Der Vasken's Sermon on May 5, 2019

May 8, 2019

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

Over the past couple of Sundays, we have listened to Bible passages about Easter and the Resurrection and about how some of the disciples had faith while others struggled with doubt.  Last Sunday continued with this theme and the faith of the Armenian martyrs was looked at.  And because we had a guest celebrant last Sunday, I was able to slip downstairs and offer an Assembly to our older Sunday School students.  Our discussion centered around faith and 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 through the Bible for very good reasons.  When we open a Bible, we can see how Jesus interacted with people:  sick people, wounded people, grieving people, lost people and even dead 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.  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 story, 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, important, 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 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 looks like one of them.  He isn't one of us."  

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 appearance.  It is 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 overbearing ruling class in the Jewish society of their day.  Instead, here 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 his power and profits and prestige couldn't buy him.  He came as a man, who wanted to know how a person gets into the Kingdom of Heaven.  That's all he wanted.

I enjoyed reading this story and almost 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?
So I think one of the messages from this great Bible story is about judging others.  Instant judgments of people we encounter do no one any justice.  The Bible is showing us another way--a way that sees beneath the outer appearance, a way that sees the 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 is a thought-provoking Bible story 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 to better the lives of others.  Nicodemus came to Jesus disguised by the dark of night so he could not be judged by his Jewish peers.  Instead, he was judged by the disciples.

So as we leave our church this morning, let us 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.  We show our feelings about God by the way we treat people made in His image.  Where in your life today is God calling you to be more welcoming, to be more open to His people?  Something for all of us to think about.

Amen.