Der Vasken's Sermon on April 30, 2017
May 3, 2017
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Over the last couple of Sundays we have listened to Bible passages about faith and doubt. For example, on Easter we listened to the story of the Resurrection and about how some of the Disciples had faith and yet some of them did not. And last Sunday, continued with this theme as we remembered the faith of the Armenian martyrs. And on a Thursday night, just ten days ago, our ACYOA had an overnight lock-in on our church complex and the questions raised all came back to faith versus doubt. People have struggled with faith and doubt for unknown generations.
Well, today's Bible passage shows us another encounter Jesus had with someone who wanted to have faith but didn't know how. This person is someone that we can all very easily relate to. Personal encounters are recorded many times throughout the Bible for very good reasons. When we open a Bible, we can watch how Jesus interacted with sick people, hurting people, grieving people, dead people and lost people. When we open a Bible, we can hear Him interact by healing the sick, comforting those who are grieving, breathing life back into a dead person and reaching out to the lost--those people that have been forgotten about and marginalized by the world around them. And when we open a Bible, we will realize why so many thousands of people from all walks of life and from every background imaginable followed Him.
In today's example, Jesus meets a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was one of the most powerful and influential men in all of Israel during this period of time. Nicodemus was a wealthy, powerful, religious man. Yet, Nicodemus had a problem. This influential man had a need that neither he nor his money, nor his power could satisfy. Nicodemus is referred to as "a teacher of Israel." But despite all his knowledge, he realized that there were some things he did not know. So one night this well-to-do, politically-connected, well-read man snuck away to meet with Jesus and to spend time asking Him questions, and because he did that, his life was never the same again. As he approached Jesus under the safety of a dark night sky, the Disciples stood up to block his way.
"Who are you?" they wanted to know. "What do you want here?" they asked. They were protecting their Lord. They didn't know who Nicodemus was or what he wanted. And so they stopped him and judged him knowing nothing about him. But what they didn't realize was that they, the Disciples themselves, fell victim to a trap many people fall victim to. They judged Nicodemus without knowing him. They judged him based solely on his outer appearance. "He isn't one of us. He looks like one of them."
So there's a hidden take-away message here for us today. The message is that it does not please God when we judge people by appearance.It's that old expression to "not judge a book by its cover." The Disciples imagined Nicodemus with his wealthy clothes and political power to be just another one of the over-bearing ruling class in the Jewish society of their day. Instead, he was a man who did come dressed in the clothes of a superior religious leader but he came as a man who wanted something that all his power and profits could never buy him. He came as a man who wanted to know how one gets into the Kingdom of Heaven.
I enjoyed reading this story. And most every time I read it, I think about how I greet people when I encounter them for the first time. Do I judge them? Am I open to meeting them? I received an email not too long ago that when I read it, it screamed out to be shared. The email reads like this: "We all need to be careful not to make snap judgments about people. The man, who talks too loudly, may be hiding his insecurity. The young woman, who is ridiculed by others for not being attractive enough, may have a beautiful soul. The person, who seems aloof, may simply be shy. The person, considered unimportant, may have the heart of a saint. The boy, who was tripped in the hallway, is abused at home so give him a break. The girl in school, who everyone ridicules, spends extra time every morning putting on make-up hoping--just hoping--that her classmates will begin liking her. And that man with one leg, he fought in a war for our country. We need to be careful about relying on instant judgments and realize that beneath the outer appearance is a person. That person has needs and worries just like we do and is given a purpose by God and is loved by God every bit as much as you and I are." It was a thought-provoking email and it says a lot.
The season following Easter is a wonderful opportunity for new beginnings. How we view people and how we accept people can be one of those new beginnings. Imagine the lives that could be bettered if we all greeted people in the way Jesus greeted Nicodemus and not in the way His Disciples did. This is a Bible story that we can take into our everyday lives and better the lives of others. Nicodemus came to Jesus disguised by the dark of night so he would not be judged by his Jewish peers. Instead, he was judged by the Disciples.
So as we leave our church this morning, let's keep Nicodemus' story in mind and ask ourselves:
- Why is it so easy to judge others?
- Where is God calling us to be more welcoming to people?
- And where in all of this do you feel, do I feel, we have room to grow?
Part of Nicodemus' story shows us that the true person lies not on the outside but on the inside. Where in your life today is God calling you to be more welcoming to His people? Something for all of us to think about.