Trinity Sunday June 3, 2012 John 3:1-17 Nicodemus walks in the dark.

He steps into the Presence of the Light of the World, but he cannot see. His years of study fail him. His extraordinary knowledge comes up short, and he fails to see in the moment of truth. His people dwell in the dark. They've waited for this moment. They've waited and longed and cried out for the coming Messiah. Now he's come but they cannot see him. The world around them is also in the dark. Nation after nation after nation stumbles blindly, groping for truth but failing and falling. We live in an age of darkness. In John 3:20, we read, "God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil."1 Our world continues to reel in darkness. Alienation. Brokenness. The glare from our laptops and iphones fail to bring any true light into our world. In 1964, Paul Simon penned the following words after time spent reflecting on the devastating assassination of John F. Kennedy. Hello darkness, my old friend, I've come to talk with you again, Because a vision softly creeping, Left its seeds while I was sleeping, And the vision that was planted in my brain Still remains Within the sound of silence. In restless dreams I walk alone Narrow streets of cobblestone, 'Neath the halo of a street lamp, I turned my collar to the cold and damp When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light That split the night And touched the sound of silence. And in the naked light I saw Ten thousand people, maybe more. People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening, People writing songs that voices never share And no one dared Disturb the sound of silence.

1 Tyndale House Publishers. (2007). Holy Bible : New Living Translation. (3rd ed.) (Jn 3:19). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

"Fools" said I,"You do not know Silence like a cancer grows. Hear my words that I might teach you, Take my arms that I might reach you." But my words like silent raindrops fell, And echoed In the wells of silence And the people bowed and prayed To the neon god they made. And the sign flashed out its warning, In the words that it was forming. And the signs said, 'The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls And tenement halls. And whisper'd in the sounds of silence. This song captures the absolute alienation of humans one from another. The song is set in the darkness and the people talk without speaking and hear without listening. They are cut off from one another. In 1967, R.D. Laing published the Politics of Experience. In it, he writes, "I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another." His last sentence makes me think of something my old English Professor was fond of saying, "We've traveled to the moon, but the distance from one human heart to another is far greater." I stumbled into college in 1982 with no clear vision of what I was studying or going to do in life. While I loved theatre and performance art and dreamed of making movies, I eventually ended up studying English and Communication. Instead of studying the classics, I gravitated to absurd writers like Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco. I can remember sitting in the UT library, asking the librarian to cue up a variety of absurd plays on their video monitors. One film that stuck in my memory was Ionesco's "The New Tenant." The simple story centers on a man moving into an apartment. He steps into an empty apartment and begins measuring the space for his coming furniture. All the while the elderly woman caretaker follows him around babbling on and on. Finally, the furniture begins to arrive. Mover after mover carries pieces of furniture into the apartment, filling it completely so that he cannot even move around. Soon he disappears from view. Yet furniture keeps arriving, filling the stairway, filling the city streets, filling the river. The whole city comes to a standstill. Ionesco paints an image of our interior world becoming so cluttered with baggage that we can no longer go forward. We are stuck. We disappear in our private world of issues. His writing reflects the bleak outlook on our human condition that shows up in so much 20th century literature. The more I studied writers like Ionesco and Laing, the less hopeful I was about our human condition. In my last quarter, I did an intensive research project on communication within intimate relationships. The typical pattern in intimate relationships moves from friendly exchange to an increasing intimacy to a peak of shared experience to complete alienation and separation. Even as I was


studying and writing about this, I could look around me and see this tragedy played among multiples couples around me. Even among several of older couples I knew, I encountered people who simply existed together. No spark. No joy. No love. This human pain also echoed in the church. While my college church years had brought a season of renewed faith in my life, even that was clouded with brokenness and pain. My college pastor. The man who had shaped my faith, taught me how to study Scripture and stirred me to pursue a life in ministry, ended his ministry in bitterness and pain. Then the church I served at after leaving college ended in complete fragmentation and the pastor eventually went to prison. When it came to our alienation, our brokenness and the darkness which clouded out world, I had no confidence that Christians had any more answers than the world. The darkness of John 3:20, "God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil."2 Seemed just as real in our modern age as it did 2,000 years ago. Athanasius was so right when he said that sin undoes the world. It is not a real power, but an absence that unravels everything, ending in nothingness. It has damaged our capacity to be fully human. It divides us against one another. It divides us against ourselves. Everyone of us know the pain of broken relation. Of loss. Of being hurt and hurting others. Our families, our workplaces, our schools are filled with stories of aching people hurting other aching people. As R.D. Laing once said, "We are effectively destroying ourselves with violence masquerading as love." And it's ironic since Laing was writing as a family psychiatrist to help families. And yet, he himself abandoned his own family. Brokenness, violence, alienation and pain. This is the world of darkness where Nicodemus stumbles into the presence of Jesus. Addressing Jesus as Rabbi, he says, "we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you." Nicodemus, an exalted Rabbi in Israel, attempts to show honor to Jesus by calling him "Rabbi" and by suggesting that his signs point to God. But Jesus responds, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Though Nicodemus speaks of signs pointing to God, He actually cannot see the Kingdom standing in front of him. If he but knew who he was speaking to, he would fall down and worship. But Israel's teacher is blind in the dark. He must be born again, or born from above before he can see. In spite of his knowledge, he does not know. His ideas cannot lead him into the life and love of God. But God can break into His world. So even as Nicodemus stumbles in the night. Jesus steps into His world, shining the light of God's love.

