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Light of New Consciousness

Today, we're talking the story of Nicodemus and his evening rendezvous with Jesus (John 3). First of all, let me say that scholars agree that the story of Nicodemus never really happened, as almost everything in the Gospel of John never really happened. But we don’t have to have a factual story for us to have a true story, we simply need to look to the deeper meaning, the real reason that the author of John wrote this.

John Shelby Spong, in his book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, points out, the author of John was a mystic who clearly saw Jesus representing a “new dimension of humanity, a new insight, a new consciousness, a new way of relating to the holy.” All of this is woven into his story of Nicodemus and Jesus.

As the story goes, Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin – think Supreme Court, except with 71 judges, all of pure Jewish lineage. He was a powerful, respected, influential, devout Jewish man. And, he was in the group that Jesus was often displeased with because of their rigidity and lack of compassion. Yet, Nicodemus was being tugged toward Jesus, he was intrigued, curious, fascinated perhaps, and wanted to understand more, but was afraid to be seen approaching Jesus in the light of day.

Nicodemus wanted to see with new eyes, but fear held him back. In his somewhat cryptic way, Jesus was offering him a new consciousness, a new way to know God, but Jesus also knew that he wasn’t ready to embrace it. Certainly this story represented, and still represents, many people.

When Jesus says that in order to see the truth one must be born not only of water, but of the spirit, Nicodemus questions this and wants to know how a person can be born twice, can they crawl back in their mother’s womb? Obviously this is ridiculous, and is an effective tool the author uses to point out clearly what Jesus is trying to say: literalism does not work. Black and white thinking does not work. You’re stuck Nicodemus. Stuck in your rigid world of laws and rituals and traditions. You’re not willing to loosen your grip enough to see deeper.

Jesus goes on to explain to Nicodemus that he must be willing to allow the Spirit to blow him where it will, and to trust that Jesus was sent so that through Jesus, through his insights and teachings, the world might be “saved.”

“Saved” is a loaded word, a baggage-laden word. Jesus is NOT talking about anyone personally being saved and going to heaven. Salvation comes when we reach a level of spiritual maturation where we come to see the world differently. Despite the tables that he turned over at the temple in the previous chapter, Jesus didn’t come to “condemn” the world, but so that the world might be saved.

We're talking about salvation NOW, not in a future being saved for heaven sort of way. For me this means that we consistently remain open to the movement of the Spirit, to experiencing God everywhere and in everyone. It is about balance, valuing one another, being non-judgmental and compassionate, living authentically and with integrity, recognizing that it is relationships, not stuff, that truly matters, and seeing beyond the illusions of the everyday into the deeper truth of the soul and the spiritual realm.

Jesus was asking Nicodemus to risk a transformative experience where he would never again see things in the same way. What a scary thought! What would that mean for the life Nicodemus was living?  What would we say to that proposition? Do we really want to see things differently? Do we want more deeply spiritual eyes? Do we want to be “saved” even in the way I described it, because it means change?

The courage this required of Nicodemus was the courage to be authentic. Nicodemus was asked to be true to himself, and what his soul knew to be truth. It had nothing to do with the Temple, the Jewish religion, his work and dedication to the Sanhedrin. The truth would show all of those things to be superficial, things of this world, somehow missing the mark even while trying to be the mark. So, the risk was that Nicodemus would need to let go of his life as it was.

I’ve told you some about my calling to the ministry, but what I don’t think I shared was just how incredibly hard the decision was to leave my life as it was to go to seminary. I spoke to women pastors who assured me that being a pastor was even harder than it sounded. They worked many hours, there was still much discrimination and prejudice against women pastors, and they were required to change churches at the will and whim of the conference. I cried a lot in those days. I didn’t want to leave the beautiful new home we’d recently bought in a great neighborhood with lots of kids. I didn’t want to move my children all over the place and torture them with the stigma of being “PKs” (pastor’s kids). My husband had a great job as an electrical engineer in Northbrook, IL, and if they moved us to northern Wisconsin he was screwed.

I wanted to see with new eyes, but I didn’t want anything to change. The pull toward the spiritual life was so very strong, but the fear of change and the unknown was almost equally as strong. I was being drawn toward the light like a moth to a flame, but I had a very unsettling feeling that if I went toward the light nothing would ever be the same… darkness (ignorance) was somehow safer or more comfortable.

Mark Nepo shares a story about the Buddha, He says, imagine Buddha in his moment of enlightenment, of being lighted from within. I doubt if he knew he was aglow. In fact, when Buddha rose from under the Bodhi tree, it is said a monk approached him in utter amazement at his luminosity and asked, “O Holy One, what are you? You must be a God.”

Buddha, not thinking of himself as anything but present, answered, “No… not a God,” and kept walking.

But the dazzled monk persisted, “Then you must be a Deva,” and Buddha stopped and said, “No… not a Deva,” and kept walking.

Still, the monk pursued him, “Then you must be Brahma himself!”

At this, Buddha simply uttered, “No.”

The monk, confused, implored, “Then what are you – tell me, please – what are you?”

Buddha could not repress his joy and replied, “I am awake.” 

It seems that this, perhaps, is what Jesus was encouraging Nicodemus, and all of us to become – awake. Waking up, seeing with new eyes and being “saved” (as we talked about it) is an amazing thing, but staying awake, staying in the light, staying saved, is a constant challenge. This is why we continue to come to church, this is why we study and have discussions about our spiritual lives, this is why we volunteer at the Hot Meal Program and stand up for justice, and collect things for HALO… so we can try and stay as awake as possible.

Here’s the clincher… when we wake up, when we are transformed spiritually, when we see the deeper truth, when we walk in the light, then the passage in John becomes not just about Jesus, but about us, it sounds like this: “For God so loved the world, that God sent you and me, not to condemn the world, but to love it so that it might be saved.”

Love & Light!