Der Vasken's Sermon on April 15, 2018

Apr 18, 2018

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

About a week ago, many of us heard of a very tragic bus accident in a remote part of Canada.  The bus was filled with a team of young high school, and some slightly older than high school, hockey players.  They were driving back from a game they had just played. Unfortunately, the bus driver was not from around there and was unfamiliar with the roads he was traveling along.  The last I had heard, over fifteen of these young players and coaches died in that crash with many others badly hurt.  The next day the morning news programs discussed this sad event for hours.

Something like this doesn't happen very often, especially in a small town in such a far-away place.  You could feel the sadness of the people through their voices, see it in their eyes and in the way they embraced each other.  As I watched the coverage of this event unfold, I felt warmth radiating from within all the sadness.  Family members were holding each other.  School friends were embracing each other and pastors from local churches were there to embrace the numb families and crushed families of their small town. Family, friends and church--all embracing one another.  Family, friends and church--all hugging one another. And in each hug you could feel hope--the hope of taking away the pain from the ones who were grieving. 

Personal hugs, personal touches, the healing power of the human touch--personal encounters like these are written about many times in the pages of the Bible and for very good reasons.  Pick up a Bible and watch Jesus mingle with the sick, the hurting, the grieving and the lost.  Pick up a Bible and listen to Him interact by healing the sick, comforting those who grieve, reaching out to the lost and those people that have been forgotten about and marginalized by the world around them.  Pick up a Bible and you will realize why so many thousands of people from all walks of life and from every background imaginable followed Him.

In today's encounter 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 and powerful religious man.  Yet Nicodemus had a problem.  This influential man had a problem that neither he nor his money nor his power could solve. 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 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," they thought.

So there is a hidden take-away message here for us today.  The message is that it does not please God when we judge people by how they look.  The disciples imagined Nicodemus, with his wealthy clothes and political power, to be just another one of the overbearing, ruling class in the Jewish society of their day.  Instead, here was a man, who came dressed in the clothes of a superior religious leader, a man, who wanted something that all his power and his profits couldn't buy him.  He was a man, who wanted to know how one gets into God's Kingdom of Heaven.  

I enjoy 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 saw a very interesting photo and story the other day on Facebook and when I read it, I knew I needed to share it.  So here it is.

         The story is of an older man, who was standing at the top of an escalator debating if he should step on.  As he stood there, people started gathering behind him waiting their turn to get on.  It was clear that the older man was feeling unsure of himself.  The steps kept moving and he wasn't as secure on his feet as he once had been.  A young man approached him, who was dressed very differently than the older man.  He looked rough and tough, let's say.  He offered a simple gesture of kindness to the older man--an outstretched arm and a question: "Can I help you on, sir?" he asked.  He quietly started to explain to the young man that he once got stuck on an escalator and was a little scared.  The kind young man gently offered his assistance with some assuring words.  The older man eyed the younger man up and down for just a moment and then accepted his arm, and they both reached the bottom safe and sound.  It is a thought-provoking story.

This season following Easter is a wonderful opportunity for new beginnings.  How we view people and greet people can be one of those new beginnings.  Imagine the lives that could be bettered if we greeted people the way Jesus greeted Nicodemus and not in the way His Disciples did.  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, keep Nicodemus' story in mind and ask yourself:

  • Why do so many people feel comfortable judging others?
  • Where is God calling you to be more welcoming to people?
  • And where in all of this do you feel you have room to grow?

Part of Nicodemus' story shows us that the true person lies not on the outside but on the inside.  Where is God calling you to be more welcoming to His people?  Something for all of us to think about.

Amen.