Saturday, April 05, 2014

A Trusting Lamb

Yet I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter, had not realized that they were hatching plots against me: “Let us destroy the tree in its vigor; let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will be spoken no more.”  Jeremiah 11:19

Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them, “Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?”  John 7:50-51

From Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here?” (16 August 1967, Atlanta, Ga.)

Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.
Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.
Let us be dissatisfied until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.
Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.
Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.
Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.
Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. Let us be dissatisfied.
Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol will be housed by a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy, and who will walk humbly with his God.
Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.
Let us be dissatisfied, and men will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.

We can hardly open a newspaper or magazine, turn on the TV or the radio without being confronted by another poll, study or election which seeks to drive people apart with another wedge issue.  “My rights or opinions or life cannot be trampled upon by your rights, opinions or life.”  Yet people have been trampling on each other since Eve gave Adam the apple.  Jeremiah faced an uprising from angry crowds who felt that the prophet was invading their comfort zone.  Those crowds foretold of the crowds that would eventually turn against Jesus.
It is easy to become part of the crowd mentality going along with what everyone else is doing in order to get along.  Far more difficult a path is blazed to break away from the crowd and go in a new direction.  Yet, if you can break away from the crowd privately, then no one will know.  That is exactly where Nicodemus is when his encounters with Jesus start.   
Of all the people in the Bible, Nicodemus ranks up there at the top of my favorites list.  He keeps company with the conversion story of the Prodigal Son, the Woman at the Well and the former fisherman Simon Peter.   The very human characteristics portrayed in their stories are remarkably like the issues we have and the mistakes we make.  The growth and change witnessed in them provides evidence that there remains hope for me.
The story of Nicodemus is not the story of an ordinary Jewish man.  He was a ruler of the Jews, most likely a member of the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin.  Yet he also was a trusting and curious lamb drawn to his shepherd.  His story – like that of Lazarus raised from the dead – only appears in the Gospel of John. 
We first see Nicodemus sneak under the cover of darkness to a private encounter with Jesus.  That night, he learns more about the essence of what Jesus preaches.  Today’s Good News provides our second glance into the heart and mind of curious Nicodemus as he starts to challenge his peers about Jesus.  We will see him again when the “true” apostles are hidden away from the authorities for fear of death.  That is when Nicodemus reveals his true friendship in action as he assists Joseph of Arimathea with taking Jesus from the cross and providing a proper burial for the body.
Nicodemus might have been a Pharisee but he was cut out of different cloth.  When his status quo was threatened, he was open to change.  He was one of the only people speaking up and acting on behalf of Jesus as the crowds and the authorities got more agitated.
From their first encounter, Nicodemus learns that Jesus is not here to condemn us.  The Word brought light to Nicodemus even though he started in physical, intellectual and spiritual darkness.  The light that Nicodemus picked up there continued to shine in the darkness of the plotting Pharisees and through the darkness that fell on the land at the Crucifixion. 

Nicodemus is a great symbol for us at Lent and in our Fourth Day.  Where do we go from here? 
In the Atlanta speech referenced above, Dr. King used the Nicodemus story to show how individuals and society must change.  Here is how he described what happened with Nicodemus and what must happen with us:
One day, one night, a juror came to Jesus and he wanted to know what he could do to be saved. Jesus didn't get bogged down on the kind of isolated approach of what you shouldn't do. Jesus didn't say, "Now Nicodemus, you must stop lying." He didn't say, "Nicodemus, now you must not commit adultery." He didn't say, "Now Nicodemus, you must stop cheating if you are doing that." He didn't say, "Nicodemus, you must stop drinking liquor if you are doing that excessively." He said something altogether different, because Jesus realized something basic: that if a man will lie, he will steal. And if a man will steal, he will kill. So instead of just getting bogged down on one thing, Jesus looked at him and said, "Nicodemus, you must be born again." In other words, "Your whole structure must be changed."

Where are we now?  Where do we go from here?  How can we go through these stages so our whole structure will change?  From curious exploration to open advocacy in front of a small group to public works of love in action without fear of what the crowd will do or say to us.  

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