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“Honey, how do I shrink the kids?”

March 11, 2017

I can remember when my daughter was born. I remember it vividly. It had been a long and difficult birth. Then finally she was there. This little bundle of life. I remember the first time that I held her. She seemed so tiny, so helpless, but not as helpless as I felt. I had no idea how to hold her. I was terrified of dropping her or hurting her. Then the thought came, “We now need to look after this little bundle” and the enormity of having a new live to care for git me!

That was a good number of years ago. Now my daughter is taller than her mother and me. The thought of her going back into the womb is absurd. So I can understand poor Nicodemus’ alarm and confusion in John 3, I really can. Nicodemus, the Jewish religious leader has come to Jesus secretly at night. It’s dangerous for him to be even seen with Jesus, but he seems drawn to Jesus so he wants to spend time with Jesus. He wants to understand Jesus’ strange words.

Then Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be ‘born again’ and Nicodemus, utterly confused, says, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” He sounds a little stupid today. We have heard of being born again, and know it to be figurative not literal. But what would we have thought talking late in the night with this amazing but weird teacher? I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have done any better. It’s also a sobering thought to remember that a large proportion of today’s population in England don’t even know the name ‘Jesus’; so our Christian talk of being ‘born again’ probably sounds as strange to them as it did to Nicodemus.

Getting back to Nicodemus. The important thing is not that Nicodemus didn’t understand Jesus. The important point is that Nicodemus obviously went away and pondered all that he had seen, heard and felt in Jesus’ presence, and was changed. I know Nicodemus was changed because he was there with Joseph of Arimathea caring for Jesus’ body after the crucifixion (John 19.38-42).

So are you ever puzzled by something God says or does? Do you ever get confused by a Bible passage? Well don’t worry you are in good company, you are not alone. Jesus is not always clear and education doesn’t always help. Think of Nicodemus, he was very well educated. Sometimes study helps us to understand the will of God but often a good religious education just allows us to bluff a little better.

No, Nichodemus tells me that some times I need to spend time thinking and praying about what I have seen or heard. I need to go back to my Bible and commentaries and try and make sense of it all, but all the time having faith that Jesus is right even if I don’t understand him.

That is what Jesus’ mother did when Jesus did something strange, she “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2.19). Nicodemus seems to have done the same. He left Jesus confused but no less convinced that this was someone sent by God. He seems to have “pondered all these things in his heart” too.

I need to ponder; so I suspect do you and everyone.

I need to ponder when I see good people suffer, or when I see people indifferent to the offer of love from God. Like Nicodemus, I can get so confused. I wonder about so many things. But also like Nicodemus and Mary, I know that Jesus is special. I know that Jesus is the one sent by God to save this world, and all in it. Like Nicodemus, I know that faith is the key.

Today I need to ponder the words of the Bible. Spend time with them, roll them around in my mouth, tasting them. I need to let the Spirit in to guide me. I need to be open to whatever the Spirit intends to reveal to me. That is what Nicodemus did and he did the unthinkable – he broke with the powerful Jewish council and helped to bury Jesus. He is mentioned by name, perhaps because he was well known to the believers, so it is entirely possible that Nicodemus stuck his neck out even further and after Jesus’ resurrection became one of the first Christians.

Who knows? But I do know the power of that pondering the words of Scripture such as these. Of being open to letting the Spirit guide me. I recommend it to you. But beware! Beware because the Spirit may well reveal something you would rather not know. I have learned that I enter God’s presence with no guarantees. God will say and do and reveal whatever he wants, and it may upset me.

I once was absolutely convinced that only men could be ministers. But God changed all that. I was comfortable where I was. Changing that idea meant that I was no longer the welcome friend to some people that I once was. I was desperate to believe in a literal 7 day creation, but Scripture and the Spirit wouldn’t let me. This one belief was the real test of orthodoxy, I wanted to be part of that club, but I was not allowed.

So beware! Your most cherished certainties could be overturned. But still I believe there is no better way, indeed there is no other way, than to ponder the words of Scripture and let God’s Spirit guide me.

There is another important point here to learn from Nicodemus – honesty. Nicodemus wasn’t afraid to seem stupid – he didn’t understand Jesus so he said so. He could have nodded wisely. He could also have said something like, “Wise words teacher”. But what good would that have done? He didn’t understand, he wanted to understand, so he admitted his ignorance. So when I ponder I pray that I can be honest enough with myself and God to own up to my ignorance too.

I’ll leave that thought there. For now, I want to focus on that idea of pondering and wondering about life and faith, while open to the work of the Spirit. If you’ve got this far, please take to heart the power of this practice of pondering all these things in your heart.

Perhaps there is something that you need to ponder in your heart this Lent? Are there passages of the Bible that puzzle you? Are there world events or people that confuse? Then perhaps your Lenten discipline should include setting aside time to ponder and explore them?

  1. Good stuff! Yes, many of us have become convinced thatGod is actually in the business of updating as you might say, on the ‘certainties’! Women priests, gay priests, and a lot else besides – and he is still God, busy as ever on challenging our traditions …

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