2 Tyndale House Publishers. (2007). Holy Bible : New Living Translation. (3rd ed.) (Jn 3:19). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House


The dark alienation in our world that I studied in college and even saw in church was not resolved by gathering more information or by joining the right groups or finding the right job. It was resolved by Jesus stepping into my world by His Spirit. He gave me hope for the real possibility of love between humans. This is a transformation that happened over time, by God's grace and in His Spirit. The transformation was such that words like "being born from above" seem to fit. But I am not simply speaking of "born again" in the modern Evangelical notion of the word. Rather, I am thinking of how some of our Eastern Christians use the language of apophatic and cataphatic. Cataphatic is the way of knowing, categorizing, making sense of our world. Apophatic is the encounter that opens us upwards in ways we could never have anticipated. Thus some refer to it as a way of unknowing. The apophatic is the encounter with God that seems to overwhelm and challenge all that I know. It is a knowing beyond knowledge. A knowing that is rooted in God's graceful encounter. The life of faith seems to be a life of growing upwards. Instead of single event, we might think of a series of events where God makes Himself known to us in ways that surpass knowledge. He addresses us. Breaks into our world in moments of joy and moments of crisis. Suddenly the horizon shifts, and we see the world with new eyes. Just as Jesus addressed Nicodemus, and the woman at the well and the disciples, He addresses us. By His Word and in His Spirit. He enters our world, our lives, our hearts by His Spirit. He says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Our world was created and is sustained by a Lover. The Father “so loved” that He gave His Son. Jesus comes and reveals the Father. Jesus reveals a love that cannot be quenched, cannot be crushed, cannot be diminished. As He reveals the wondrous love of God, we realize that we’ve been blind and deaf to love. The Spirit of God anoints our deaf ears and blind eyes with salve, so that we might have ears to hear and eyes to see the Lamb of God: the Lover who comes to immerse us into a Love that can fill us and flow through us, making us lovers of God and lovers of men. To know love and live in love, we must behold Love. James Houston once remarked in a lecture that “We know more than we can love.” He captures the challenge of learning to love in that simple statement. We cannot find love more deeply by simply collecting more information. Any essay that simply gives us more knowledge, more techniques, more ways to talk about love ultimately fails in teaching us love. For love is not something we take into us, not something we control, not something we solve, not something we constantly learn new and better methods. Love is not something. It is Someone.


Instead of grasping love, Love grasps us. We are immersed in the life of the Lover of our souls. As we behold the Lover, we are changed. The Good News is the news that is simply too good to be true. We’ve been “caught up” in the love of the Father, Son and Spirit. The Gospel of John unveils this communion between Father, Son and Spirit in the creation of the world. He begins his gospel with this familiar phrase, “In the beginning...,” and we may silently hear the accompanying refrain “...God created the heavens and the earth.” But John surprises us. He takes us back even earlier. Before the blue planet. Before the heavens and the earth. John gives us a glimpse before everything, and we behold the Word and He is with God, and He is God and all things are made through Him. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3) It does not say the Word was created but that the Word was. The Word WAS in the beginning. The Word was with the God and yet the Word was God. We see the beginnings of an introduction to God as a being in communion. As relation of persons. There is a perfect relation between the Word and God such that the Word might be understood as with God and also as God. Also notice that the Word of God is not an “it” but a “He.” He already “was with God” in the beginning. John eventually reveals this “was with” as a relationship characterized by love between the Son and the Father (see chapters 5, 13,14,15, 17). Thus John opens with relationship of love. As this relation unfolds through the gospel, we’ll see a continuous movement of listening and responding between the Son and the Father. After introducing us to this relationship between the Father and Son, John brings us back to the creation story only now it is told in light of that relationship. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3) All things were made through the “Word of God.” Nothing that was made was made without Him. In John, we discover how our world that has come into existence through the relationship within the Godhead. The triune relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit is at the heart of all things. This might help us think about how relationship is a fundamental aspect of all things. It might help us to see how the revealed patterns of relationship within our Triune Creator are imaged throughout all created things. In turn, this might help us to discover some characteristics of relationship between humans and God, between humans and other humans, and even between humans and creation. Just as the Son lives in a continuous relation with the Father, He creates a world that exists in some relation of dependence upon Him and His provision. This creation also exists in a way that all


