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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Lent 4, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
March 15, 2015

Ephesians 2:8-10; John 3:14-21

‘In the light of a familiar Gospel’

Today, in the light of a familiar Gospel about conversion (Nicodemus, a mainstream leader/teacher of religion, is called to rethink his beliefs to be born from on high of a Mother whose Chosen One is lifted up), we are described in transformative terms as “God’s work of art created in Christ Jesus to live the good life or to perform good works …” These are richly complex readings. They invite in us a creative response. God be with you

My step-brother Stephen passed away a couple of weeks ago, and his funeral was held on Friday at St Luke’s Catholic Church in Revesby. The printed funeral liturgy read: “Born to eternal life February 27, 2015.” Steve died suddenly of a heart attack. He was just 61. His mother, my step-mother Barbara, has been in a state of shock. Steve was her eldest child: a robust, confident, attentive son; an electrical engineer, a netball coach, a rugby league referee and touch judge. He was a family man his wife Judy is a fun-loving, straight-talking kind of woman with three children and a granddaughter, born not one year ago.

I went to the funeral with my sister Julie. I remembered Steve as a neighbour who treated me with kindness. That he knew and had access to the football players who were my heroes as a kid meant that I regarded him with great admiration. Steve once arranged for me to visit the Dragons dressing shed after a game. I probably wore my red-and-white football socks. That was how I managed to have all the players’ names in my autograph book.

In the early 1980s Steve had a quadrophonic sound system and recorded lots of records onto cassette for me …

The funeral service was moving. Steve’s brother Brad gave a heartfelt eulogy, concluding with a list of things for which he was thankful. He was glad he’d had a brother like Steve. He was glad of every good moment. Growing up. Travelling. Separations and reunions. It was a long list gladness expressed through tears and clenched teeth. Former referee’s boss, Bill Harrigan, shared his memories of Steve as a talkative and faithful friend, before stepping to the casket and blowing “full-time” on his whistle.

The priest at St Luke’s is Father Maurice. He made a point of giving special honour to Steve’s wife Judy and mother Barbara, handing them each a white rose from the casket, and inviting them to take part in the rite involving the sprinkling of water in recollection of Steve’s baptism. Fr Maurice thanked Barbara for bearing and raising such a son. He said it a few times and I saw how much it meant to her how it was helping her to move into her grief with dignity, her love acknowledged and valued.

Whenever this Gospel text is read in church I wonder where to start with respect to hearing it and receiving it and how to share it.

This year I see Nicodemus the Pharisee as the son of a mother who loved him. I imagine she was proud of his achievements, and proud of his inquiring mind and faith. I see Nicodemus remembering his mother even as he talks with Jesus about spiritual birth. How can he imagine a Spirit, a God who offers him rebirth and not think of his own mother? Of her self-giving love? Does he think about his childhood how little he knew, how dependent he was? How vulnerable? How much he has learned? …

John gives us three scenes in the life of Nicodemus. The first, here in chapter 3, sees him mostly baffled by Jesus and talk of rebirth. Later we see him tentatively speak up for Jesus and his right to a fair trial. Toward the very end of the Gospel, Nicodemus steps forward (into the light?) with another person to take Jesus’ body from the cross and to prepare it for burial. A public stance. A vulnerable witness.

We don’t witness a sudden conversion moment for Nicodemus. We see a man who’s changed. Nicodemus risks his stature in the eyes of his fellow Pharisees, he humbles himself and responds to what Jesus has done in his life: he tenderly cares for Jesus’ dead body, revealing his love for Jesus and the ones who have followed Jesus.

From his very first encounter, we might surmise, Jesus was trying to help Nicodemus understand that a faith journey is not a smooth, easy one. No matter our credentials, our learning or status. Sometimes we have moments of illumination, and we are converted, or we feel close to God. Sometimes we feel that God is distant or absent. Sometimes we are bewildered or overcome by grief.

Nicodemus’ relationship with Jesus was a complicated one, but in the end we have the sense that Jesus changed Nicodemus’ life. The words resonate anew: “Indeed, God sent the Only Begotten into the world not to condemn the world, but that through the Only Begotten the world might be saved …”

Our mothers deserve credit honour for giving birth to us and for sending us into the world. So, too, with our spiritual birth, God is sending us into the world, to live out our messy and clumsy and confused faith journeys. Where there are no “right” answers and a whole lot of complicated relationships and “Jesus encounters”. “We have the promise and the capacity to be changed and born anew by our Creator” (Shera Nesheim, Heart River Lutheran Church). We are born into the world and for the world’s sake by a loving Mother.

We are born into the world and for the world’s sake by a loving Mother. Just like Nicodemus who ultimately takes the side of the persecuted he takes the risk of siding with the One who was destroyed by violence. With all those baptised in the name of Christ (with my step-mother Barbara and my step-brother Stephen) we might imagine how he feels a mixture of fear and sadness, anger and exhaustion, relief and ecstasy led to a point of love inextinguishable: the light of God that is at the same time, according to John, “humanity’s light” (1:4).

Let’s complete the homily together. You’re invited to come and to side with Christ to stand, that is, by the baptismal font (this is the font from the Maroubra Bay Uniting Church where the late Brian Vazey would play the organ to accompany the people singing their songs of faith) to stand by the baptismal font and to reaffirm your own baptism. “I am born into the world and for the world’s sake by a loving Mother” … Amen.