God calls Abraham and Sarah: “Go from your country…to a land I will show you. I will make you a great nation.”
What a promise! But as Abraham and Sarah are of seasoned years and childless, it’s unlikely they’ll become the progenitors, the father and mother of “a great nation.”
Nevertheless, they get up and go. (And, according to the latter first century Epistle to the Hebrews, reflecting on the nature of faith that is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen,” Abraham and Sarah got up and went “not knowing where they were going.”)
What courage! And what craziness!
Abraham was nearly one-hundred and Sarah, ninety, when their son Isaac was born. (And that, preceded by an angelic prophetic announcement of the coming birth that was so preposterous on its face that Sarah, in absolute incredulity, burst forth in riotous, disbelieving laughter!) When Isaac came of age, God called Abraham to kill his son; a test of faith Abraham passed without having to fulfill the deed. Nevertheless, the mere idea of it was tantamount to Abraham and Sarah, already having forsaken their past, relinquishing their future!
Courageous craziness (or was it crazy courageousness?), I tell you! God called Abraham and Sarah to abandon everything. Though they didn’t, couldn’t know what was to come, they got up and went.
Nicodemus is a “a leader of the Jews.” A Pharisee. A living, breathing, walking, talking authority on God’s Law; its interpretation and application. A member of the Sanhedrin; the highest governing body of ancient Judaism.
He, like Abraham and Sarah, gets up and goes. Unlike Abraham and Sarah, Nicodemus knows where he is going. To see Jesus. Who, at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, miraculously turned water into wine. Who audaciously drove merchants and money changers from the Jerusalem Temple, declaring their rapacious commerce a violation of God’s will. Nicodemus, looking for this wonder-worker, prophet-teacher Jesus, goes out “by night.”
Maybe Nicodemus, guardian of the faith and guide for the faithful, dares not to be seen, lest others follow his lead and Jesus turns out to be a fake and, thus, he lead others down the proverbial path to perdition and provoke the ridicule, the wrathful rebuke of his fellow Pharisees.
Or maybe John the evangelist, using darkness and light to symbolize the state of one’s soul, is telling us something about Nicodemus. That there’s a vexing question that Nicodemus, despite his breadth of intellect and depth of knowledge, can’t answer.
Nicodemus finds Jesus. Cautious, he tries flattery: “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher from God.” Jesus offers a cryptic word about rebirth. Nicodemus doesn’t understand. Jesus speaks of Spirit, like wind, coming and going, blowing where it will.
What? Maybe Jesus is talking about the life of the Spirit; the life of God, who is Spirit. Or the spirit of life. That sense of who we and why we are as created by God.
Whichever or both! All of it is the substance of mystery. Not easily known or understood. Mystery that keeps us up at night. Mystery that presents unanswerable questions. Mystery that calls us to get up and go, metaphorically or literally, not knowing where we are going.
Will we, with Abraham, Sarah, and Nicodemus, embark on this journey of discovery of our identity and destiny in God?
If so, Abraham, Sarah, and Nicodemus, our biblical models, aye, our biblical mentors tell us that this journey is no once-in-a-lifetime, short, risk-free trip on a sunlit trail just around the corner within the boundaries of a familiar land. No! This journey is a continuous, life-long, sometimes perilous trek on a shadowy path over alien terrain far from the home of our familiarity and complacency.
Even more, they tell us this journey is necessary. For this journey not taken is a discovery about ourselves unmade.
Still more, they tell us this journey, often not knowing where we are going, is as important as where we find ourselves at journey’s end.
It’s Lent. Jesus, not only our supreme model and mentor, but our Lord and Savior journeys to Jerusalem. Jesus journeys toward his truth about who and why he is.
Jesus calls us to follow him. To get up and go. Will we?
Endnote: At the beginning of the Abraham-Sarah story, their given names are Abram and Sarai, which God later will change, signifying a new status (Genesis 17.5, 15). However, in preaching, for the sake of clarity, consistency, and less confusion for the congregation, I use Abraham and Sarah.
God calls Abram, Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677)
Nicodemus visits Jesus, James Tissot (1836-1902)