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premium photo 1681909562875 9a8eb53403e0Message for Holy Trinity on May 26, 2024 on John 3:1-17 given at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

My senior year of college, I did an Urban Studies semester in Chicago. My family moved frequently growing up, but always to white middle class suburbs. I thought that if I were actually to become a pastor, I had better learn something about living in a city with more diversity and poverty.

All students in the program had to do and Independent Study project and for mine, I thought I would live as a homeless person for a weekend. I had heard this idea from another student at my school who had done it the year before (this little escapade was brought to mind when preparing for Mother’s Day and thinking about all the worry I caused my Mom!).

It was early November, so it was chilly, but not yet Chicago-frigid. I put on old clothes, left my cash in the apartment and headed downtown. I wasn’t too worried about finding a place to stay that night because I just thought I would go to the Salvation Army center downtown.

The problem was that the shelter was already full, and there was no room for me. This possibility had never crossed my mind. It was dark and cold—now what was I going to do? Suddenly my so-called learning project became very real—I was many miles from my apartment in Uptown—I had no money, no bus pass, no nothing, and in 1984—no cell phones. I was truly alone in the dark in downtown Chicago.

Perhaps you too, have had experiences—whether chosen or not—when you have felt alone and in the dark quite unexpectedly. You may have been physically at a loss like me, or really lost. Perhaps you felt in the dark emotionally at the end of a break-up, spiritually alone struggling with faith questions, or psychologically disconnected from everyone when in a new place without a familiar touchstone to keep you grounded.

We have all had times when we feel afraid and alone—with no idea how to move forward, we start spiraling into anxiety and worst-case- scenarios. Alone and in the dark is the last place any of us want to be.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, also comes to Jesus alone and in the dark. We can call him “Nick at night” –he is spiritually alone and confused about God. What a dreadful feeling to be such a learned man and to be in the dark about something he supposed to be an expert in—God and religion!

No one can see that he is sneaking out to seek answers from this upstart Rabbi named Jesus. If he could just get some clarity from Jesus, if he can just fit this Jesus-guy and all his healing, preaching and miracles into his own religious system and structure—well then, he could get out of this awful dark place of confusion and inner conflict.

But Jesus isn’t much help—in fact, he confuses Nick at night even more with talk about being born from above, of being born anew, and being born of water and the Spirit. “What are you talking about?” wonders Nicodemus. Jesus’ words make no sense to him, so he takes them literally. How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born again?

Of course, Jesus is not talking about an earthly birth, but rather a spiritual one. God calls us to be born again spiritually—into a relationship with the God who made us. Don’t you see, Nicodemus? says Jesus. God wants a relationship with you. That’s why God sent Me, the Son of Man, so that through a relationship with me, you would give yourself—not just your mind and your correct doctrines, not just your adherence to the law, and your good behaviors—but that you would give God your heart, your love, your devotion, your deep trust.

Jesus uses birth imagery to evoke the experience of love and trust between a parent and child. God loves us the same way a father and mother love their child. God deeply desires for that love and trust to be returned. When our kids were little, Dan and I did what all parents do—we taught our three children how to read, and to count to 100. We taught them how to look both ways before they crossed the street, how to share toys, and how to dress themselves.

But if our whole interaction with them ended with giving them correct information and getting them to behave properly (most of the time!), it would not have been a very satisfying relationship. The moments that made all the dirty diapers and sleepless nights worth it were when our kids wrapped their arms around our neck and gave us sticky kisses; when they climbed into our laps and snuggled in for love and comfort, and when they jumped into our arms with total trust from the edge of the swimming pool.

Jesus says to Nicodemus, You’ve got the information about Scripture and the law, and your behavior is stellar, but you haven’t yet jumped into God’s arms from the edge of the pool with love and complete trust. God keeps holding out these strong, loving, inviting arms with a desire to give you all that need, but you haven’t given God your heart. Jump into the pool, Nicodemus— be born of water and Spirit as God’s very own child who loves you, embraces you, and who desires to give you everything you need for fullness of life. That’s why I came – I came so that you would know that all of God (the Creator who made you, and me—the Word made flesh, and the Spirit who renews you and lives inside you) wants a loving relationship with you, with all of you.

