Between Sundays for Week of March 6, 2023
John 3:16 is one of the most recognizable passages in the Bible. You can probably even recite the verse. “For God so loved the world…” It’s also usually quoted without its context. This verse is (part of) Jesus’ response to Nicodemus, a religious leader and teacher who approaches Jesus in the dark of night with questions about God and Jesus and the miracles Jesus has performed and how they’re all related. Ultimately, Nicodemus wants to know: how can these things be?
It’s a question I (Pastor Hoffman) ask a lot (and reflected about in my sermon on Sunday) when I learn or experience something that does not fit into what I already knew or thought I understood. When something (or someone) defies my expectations. How can these things be?
It’s also a vulnerable question, because it means admitting I don’t have it all figured out, that I don’t know everything. And then I have two choices: double-down on my certainty or risk asking the question.
Nicodemus risked asking the question. He went straight to the source, but Jesus didn’t give him an answer. Instead, Jesus invites conversation. He listens. He teaches. He corrects. He testifies to the height and breadth and depth of God’s love with his words and ultimately throughout his life, with his actions. Because God answers all our questions in relationship.
Following Jesus means taking the risk that we don’t have all the answers and being open enough to ask the questions – together. Showing up. Talking and listening and breaking bread and building relationships, even – or maybe especially – with those who understand God differently than we do, or who don’t know God at all.
Who knows where those relationships might take us? Later in John’s gospel, Nicodemus publicly defends Jesus among the religious leaders (John 7) and at the end, he helps Joseph of Arimethea anoint Jesus’ crucified body (John 19). One thing is for sure: our questions change us. They change what we know – and what we think we know. And they change how we engage with this world God so loves.
God’s not done with us yet. I think that’s pretty good news.
Soup suppers have begun! Wednesdays at 6 pm throughout Lent, we gather to talk and eat before Holden Evening Prayer at 7 pm. Visit our website to read about Bethlehem’s Lenten theme and share in gatherings where we lean into the questions of faith together.
The world may expect us to have all the answers, and we may prefer the certainty of having all the answers, but Jesus invites our questions. How can these things be? Pastor Hoffman suggests that we only find our answer in relationship with God and the world (and people!) God so loves. Jesus shows us the way through his life, death and resurrection.
Preaching scholar Tom Long writes, “Nicodemus thought he was the one who came to Jesus, only to discover that in the cosmic scheme of things, Jesus came to him and to all humanity. Jesus came in the flesh, sent by God—not to condemn, and certainly not to engage in polite theological discourse, but to save.”
Read Tom Long’s whole reflection here. (Don’t be thrown off by the date at the top!)