Sermon for Lent 2 Year A
Abraham and Nicodemus
On a journey…
In our readings today both Aram and Nicodemus are about to embark on journeys of discovery.
In their different ways both would have their understanding of God expanded and challenged.
The story of Abram starts around 4000 years ago when he sets off with his father and family from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan, the Promised Land. Ur was a prosperous city with security and we can assume Abram had a reasonably high standard of living as many of the people who lived there did
In Genesis 11 he sets out on a journey with his father Terah. It’s a journey of around 1100 miles around the fertile crescent of the Middle East. Firstly it was up to the North West for about 500 - 600 miles from Ur which near the Arabian Sea, along the River Euphrates through Babylonia and Mesopotamia to Haran where he stopped.
That’s where we meet Abram in our reading today. He’s got a bit stuck in what was probably a reasonable and comfortable place for himself and his family, a place where crops could grow and life would have been reasonably straightforward. And then, he’s invited to leave his family there, the country/place where he was beginning to settle down and move on to a land as yet unknown but one which God would reveal.
Perhaps the surprising thing is not that he went but that he didn’t stay. Leave somewhere which was known and settles to a place which, as yet didn’t appear very certain.
But the words that God uses are a real invitation to God for his own sake, to go for himself, that he might know more of God’s will for him in his life, and that through his journey the course of history would be changed.
So next it was down to the south East along the River Jordan to Canaan, another 400- 500 mike walk with his possessions, his close family, his livestock, and presumably quite a bit of camping gear…
It was an invitation from God, like many invitations from God, he found difficult to turn down. Shaken out of his physical setting of comfort he was invited to move on.
His lifestyle from then on would be one of pilgrimage and journey, characterised by his tent and the alter he took with him. But he still had to have the courage to set out and step into the unknown with God as his guide.
Nicodemus too was a bit stuck on his journey of faith, and like Abram, perhaps didn’t know until he was confronted with the fact by Jesus.
He was a Jew, a member of the Sanhedrin (sitting together) or Jewish Court established under Moses to judge over the people. He is a Pharisee and a man of some standing.
Jesus appears to be in Jerusalem for the Passover and Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. You can imagine Nicodemus, perhaps with all the right motives, coming to Jesus to find out more about what Jesus was saying and doing, and understand how they could perhaps work together. In Nicodemus’ eyes they were both on the same side, there must be common ground.
Nicodemus could reasonably assume they both knew God well.
But Jesus has none of this. Because knowing God is not just about a cerebral head knowledge, understanding and being able to discuss and debate the laws, which came many years after Abram’s encounter with God, but about a knowledge and understanding of the heart.
Jesus both challenges Nicodemus and also invites him to move on, move into a deeper and more personal relationship with God.
He too had to move on from his comfort zone.
We don’t know too much about Nicodemus, he fades from the story in many ways. He reappears briefly in Jn 7 v 50 reminding the court that they should not pass judgement on Jesus without a fair trial and a hearing. This was after Jesus has upset the authorities by his proclamations at the feast of Tabernacles. We next see Nicodemus after the crucifixion, ironically after a trial that had not been fair and just, when he brings embalming spices for the body of Jesus.
Perhaps it was at the crucifixion that Nicodemus was able to make more sense of their night time conversation, or perhaps before. We don’t know.
But like Aram before him he was challenged to move on from his current situation to something much more significant than he had understood up to now.
So what might it look like if God were inviting us to move a little out of our comfort zones, in deepening and expanding what we believe and trusting more in Him for our physical provision?
How would we start our journey?
For Abram it was certainly a journey that would take some time. You can’t walk 500 miles, with all your family and possessions in 5 minutes, especially at the age we must assume Abram had reached by this stage.
For Nicodemus too, it looks like his journey of faith developed over several years as he tried to make sense of what Jesus had said to him personally, and then all he witnessed from then onwards until the time of the crucifixion.
Both of them on their own personal pilgrimages, discovering more about God’s relationship with his people over the years that would follow.
Sometimes we, like Abram and Nicodemus can get a bit stuck in our faith and our ways. Stuck in our own self-made security. We too may need to stop and listen for God’s invitation to step out again on a journey of faith. Discover a little more than we know already. What might be our next small step on our journey of faith? How will it impact what we say and do, rather than just what we know?
For as Abram and Nicodemus would testify, it’s not purely at an intellectual level. It’s not just reading another book.
It’s about the impact that next step on our faith journey, however long or short, makes on our lives. How we relate to others and how we relate to God. I wonder if Abram felt he was too old to change, too old to start a new journey or Nicodemus too immersed in the Jewish law to feel he could change.
Did Nicodemus think about what others would think of him if he started to believe something different and something that changed him and his life? How would he live it down, how would he explain it to others. What would it mean to his status (on the Sanhedrin for example?)
Perhaps the penny that started with Abram’s journey began to drop for Nicodemus. God is active in His creation. In Jesus He had not come to condemn the world, but to break into in it in a new way to save it from the situation it had got itself into.
All can benefit, but they do need to believe. They too need to start their journey of faith and see where it leads them, just as it had led those who had gone before, from Abram, through to the present day and into the future.
Perhaps one of the next steps on our journey is to be more open about our faith and our ‘born again-ness’ so that others who do not yet know Jesus can start their own journey of faith, just as Abram and Nicodemus all those years ago.