Jump into the pool, Nicodemus—give God your love, your heart, not just your head and your good behavior. For God so loved the ‘cosmos’—that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

That’s why we can jump into God’s arms and follow Jesus—

• He took the first jump, the first leap into human skin, trusting that God would catch him.
• Jesus jumped into the fullness of human life, experiencing everything from love, family, and friendship to abandonment, grief and betrayal, trusting that God would catch him.
• Jesus willingly fell onto the cross, trusting that even in suffering and death, God would catch him.
• Jesus jumped from the grave showing us and the whole cosmos that no matter what happens in this life, God will catch us.

When the Salvation Army turned me away, they told me of another shelter at a church west of downtown, about a mile away. They said I could ask a police officer to drop me off at the shelter. But I was too stubborn and naïve to do something smart like that. I felt like that was a “copout” and that would ruin the point of the whole experience. I knew the grid system of how Chicago was laid out, so I decided to walk…in the dark…alone…in a part of town I did not know. Stupid. I was more scared at that moment than I had ever been in my life.

It didn’t matter how much knowledge I had, it didn’t matter whether it was the right thing to do, or if it was a great learning experience. At that moment I needed

• a God I could love and trust with my whole life and heart;
• I needed Jesus who knew what this abandoned, alone feeling was like;
• I needed the Holy Spirit to give me the courage to put one foot in front of the other.
• I jumped into God’s arms like I never had before.

God gave me a song--in my mind I sang, Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice! over and over, as I walked in the dark through this deserted industrial area where I was afraid someone was lurking around every corner. I made it through the creepiest walk I have ever been on in my life, to the shelter. I have never been so happy to see a group of homeless people waiting outside a church door! I was safe in God’s arms.

What do you need to jump into God’s arms today, not just with your thoughts and your acts of service, but with your whole heart, and all of your love and trust? I have 3 suggestions—you may have other ideas:

1. Listen to Christian Music – God gave me a song to get through being alone and in the dark. Sometimes I listen to hymns on Spotify; you can listen to contemporary Christian music - KLTY 94.9 FM: KJON 101.7 FM'
2. Find a Summer Prayer Partner – try it for 3 months—check in once a week and pray for each other daily. Prayer and relationships bring us closer to trusting God with our whole life, and so does having an accountability for this prayer life and knowing someone is praying for us;
3. Use Summer Bible Story and Activity Packet – This packet has one page bible story with a short spiritual practice, a one-sentence prayer, and then each story has activities—bake bread, make slime, do puzzles. Adults can do this too—a great way to get to know Bible stories if you have not read the Bible much. For Luke’s Learners Sunday School, this will be a great review of the stories they heard the last 3 months. Do this with kids, grandkids or adults—good way to bring fun back into Bible reading.

I am starting a sermon series - Summer Faith-Summer Fun—You’ll receive a Faith Tool every week –and we are even going to have some prizes so come back next week and bring a friend! These tools are all ways to spend time with Jesus, to hear from God and be moved the Holy Spirit!

Spending time with Jesus makes a difference! Nick at Night became Nick at Noontime after spending time with Jesus. Later in the Gospel of John we hear the end of Nicodemus’s story. As he hung dying on the cross, Jesus could see Nicodemus walking up the hill toward him—no longer alone at night—but at noon in the light of mid-day. He was weighed down with 100 pounds of aloes and myrrh to anoint Jesus’s body for burial, an act of love and devotion, for no law-abiding Pharisee would touch a dead body. But Nicodemus had jumped. He leapt into God’s loving arms with his whole heart, offering himself, his love and his trust to the God he met in Jesus Christ, who washed him in the Spirit’s power.

I wonder what Nicodemus would say if he were among us today. I’d like to think it would be this: “Jump in, St. Luke’s, the love is deep and the water is fine!”

Image: unsplash.com

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