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The Rev. Jennifer Adams – Lent 2, Year A:  John 3:1-17

I came to love Nicodemus because of a song by Melissa Etheridge.  Seriously.  The odds of that might not seem very high, given who these two people are, Nicodemus and Melissa that is.  They come from entirely different worlds, different times, different perspectives and backgrounds, not to mention entirely different belief systems. They would be considered about as far apart as two people can be on whatever spectrum you put in front of them.  But I love them both.  I probably even love myself and this world better because of them.  So, let me tell you a little more about each.

First, Nicodemus who was just introduced to us in the reading from the gospel of John. He appears three times in this gospel and this was the first.  Nicodemus was “a Pharisee, a leader of the Jews,” the gospel tells us. Which means that Nicodemus’ job was to know and uphold the religious law.  It was his job to live it, to teach it, and to pass it on to his community of faith and the generations that would follow him.

Now given his position, Nicodemus was one of the most powerful people in his community.  He likely had considerable wealth, and status and power.  His wardrobe consisted of nice, expensive liturgical robes (not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Nicodemus stood in a solid position of leadership and respect. He was visible, central and highly regarded.  One would have said that Nicodemus had it all, and that that “all” was held together very well.  Given his position and his status, one would of thought that Nicodemus had nothing to fear.

Yet apparently he did, because Nicodemus of all people came to Jesus by night.  That’s how this passage opened and it’s where they stayed throughout.  The entire conversation that Nicodemus had with Jesus happened in the dark.

And honestly, this used to frustrate me to no end. I thought that Nicodemus was sort of sneaky in his approach.  I wanted him to stand out in the daylight with the other searchers and seekers and shout out his questions just like all the rest of them. Nicodemus was one of the most powerful people in this gospel. And yet he came to Jesus by night.

And because there is grace, the light of the world met him there.

OK, hold that image, because now I want you to meet Melissa, in case you haven’t already.  Born in 1961, Melissa is a jean jacket wearing, electric guitar playing, initially underground singer song-writer, and gay rights activist who came on the music scene in the late-1980’s. She’s won Grammies and an Academy Award, and Melissa comes from of all places, the deeply Mid-Western state of Kansas.  Melissa’s edgy, pretty sure she owns no liturgical garments, and at the beginning of her career she was, and at various points throughout remained quite marginal.  Melissa was Janis Joplin meets 80’s pop and while she started out with virtually no authority in this world, she played with passion from the margins, and she gave words and strength and hope to many who needed those kinds of mercy-filled things.

And so mid-career, Melissa wrote a song called “Meet me in the Dark.” Here are some of her words:

 

“Meet me in the dark,” she wrote, presumably to someone she loved.

“Meet me in the shadows,

past the old graveyard, down Eisenhower Road.

Meet me where the storms blow out on their own, dear,

meet me in the dark and never let me go.”

 

And Nicodemus could have sung this song too. And I think that matters. These two share a song.

 

“I know everyone has their unspoken fear,” she sang,

“It eats away their senses and their humanity.

They carry all their secrets every night down to the river,

and they try so hard to drown them, but they won’t do that to me.”

Because I’m working hard, saving all my money” Melissa sings,

the tips in this jar, buy brand new set of wings for my mercury until then please,

Meet me in the dark, meet me in the shadows

past the old grave yard, down Eisenhower Road.”

Meet me where the storms blow out on their own, dear,

meet me in the dark and never let me go.

“And then finally in her last stanza. “I could never hide, this little light of mine, but for now,

meet me in the dark and never let me go.”

Nicodemus and Melissa share a song and there is something profoundly beautiful about that. They were essentially praying the same prayers – asking for paths forward, for safety, for courage, for light.  Now odds are good that Nicodemus and Melissa would never have hung out together. An absolutely stereotypic, vested and invested religious leader and an absolutely stereotypic liberation fighting, pop- rocking, gay American whose paths may never have crossed.

Except there’s this thing about darkness and light that they share and that so many in our world share too.  On some level we all do.  Nicodemus needed the darkness for cover because he had questions, questions about faith and growth and he was a Pharisee for heavens sakes and so really, he wasn’t supposed to be uncertain at all. But he was. Nicodemus had a lot to lose.  Even one meeting with Jesus put his entire career as a Pharisee at risk.  And so Nicodemus used the cover of darkness and because there is grace, the light of the world met him there.

Melissa had a lot to lose too – in some ways less in some ways more but I think comparisons at that level don’t really mean much at all.  Melissa’s love put her at risk and so, for a while, she used the cover of darkness too.

But there is grace and something happened to both of them – from the darkness Melissa sang about light and wind and wings – and eventually they came to her.  And in the darkness, Nicodemus was offered them too.

“The wind blows where it chooses,” Jesus told Nicodemus. “You hear the sound of it. But you don’t always know where it comes from or where it goes. “So it is,” Jesus said with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

And maybe being born again feels like all of that.  It starts in a dark place, because this world is full of those kinds of places, our lives are full of them too and then something of light is discovered, or finds us and something like wind fills us and guides us. And those who lean toward the Nicodemus end of things and those who lean toward the Melissa end of things discover (in her words but not far from the gospel) “their own humanity” and something of God and others too.

“God so loved the world,” the gospel says.  “That he sent his only Son, not to condemn the world but so that it could be saved”…over and over again.

We’ll hear from Nicodemus again, so stay tuned.  A few chapters on in this very gospel it will be Nicodemus who raises his voice among his brother Pharisees when they shout to crucify Jesus.  It will be Nicodemus who in broad daylight uses his voice in an act of love, sacrificial love and tells them to stop.  (Hear – I could never hide this little light of mine.)  And then at the end of the gospel it is Nicodemus who carries Jesus body to the tomb, meeting his friend in the darkness, Nicodemus carries him forward into a rebirth that becomes eternal life and light for us all.

And maybe this is what being born again, and again and again looks like.  There is darkness in this world so many kinds of darkness – the darkness that is uncertainty, the darkness that is poverty, the darkness that is having so much you really believe that you have everything to lose at every turn, the darkness of being “other,” undocumented or “refugee.”

But we as Body of Christ can meet in the dark, in the shadows of this world.  Because the light of the world is there too.  There is wind. There is Spirit.  There is song.  And maybe that’s what being reborn is all about.

God so loved the world, the story says.  God so loved Nicodemus and Melissa and you and me. All of it – and never letting go. God came not to condemn but in order that the world might be saved.  And so we are.  Over and over again.

Amen.