Has anyone faced a conundrum, or even an entire area of study, they have found really challenging, or difficult?

Despite spending most of my working life in the finance industry, at school I found maths really challenging. I just couldn’t get my head around the various and different forms of equations.

 

In theology one of the most difficult issues to understand is the notion that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Over the next few weeks in the run up to Easter day we have the opportunity to ponder, or seek to work out, this theological equation.

In seeking understanding we could take one of two approaches. We could seek to work out the whole conundrum simultaneously asking philosophical questions as to what it means to be a) human and, b) divine. Or, we could look at each half of the proposition in turn and then see if the whole thing makes sense after having done so. This is the route I propose to take over the next few weeks. Staring with the claim that Jesus is fully human.

 

Of course in the gospel passage we have just heard Jesus claims divine status saying: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me though they die will live,’ but what in many ways impresses me more about the passage is Jesus sheer humanity, the fullness of which he shows through his care and compassion for his friend Lazarus and, which he will continue to show through the way he relates to those he loves at the Last Supper and, of course from the cross.

Jesus, through the entirety of his passion shows how deep his love and compassion are. He is the Messiah who cares about Martha, Mary and Lazarus, who doesn’t feel the need to judge Thomas, Doubting Thomas, who at this stage is seemingly prepared to walk with Jesus towards his own death, and who will wash his apostles’ feet and give his mother to his friend John from the Cross. Jesus’ humanity is without doubt of a radically different quality.

 

And, what are we to make of his friend Lazarus?  Not much you might think for Lazarus in the overall scheme of things is a bit of a nobody. And, that’s the point Lazarus is a nobody. Or at least he is if status, achievement and rank are to be the measure of a person. Lazarus, I would want to suggest is hardly worth saving, if we measure his worth using worldly metrics. John Vanier the Roman Catholic philosopher and theologian who established the L’Arche communities for the intellectually disadvantaged is in no doubt that Lazarus had what we might nowadays think of as special needs. Why else, in Jewish society, would a middle aged man be living under the care of his sisters? And, yet despite his lack of prestige and worth Lazarus is Jesus’ friend, someone he cares deeply about and wants to spend quality time with. His friendship with Lazarus, who he raises from the dead, signifies that everyone is loved by God, and that Jesus own resurrection was to be for all believers.

Jesus willingness to go back to Bethany, a place where his opponents had previously tried to stone him, shows how compassion and courage often, as Bishop Steven believes, go together. And, of course when we arrive at the cross that it was what we see: courage and compassion in action.

 

The account we have heard today reveals the fullness of Jesus’ humanity: his compassion for his friends; friends who for many wouldn’t have seemed worth the effort, and his courage. The remarkable thing about Jesus is his concern for the unremarkable, the nobody’s of this world.

 

If you want to understand Jesus’ divinity, why not start by being fascinated by his humanity? Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

Two stories leading to the same conclusion.

The conclusion is that Jesus is the source of all life, the Messiah, the one that invites us to be ‘born again.’ The one who invites us to feed off him as the Living Water, the one who wants to invite all, yes all of us, to worship in ‘spirit and truth.’

 

The two stories are of course the account of Nicodemus that we heard last week and, today’s gospel reading in which we hear the story of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Nicodemus comes to meet Jesus under the cover of night, because he dare not, at this early stage of his journey risk being seen with Jesus in broad day light. The Samaritan woman has no choice but to meet Jesus in the full glare of the midday sun. Nicodemus is a man of status, the Samaritan woman has no status; she is a Samaritan and a woman and, this is why she can only go to the well at the hottest part of the day. She literally could not go in the cool of the early morning or late afternoon. She knows no shade, she is scorched by life.

But, the amazing thing is that she has the same sort of conversation as Nicodemus, who is challenged to step out into the glare of the midday sun,  and receives the same message: Jesus is indeed the messiah. Jesus, to the absolute astonishment of those who are journeying with him shows absolute no favouritism.

As John records:

‘Then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman.’

 

Put the story of Nicodemus next to the story of the Samaritan Women at the well and you have a complete theology of inclusivity. Jesus wants to affirm, re-orientate and convert all. It matters not a jot to Jesus what our ethnic, social or economic status is because what he is interested in is the state of our hearts.

Jesus is also revealed through these two stories as being entirely capable of seeing into our hearts and recognising that which prevents us from being fully human. He knows that Nicodemus is held back by the strictures of Pharisaic religion. He knows that the Samaritan woman has relationship issues. And, what he says to both parties is ‘look to me; it is your relationship with me that counts because as you have diagnosed for yourselves I am the Messiah.’

 

So here is a Lent challenge: to what extent are you prepared to stand in front of Jesus in all your vulnerability and let him address what it is that gets between you and Him? It is really important that we do this, not so that we become holier than thou, but because it is the only way through which the fullness of our humanity can be affirmed.

And having done this another challenge is to accept that God is perfectly content to work trough all manner of folk, as we have seen God shows no favouritism. Do we show favouritism? Are we more likely to favour the Nicodemus type figures: well-educated and of reasonable social standing? Or are we like Jesus ready to accept that God is perfectly content to work through those who society regards as lesser, those who exist on the margins, people like the Samaritan women at the well. The scandal of the gospel is that Jesus seeks to convert, affirm and work through all manner of folk.

 

Are we?

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

 

 

I love the story of Nicodemus. It is a story that I can easily read my way into.

Nicodemus is of course a devout Pharisee; he is accustomed to rules, regulations, hierarchy and, certainty. And yet he is intrigued by Jesus. He is so intrigued that he approaches him under the cover of night, so not as to be seen by other members of his class. My own journey into faith and ordination was in many ways carried out under cover. I didn’t want too many people suggesting that I had gone all religious! And, yet in some ways there is nothing wrong with approaching Jesus under the cover of darkness. It is in the darkness that light, true light, can really shine & sometimes we need to create the time and space to work things out without pressure from others. Lent is, of course, such a dark, yet potentially illuminating, time.

What I really like about Nicodemus is his willingness to engage imaginatively with Jesus. He is aware of the rules and rituals that constitute Pharisaic life yet he doesn’t feel that they quite feed him. Rather than looking for rules, rubrics and rituals to sort him out and lead him to a relationship with God, what Nicodemus is looking for is a relationship. Like Abraham Nicodemus is to learn that entering into a life enhancing relationship with God means ‘going from your own country and your own kindred. In turn this opens up the possibility for spiritual rebirth or conversion. In Lent, we must allow ourselves the opportunity for being converted, or reoriented towards God, once again. How can we do this? How does re-birth and spiritual transformation occur?

 

Well, despite what I said just now, rituals, such as setting aside time for personal prayer and devotion, and coming to church to hear the word of God and share the sacrament are invaluable, but in and of themselves they are insufficient. We need to re-learn the art of approaching private devotion and corporate worship imaginatively, with our hearts and minds open. Like Nicodemus we must be fascinated with the person of Jesus, and not simply the dogma and doctrine of the church.

 

Lent challenges us to become fascinated with and by Jesus. When we allow our fascination to guide us the relationship with Jesus grows and, we become more Christ like in or attitudes and behaviours. We become less concerned with preserving the status quo and more concerned with being light. We also need to allow ourselves to be encouraged by Nicodemus. Yes, for now he comes under the cover of night. But, we next encounter him asking to look after the body of the crucified Jesus. In other words he steps out in full glare and declares his love for Jesus. This Lent let’s allow ourselves to go on the same journey as Nicodemus; the journey from fascination to discipleship. Amen

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown