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Nick at Night

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"Nick At Night"

A Sermon for June 15th, 2003, Year B, Trinity Sunday

Selma Original Free Will Baptist Church, Selma, NC

By The Rev. Philip R. Taylor, Deacon, Free Episcopal Church

Lessons

Exodus 3:1-6; Psalm 93; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-16

John 3:1-16

There was one of the Pharisees called Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews,2 who came to Jesus by night and said, ’Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him.’ 3Jesus answered: In all truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. 4Nicodemus said, ’How can anyone who is already old be born? Is it possible to go back into the womb again and be born?’ 5Jesus replied: In all truth I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit; 6what is born of human nature is human; what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be surprised when I say: You must be born from above. 8The wind blows where it pleases; you can hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. 9’How is that possible?’ asked Nicodemus. 10Jesus replied, ’You are the Teacher of Israel, and you do not know these things! 11’In all truth I tell you, we speak only about what we know and witness only to what we have seen and yet you people reject our evidence. 12If you do not believe me when I speak to you about earthly things, how will you believe me when I speak to you about heavenly things? 13No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Son of man; 14as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up 15so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. 16For this is how God loved the world: he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

My wife, Susan, and I are sometimes insomniacs.

Translation, we sometimes get up in the middle of the night...

unable to get back to sleep...

we turn on the TV.

When it's me awake in the living room...

I usually have the news on or the replay of a hockey game.

Susan, however prefers "Nick At Night"...

a channel that has reruns of situation comedies from 20 or 30 years ago,

"Happy Days", "Mary Tyler Moore", "Sanford & Son".

A couple of years ago...

a friend of mine who pastors a Disciples of Christ congregation...

asked if I would come and preach one night during their revival week.

He suggested that I might preach on being 'born again'

and use John 3:1-16 as my text.

I was excited about this unexpected invitation

and shared the news with Susan.

She immediately suggested that I title my sermon, "Nick At Night".

Now I thought this was silly at the time... but never of course told her that.

When I told Susan recently that I would be preaching again on this same text,

she once more suggested "Nick At Night" as an appropriate title.

You can sometimes fool my wife once,

but not two times on the same subject.

No, that's not going to happen.

So here we go with "Nick At Night",

brought to you by cable TV,

my Lebanese wife's insistence,

and the Gospel of John.

...Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews,2 who came to Jesus by night...

Nicodemus does indeed come to Jesus by night.

John tells us that very plainly.

But why did he come at night?

Much has been made of this phrase 'at night'.

John allows us to wonder and muse...

and generally make fools of ourselves...

as we attempt to get into the mind of Nicodemus.

The truth is we don't know why.

But we do know something about nighttime.

Nighttime for John...for Nicodemus...for Jesus...and for us...

is the same as for all humans in all times and all places.

Nighttime is many things for us...

as it must have been for Nick...and Jesus...and John.

It is sometimes a time of rest...angst...worry...fear...

pleasure...prayer...darkness...

terror...insomnia...and dreams.

It is these things and many more such feelings and emotions.

Later in John's Gospel...

Jesus will be arrested at night...

and in the first few verses of his Gospel, John tells us:

4What has come into being in him was life,

life that was the light of men;

5and light shines in darkness,

and darkness could not overpower it.

John's Gospel frequently offers us the night

and the contrasting light for us to ponder.

Night is a daily occurrence for most of us.

I say most of us...

because I once lived 30 miles above the artic circle in Kotzebue, Alaska...

at the expense of the USAF.

It was night there for several weeks during the winter.

The extended night of the artic was overpowering...

and depressing...

but sometimes beautiful...

as the 'northern lights' danced through the clear cold darkness.

The night is no stranger to us...

but it is often a mystery.

Nick's nighttime visit to Jesus is a bit of a mystery too.

Some say he was afraid...to be seen with Jesus... in the light of day.

Some say he was ashamed...to be seen with Jesus.

Some say this...and some say that.

