This morning we heard the story of Nicodemus, the Pharisee who seeks Jesus in the darkness of night looking to obtain the promise of the Kingdom. But when he learns that he must be born again of the Spirit, Nicodemus leaves frustrated. In many ways this story is a parallel to the story of the young Rich Man who asks Jesus how he can be saved and is told to sell all he has.
It seems as if these two men share the same set of problems. Both are well situated in the world, one has wealth, the other has power among his people. Both men recognize Jesus is more than just a teacher from Galilee. Jesus they realize offers something greater than the righteousness of the Law. And both are afraid to leave behind what they have in order to receive the blessings of the Kingdom they so badly seek.
As I reflect on the plight of Nicodemus and the Young Rich Man, I am often reminded of the years I taught beginner swimming. For the most part, the kids were enthusiastic and excited about lessons. Most were comfortable in the shallow end of the pool and willing to put their heads under water. The challenge always came at the beginning of the second week when we would march down to the deep end and practice jumping into the pool. Those were the mornings when the brave were separated from the timid. Some were fearless and would jump right in even though they knew they could not touch bottom of the pool. Others were not quite so daring. Without the safety of bottom, water now held an element of uncertainty and fear.
What always made this first day at the deep end the same, was those who were afraid to jump in . . .deep down really wanted to. In many ways, they were like Nicodemus. They too wanted to trust in the unknown, they knew if they could jump in they would find something greater in life. But could they find the courage to take the chance?
In many ways, when it comes to our spiritual lives, we are not that different from Nicodemus or the timid beginner swimmer. Our relationship with God starts out easily enough. Prayer and worship seem to come easily, and for the most part, fit nicely into our world view. But at some point, God challenges all of us to grow, to journey deeper into the deeper waters of our relationship. Often this comes with a point of crisis or challenge. Maybe even a point of change. Perhaps the first challenge came with change, like a prayer book revision, or the ordination of women, or even more recently the issues swirling about us in terms of human sexuality. In my mind, these are minor issues or opportunities that inch us along with God. These opportunities force us to stretch a little beyond our comfort zone and to think and pray beyond the rote and comfortable spiritual life many of us enjoy.
In many ways, when these issues come up, God encourages us to inch our way towards a deeper understanding of what divine love can be like, or how inclusive the Kingdom can truly be. It is similar to the technique I used to get the more timid beginners into the deep end.
As a class we would inch our way up the side of the pool. We would “monkey” walk with our hands going hand over hand as we “inched” into the deeper water. All along I would encourage the more timid members by encouraging them to take one more “step” since they had already gotten this far and knew it was safe, the next step would be the same.
But then there came the point, when we could no longer inch our way deeper, when we could no longer lower ourselves in while holding onto the wall. This came when the class had to jump off the diving board and into the deep water. Again, the fearless would run right off the end of the diving board and swim their way to the wall, but the timid, they would walk to the edge and there they would stand staring down at me and the water below. Their faces told the whole story. Again they wanted to jump, but were afraid.
There are many times throughout our lives when no matter how much we choose to prepare, there comes a point when the gap between being prepared and moving forward do not meet. It often happens at those moments of transition. When we leave home to live on our own for the first time, change jobs, or choose to get married. With each of these transitions a certain sense of insecurity comes with the challenge of letting go of what we know in order to venture into the unknown and unproven. At the opposite end of life these moments often come with divorce, retirement and when making the decision to leave the homes we have occupied for decades in order to downsize or move into an assisted living environment. All of these transitions come with risk, loss and an element of fear.
And so it is in our journey with God. At some point God calls us into a deeper relationship, into a greater level of trust. A step for most of us that calls us to the very edge of the diving board of our spiritual lives . . .with Jesus calling us to jump into his arms. It is at this moment we become aware the cheap grace, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes about, is no longer enough, but to go further means leaving the safety nets of our lives behind and to trust God will catch us in the free fall.
For Nicodemus, to fully partake in what he sought from Jesus, he could no longer seek Jesus counsel in the darkness of night, but in the light of day when he would have to risk his position among the Pharisees, his income and possibly even his family in order to receive a new life in the Spirit. The Young Rich Man in order to seek deeper relationship with God was told to let go of the safety of his wealth. For Mother Theresa, her moment came when she left the order she had been apart of for almost twenty years to start her own with just the clothes on her back and a belief that God was calling her to start a new order focused on caring for the poorest of the poor in India. This same point came for Bonhoeffer when he chose to resign from the safety of his professorship at Union Theological in New York City and to return to his native Germany to be part of the resistance movement against Hitler. This was a choice he knew could, and eventually did, cost him his life.
And so this morning, I ask you, what is it that God is calling you to do that keeps you seeking Christ in the darkness, or standing frozen with fear at the edge of the diving board in your spiritual life. I invite you this day to name it and claim it and then listen for for God calling you to jump. Don’t worry God will catch you. You just have to trust in God.”