This Sunday I am preaching on John 3:1-7. Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The encounter between the “well respected man” Nicodemus and Jesus happens at night. Most scholars feel the time of day refers to the discretion that Nicodemus feels is necessary being a man of some standing in his community. Nicodemus is clearly “kicking the tires”, he has seen signs that come from Jesus and he is impressed. Something in this man is lacking, there is a void. Nicodemus has mastered his life in many ways but there is a hunger for something else.
Jesus’ answer is instructive, if you want to change you have to be “born from above”. There is a sense of starting over, of giving it another try. But there is also a sense that to address some part of my life I need to go back to my birth and revisit some of the basic assumptions of my life. In this sense Jesus is a Saviour, one who has come to rescue us from what ails us, to give us Good News for the journey. But to receive and live this Good News one must go back to the beginning. Is Nicodemus ready to do that, this man who is so uncertain of this discovery that he is connecting at night?
What does Jesus offer this man? Jesus is a Saviour. The word “Saviour” has a lot of baggage, for many of us we think of the persons we’ve known who have pestered us with invitations to be “saved”. What upsets us about this is how it appears to be a set formula with no real sense of being known. How arrogant to think you can arrive at my door with this simple formula, “be saved!” and expect my life will suddenly improve. Worse, what is it exactly that you expect me to do once I have been “saved”? The evidence is not compelling, too many examples exist of women and men who are “saved” but continue to carry out acts of injustice. Surely if I am saved I am changed in exactly the way that would make me more just, not less.
This is the season of Lent. There are many voids in our lives that come to our minds as we reflect on our lives, on the state of the world. Jesus as Saviour is a presence that offers peace to those anxious about whether they matter at all. Jesus saves us from a feeling that we are nothing. We are created in God’s image, we matter! Jesus as Saviour is a presence that offers us a mystical presence that fills us when words fail, when we feel disconnected, when we are groping for ties to all that is. Whether in meditation, prayer, ritual, devotion, Communion, nature, Jesus saves us from isolation and disconnection. Jesus as Saviour is a presence to our natural inclination to turn inward and think of ourselves and our kind. Jesus saves us from me and turns us to we. Jesus calls us to make the world a better place and in so doing we are saved from despair.
We need such a Saviour.