When I was a mere 21 years of age, I lost a dear friend and mentor. I remember her brother sitting in a wheelchair alongside the family near the coffin. We were still in the middle of the AIDS crisis. Everyone knew he had the disease. He had the visible sores, on his hands, face, and arms. He did not have much time left in his flesh.
The line for the viewing was long, it wrapped around and outside the funeral parlor, my mentor was well-loved and touched many, many lives. As I stood slowly inching my way through the room, I saw person by person, walking by her brother, barely a nod, afraid to touch him, console him or acknowledge him as if their seeing him would somehow endanger themselves. They shied away, looked elsewhere and passed him by. They created boundaries around themselves of not only flesh but of the spirit. Our mourning grew sadder.
By my very nature, that is not who I am. I can’t pass you by, overlook you, or walk away. As I approached him, I hugged him, kissed him on the side of his cheek, and together holding hands we mourned and reminisced. I shared how deeply I loved his sister and shared my condolences. I remember the look in his eyes, the feel of his hand, his long beared as he gazed back at me. That moment was powerful for us both.
At the risk of being seen, I loved. At the risk of being unseen, he was loved.
The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
What if Abram didn’t listen? What if Abram hid from God and buried himself in the busyness of his days? What if Abram was so full of fear that he refused to be seen by our creator? After all, it is risky to get up and go, to leave our place of comfort and go out into the darkness of the unknown. It is risky to trust, to give up control, to lay aside the presence of those we are familiar with, to change our routines, and to reach out to those we do not know. We risk the feeling of loss, of rejection, or of being alone, but when we sit refusing to see or to be seen, when we hideaway, and we say, not me God, not now God, I can’t do it, God, I’m too busy God, then we risk our spiritual lives. We risk not being born.
Like a seed planted in the garden, so is the life of our spirit. If we do not tend to the seed it will not flourish, but if we love the seed, give food to the soil, water the seed and pay attention to its needs; giving it shelter when it’s grown too cold, and providing it with light when darkness is too much, the seed will grow, it will be nourished, it will have endless potential to grow into everything God has intended it to become, and as it grows, as it flourishes, the essence of its being will nourish life along the way. Think of your favorite flower, the smell of a rose or a lily, and how your breath and step changes its pace as you preserve the moment of its grace in your presence. Think of the wind as it blows the pollen of a flower to reach the soil, or the bee or hummingbird that feeds on the nectar giving and sustaining life as it risks to be seen.
It was the week of Passover, people flocked to Jerusalem. The town swelled to a number several times its size. Jesus was teaching in the streets, performing miracles, drawing large crowds. He drew the attention of the Sanhedrin, who was the supreme council and tribunal of the Jews headed by a High Priest and having religious, civil, and criminal jurisdiction, they were not fond of Jesus. The Sanhedrin feared that Jesus was causing a rebellion, an uprising among the people.
Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, then goes in the cover of darkness, sneaks out at night, afraid to be seen by others, who may mock him, or ostracize him, or accuse him of betrayal to the council in which he served, to go and speak to Jesus. While dodging the risk of being seen by his community who knows him well, he also risks being seen by God who knows him best.
He sits before Jesus…
The Spiritual life of Nicodemus was not born here but it began here, it was conceived here. He knew the teachings and was well versed in Jewish law, but he had not yet been born by the spirit which breathes life into us all if we allow ourselves to see and be seen.
Any woman who has conceived a child and given birth knows the process does not happen overnight. The process is long, it’s arduous, it draws us out of our comfortable places into a vulnerable existence whereby everything changes, from our bodies to our souls, to our minds. Like being born from our mother’s womb so too is our spiritual life, our relationship with God. Being born again is not an instantaneous lightbulb moment but a journey of deepening witness allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, to be seen as we seek, to be drawn out of ourselves and into the complete care of our creator.
Here in our Gospel of John, Nicodemus shows up for the first time, like a seed deep in the soil, in the dark, but as we move through our Gospel, the spiritual life of Nicodemus is being fed, it’s being drawn out from the darkness and into the light. From seeing Jesus as a man in the flesh to seeing Jesus as the Savior, the Christ. Nicodemus stands up for Jesus in Chapter 7 against his own, he begins to believe. Then after Jesus is hung on the cross Nicodemus comes with a 100lbs of Myrrh in which to bury him. Born out of God’s brokenness on the cross, is the spiritual witness, the deepening faith, the love of Nicodemus, being born again and breathing new life into us all.
Nicodemus like Abram was drawn out from the comfortable place of his existence, where the boundaries were clear and defined by law, concrete, and into existence with the unlimited possibility that goes beyond the flesh and into the promise of immortal eternal life.
Our lectionary invites us to leave our comfort zones, to let go of the flesh, and see more deeply beyond the surface; to give up control, to open ourselves to new people, places and things, and to surrender our lives to the care of our almighty God.
We can do this in many ways; by being in the presence of God, through the active stillness of centering prayer allowing the Holy Spirit room to dwell among us, or we can do this through communal prayer and worship and by seeking God in everything and everyone. We can do this by being present to God and being in the presence of God with others, by acknowledging the dignity of every human being.
Take the risk, allow yourself to see, and be seen. Smile at someone, bless them, pray for them, hold a door and be kind, and most importantly, listen and be present to one another, You will see God, and God will see you.
All we have to do is make time for God, make God our priority and take the risk.
No, prayer in the car on the way to work is not enough, or while you are doing the laundry, not enough, be intentional, truly intentional and give God your time, your space, your presence. Allow yourself to truly be seen, to be known, to be touched, to grow.
Take the Risk and GO! Believe.
In Christ, Mo. Allison+