of Jesus we live a new life that is in deep connection to God.  Because of Jesus our life is made anew and we cannot and should not keep it to ourselves. Amen.