The Church as Nicodemus

18 Jun

Kathryn Hauser’s Reflection for 2 Lent 20 March 2011

The Church as Nicodemus

Nicodemus was both excited and insecure so he came to Jesus by night to honor him.  He wouldn’t have sought out Jesus if there wasn’t already an interest and an attraction there in the first place.  Nicky was a Pharisee. Pharisees believed in the resurrection.  (In contrast, the Sadducees, an alternate Jewish sect in Jesus’ day, did not believe in the resurrection.)  The questions remain the same across the centuries: Resurrection or Insurrection?  Is this New Life vs rising up against the Establishment?  People are thirsty for inner freedom and are seeking socio-economic and political freedom, but not necessarily seeing that inner freedom comes first and flows out to fulfill the outer condition.  Nicky didn’t directly ask Jesus for a lesson on spirituality, but Jesus used that opportunity for instruction, correction, and expansion of thought.  He “blew” Nicky’s mind away.  Nicky “saw” that Jesus was a holy Man, but Jesus said, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:3)  That news was so shocking that he took Jesus literally.  Literalism is a human reaction and a developmental phase.  Children take things literally until they gain some maturity and can start seeing things from different perspectives.  That maturity comes from knowing s/he is loved and that love is extended beyond self in compassion.  That process is an up-lifting process, just as the Son of Man was lifted up and Moses lifted up his staff. (John 3:13-14)  “Lifting up” is not only power in humility before God (which must be present), but it is also lifting up power in God’s authority, and the power in grace where God helps us to change. 

Jesus came to show us how to be a human being, being human in our relationships with God, ourselves, and each other.  What Nicky learned that night is the same thing the Church has been learning for two thousand years.  “How can anyone be born again after having grown old?” (John 3:4)  The Church is 2,000 years old and some denominations are still trying to enter into St Peter’s “womb” to be born a second time.  The Church was built on Peter, the Rock–as Jesus called him (ref Matthew 16:18), and the Church expanded from Peter to others and on to the rest of the world.  Peter “got” Jesus.  As feisty a personality as Peter had, he had solid faith.  Parts of the Church, however, camped on Peter’s faith and literally built “dwellings” to him, for it was good for them to be there. (ref Matthew 17:4)  Parts of the Church did the very thing that Peter talked about with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.  In addition to erecting shrines, the Church also erected a stone mentality in the process.  This is not limited to one denomination.  The stone mentality is not limited to physical stone masonry.  The stone mentality goes around pointing fingers and asking, “Who killed Jesus?” [1] as Pope Benedict XVI does in his latest book, Jesus of Nazareth, Vol II.  This is not a bad question.  This is an important question.  We all killed, and continue to kill Jesus every time we insist on having our own way.  My question in return is: Why is this question still needing to be asked after two thousand years?  Back in 1965, Vatican II asserted that Jews were not collectively at fault for the death of Christ.[2]  So why is it that 46 years later, the Jews and the rest of the world are still in doubt as to whether or not Christians mean what we say we believe?  What message was not “heard” at the soul level the first time around, and therefore caused itself to resurface and beckon to be asked again? 

But wait, there’s more!  The whole Church as Institution, not just singular denominations, also tries to climb back into Peter’s “womb” via the topic of Biblical literalism.  Some denominations not only read the Bible literally, but read it through a form of “letterism.”[3]  “Letterism attempts to uncover the meaning of the text through a strict emphasis upon a mechanical, wooden literalism of words.”  They doggedly focus on the “letter of the law.”  Other denominations interpret the Bible and the meaning of texts by taking grammar, syntactical aspects, cultural and historical background, and the literary genre into account.[4]  However, the best hermeneutical techniques employed will still keep the Church in the “womb,” and she will not be able to enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. (John 3:5) 

And there’s more!  Some denominations have “camped” on the side of the mountain with the Sadducees saying we will never again see our loved ones who have died, because they simply live on in our hearts.  According to them, that’s all there is.  End of discussion.  Then other denominations “camp” on the other side of that mountain path by erecting a shrine to Elijah and saying that Christians will be raptured off the earth before the Great Tribulation, because we’re so special that God would not want us to suffer through the ordeal.  Excuse me?  Does that mean that God would want the others who are ‘not so special’ to suffer?  And who is it, anyway, that is getting cast down into the lake of burning sulfur forever: the Church or Satan?  (Revelation 20:10)  Come on Church, who is your real battle with?

The authentic and believing Church does speak of what we know and she testifies to what we have seen, and yet the Church as Institution does not receive our testimony. (John 3:11)  Everything that John penned is true.  No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven, the Son of Man(kind). (John 3:13)  Every believer who believes in Jesus Christ descends with Christ into the Dark Night of the Soul and ascends as a new creation.  So do churches.  Churches that focus on the letter of the law simply bring wrath in their message.  They say God is punishing us through the earthquakes, tsunamis, wars, and disasters on the earth.  And then there are churches who avoid the topics and give no structure or context to the flock at all, so that there is no law, and therefore neither can there be violation, for there is no law to violate. (Romans 4:15)  They say nothing.  They stay in the silent safe zone.  They don’t remind the flock that the things which are unfolding right before our very eyes, are the things that Jesus had said would happen. (Matthew 24:4-8)  Is it any wonder that there are one billion atheists/ agnostics/ secular and irreligious people in the world?  What deep knowing hope do they have to draw upon to reassure them of our loving God, when He is represented as punishing and condemning, or aloof and silent?  The law

“depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Romans 4:16-17) 

Faith does exist in the world.  Much of the world has faith.  There are about 21 different religions.[5]  Here are the major ones:

Name of Religion Approx. Date of Origin Number of Adherents Number of Denominations Source Reference
Judaism 1300 BC 14 million 5 or 7 [6], [7], [8]
Hinduism 1500 BC (with debate) 1 billion 4 [9]
Buddhism 520 BC 360 million 3 [10]
Islam 622 AD 1.3 billion 4 [11]
Christianity 30 AD 2 billion 33,830[12] or 38,000[13] [14]

Notice that each religion has several schools of thought, or denominations.  Do you notice that where the rest of the religions average from three to seven denominations, Christianity sprawled to 38,000?  There is a need for religious tolerance, and then there is bending to every dynamic preacher and teacher of doctrine that comes around.  It would appear that every time a persuasive orator came to town, a new denomination was formed to follow him/her.  Like the Buffalo Springfield song lyrics say,

“Stop, Hey what’s that sound?  Everybody look what’s going down!” 

No wonder the world is confused by looking at Christians and they don’t know what to believe.  The Church must pull together and unite with our focus on Christ the Head.  He is our Good Shepherd and our Lord.  The more we divide like an amoeba procreating itself, the more the world looks on and wonders if we have the spiritual version of schizophrenia.  It is true that on Christ’s head are many crowns.  The Church must look at Him and stop starring at the crowns.  He is riding in on His white horse.  He is called Faithful and True:

Revelation 19:11I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
       KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

The Word of God is not just the Bible and how each denomination interprets the Bible, and through what lens of legalism, letterism, literalism, or liberalism it is interpreted.  Interpretation only rules the flock with an iron scepter if it is not magnetized with love to make it attractive.  No law is attractive (whether secular or religious), if it is not grounded in balance, fairness, justice, kindness, and compassion.  It must be anchored in self-awareness (not self-absorption), dignity, respect, and love.  Every single person must listen within themselves, and not look just to an outside savior to rescue us from ourselves.  The authentic believer anchors in the One Who is Faithful and True to His Word.  God is faithful and true to His promises. 

As long as the Church keeps asking, “Who killed Jesus?” and doesn’t move beyond the who and into dealing with core issues that answer why, then we will remain in the same ‘Pete and Repeat’ loop, and never cross over into an Alpha and Omega loop.  As long as the Church keeps asking “Who killed Jesus?” we are all missing the blessing of the resurrection, because we are focusing on the cross and not on the New Life that is given to us by faith through grace offered via the cross.  We must bless each other (Genesis 12:3).  Blessing is a love language.  It looks at our God of love and Who IS love and speaks that language.  Blessing listens to the other.  Listening holds sacred space for the other to wrestle with their own relationship with God.  Blessing doesn’t try to come from ego-need to “fix” another’s relationship.  Blessing holds the sorrow with compassion because love has been there and knows.  Blessing trusts God, His mercy, and His goodness, that He will fix the brokenness.  He will bring Living Water to it.  The spiritual rebirth that the Church must go through sits in this spiritual placenta right now.  God is waiting for the Church to ask for a renewed relationship.  The institutional Church must repent from sitting on her blessings and turning her gifts into idols, 35-38,000 of them.  It is time for the Church to be “born again” into one body under Christ.  The true Church, the authentic and “awake” Church, must (and will) rise up out of the ashes of separatism and testify to the birthing Power of the Holy Spirit as She breathes New Life into making the Church fresh–fresh out of this new awareness.  The resurrection of Self comes through awareness.  This is the first resurrection (Revelation 20:5).  The “second death” [guilt] has no power over it.  Since there is a first death [dying to ego-self], then there is a spiritual rebirth arising out of that selfless sacrifice.  Since there is a second death [guilt], there is a spiritual resurrection out of the ashes, debris, and shadows of that guilt.  Hey, Church—arise.  Get a grip; let it go.  This birthing process is happening whether or not we try to control it with our spiritual Lamaze methods.

 

2 Lent                                     20 March 2011                     Gospels: John 3:1-17 and Matthew 17:1-9

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 12:1-4a
12:1 Now 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.

12:2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

12:3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

12:4a So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.

Psalm 121
121:1 I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come?

121:2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

121:3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

121:4 He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

121:5 The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.

121:6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

121:7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

121:8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

New Testament Lesson: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
4:1 What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?

4:2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

4:3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

4:4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.

4:5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

4:13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

4:14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.

4:15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

4:16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,

4:17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Gospel Lesson: John 3:1-17
3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.

3:2 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.”

3:3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

3:4 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?”

3:5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

3:7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’

3:8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

3:11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.

3:12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

3:17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Alternate Gospel Lesson: Matthew 17:1-9
17:1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.

17:2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

17:3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

17:4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

17:5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

17:6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.

17:7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

17:8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

17:9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

 

 


[2] ibid

[4] ibid

[12] World Christian Encyclopedia, Oxford University Press, 2001 (http://www.adherents.com/misc/WCE.html)

[13] Of the 33-38,000 Christian denominations, there are 1500 Christian family faith groups just in America (http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_deno.htm)

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