For a moment...

let's suppose that John...

through this story of Nick's visit at night...

is suggesting to us...

that we too can approach Jesus at night...

as we rest...and angst...and worry...

as we pleasure...or pray....or sit silently in the darkness...

as we feel terror...or can't sleep,

or when we dream dreams.

What good news...what really good news...

that it is possible for us to approach the light...

while it is still dark.

At a time when it is hard for us to see...

we can...

as Jesus tells us in this passage...

be born again...

and even see the kingdom of God.

Sometimes we think of the night as belonging to the evil one...

There are those who believe that...

And live their lives like that...

as if God is nowhere to be found...

in the darkness of our fears.

But...it's not true...the evil one does not control the dark...

God owns the night...as surely as God owns the day.

Romans 8:14-17

14All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons of God;15for what you received was not the spirit of slavery to bring you back into fear; you received the Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out, 'Abba, Father!' 16The Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. 17And if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, provided that we share his suffering, so as to share his glory.

Paul assures us the presence of God's spirit...

We don't have to live in fear...

We are the adopted children of God...

We didn't choose God...God chose us...

We are allowed to cry out in the nighttime of our fear, "Abba, Father".

Exodus 3:1-6

Moses was looking after the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led it to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 The angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame blazing from the middle of a bush. Moses looked; there was the bush blazing, but the bush was not being burnt up. 3Moses said, 'I must go across and see this strange sight, and why the bush is not being burnt up.' 4When Yahweh saw him going across to look, God called to him from the middle of the bush. 'Moses, Moses!' he said. 'Here I am,' he answered. 5 'Come no nearer,' he said. 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 6 I am the God of your ancestors,' he said, 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.' At this Moses covered his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

This passage from Exodus reminds us that what makes a place and a time Holy is not the place or the time but rather God's presence at or in that place and time. If God is in control of the night...and I do believe that God indeed controls the night...then by definition the night is Holy time just as the day is Holy time. The Jewish Sabbath does not begin with sunrise...the Holy day that our Lord Jesus observed each week...began at sundown on Friday.

Genesis 1: 1-5, 14-19

In the beginning God created heaven and earth. 2Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, with a divine wind sweeping over the waters. 3God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. 4God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. 5God called light 'day', and darkness he called 'night'. Evening came and morning came: the first day...14God said, 'Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years. 15Let them be lights in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth.' And so it was. 16God made the two great lights: the greater light to govern the day, the smaller light to govern the night, and the stars. 17God set them in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth, 18to govern the day and the night and to divide light from darkness. God saw that it was good. 19Evening came and morning came: the fourth day.

Can scripture be any clearer?

God has created, named and controls the night...

as surely as God has created, named, and controls the day.

Even in the midst of the night...

We are reminded of God's power, holiness, and presence...

when we look up into the sky at God's Moon and God's Stars.

Beloved...

in the nighttime of our joys and fears...

we too...

like Nicodemus...

can come to Jesus.

We may be frightened...

or worried...

or just unable to sleep.

But know this...

Our God is in control of the night...too.

The night is Holy because of God's presence.

And it is OK for us to approach Jesus at night.

It is OK for us to approach Jesus with our fears...

With our joys...

with our sleeplessness...

with our dreams.

If you have not publicly proclaimed Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior...

I invite you to come forward to the alter...during the singing of the hymn of commitment.

One of the church Deacons will meet you here...

to pray with you...and tell you how this community of faith has chosen to follow Jesus.

For those who have previously committed themselves to a life of service following Jesus, I invite you to recommit yourselves to the vows made at your Baptism.

Now...Go in peace and with the power of the Holy Spirit...proclaim God as Creator...and Jesus as Savior.

Let us pray for all those who live in continuous darkness and who may have lost their ability to dream and the joys of life to the addiction and pain of alcohol and drugs.

For the Victims of Addiction

O blessed Lord; you ministered to all who came to you:

Look with compassion upon all who through addiction have lost their health and freedom.

Restore to them the assurance of your unfailing mercy; remove from them the fears that beset them; strengthen them in the work of their recovery; and to those who care for them, give patient understanding and persevering love. Amen.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit

Be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, power, and glory

This day and forevermore.

Amen.

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