things exists interdependently in relation with other things. Nothing in creation exists independent of relation. To help us understand how all things can live in relation, consider rose bush. The glory of a rose in bloom is sustained in relation to other life forms. The root system of the rose bush draws nutrients and water from the soil up through the stem and into the leaves. At the same time, the sun provides energy and the air provides carbon dioxide. The sun, air, water and soil are used together by the plant to create carbohydrates for growth and other functions. The basic elements of sun, air, water, and earth all participate in multiple other life systems at the same time. Take the earth for instance. Soil teems with life in the forms of bacteria, fungi, earthworms, and other soil organisms. All these organisms live in relation to the soil: they interact with the soil in a way that enriches the soil, making it a source of nutrition and life support for the plant. Just considering the rose bush, we see this pattern of inter-relatedness replicated in everything interacting with the bush. And in one sense, the whole cosmos is interacting and relating in ways that we continue to discover. Now all created things may not interact at the same level and in the same ways but there is some kind of inter-relation. This pattern of inter-relation is an image of the pattern we behold in the mutuality of life between the Father and the Son. While I used the rose bush as an example to get us thinking, it is important for us to see how we as human bears this image. We cannot not be relational. We are bound to people and places and things in ways we do not fully grasp. We are impacting everyone and everything around us even as we are being impacted. Understanding this will help us as we think more and more about the nature of Jesus and the Father and how this reveals wisdom about our relation with God and one another. Men and Women are created to live in relationship that is in some way like the loving relationship between the Father, the Son and the Spirit. John explains the life of God as the “light of men.” But darkness clouds our relationship with God and one another. Even as His light shines into our hearts, we seek to repel it. We turn toward the darkness. This is the darkness that leads to alienation, brokenness and loss. This is the world we know too well. This is the world that so many writers and artists bemoaned in the last century. But this darkness does not have the final word. Light actually disseminates darkness. A spark of light overwhelms a room of darkness. Light reflects off every surface. Darkness only remains beneath solid surfaces that block the light. Yet light can even wear out solid surfaces. Darkness can never fully restrain the light. John will demonstrate the Light of God shining in the darkness of men’s hearts throughout His Gospel. Man seeks to run from the light. But the Light penetrates man’s darkness. We might think of this as disruptive Grace. I see this disruptive revelation in Isaiah’s vision of God. He beholds the God who dwells in unapproachable light and cries out, “I am undone.”


God reveals Himself to Isaiah in a transformative, light-infused encounter with His holiness. Isaiah cries out as those he is ripping apart. The revelation that will ultimately heal him and transform him begins as pain and terror. Jesus, the Word, comes to reveal abundant life to humans, restoring us to true relationships. His light will pierce and wound us even as He perfects and restores us. The light will expose every bit of darkness. He comes to us in our darkness, our blindness and reveals the Father. But we are slow to understand. All through John, we encounter people who are blind. They misunderstand. They don’t get it. They are confounded by Jesus revealing the Father. Yet He keeps speaking, keeps confronting, keeps revealing, keeps loving. He disrupts and keeps disrupting our world, our understanding, our emptiness, and through His disruptive grace he stirs us and draws us and prepares us to behold the Father. As we behold the Father through the Son by the Spirit, we encounter the community of God. By His grace we are invited into this triune community of love. By His grace, we enter into this community of love with the rest of the disciples of Jesus. By His grace, we begin to learn and live in relationships of love. It is only in and through His Love and His Spirit that we can begin to live and move and act in relationships of love. By His Spirit, He guides us into a relation with the Father where we do come to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. And only by His Spirit can we begin to love our neighbor as ourself. Now this is still messy and full of pain and darkness. The brokenness I saw in relationships in college, I still see today. Churches and families and business are filled with people hurting and being hurt. But now, I have eyes to see the Light of the World who is standing in the midst of our brokenness. I see Him in in the gathered worship. I hear Him in the music. I taste Him in the communion. He is present even now. He calls us to trust Him. The work He has begun in us He promises to complete. We love in broken ways, but we love in hope as well. We love, trusting that it is not in vain, but that He who is perfect love is leading us and will lead us into the fullness of love. The night of Nicodemus fades into an early dawn. We walk toward that dawn of faith, knowing that He is leading us toward the full light of day.


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