2 Samuel 5:1-5; 6:1-5 and John 3: 3-9
Over the summer, Mark and I finally entered that phase of life known as the “Empty Nest.” My son and his girlfriend who had been living with us moved into a place of their own. And my daughter who was also living at home, post college graduation, moved into an apartment. Suddenly, it was just Mark and I. I cannot say that I was not a bit wistful to see them go, I surely was. But to be completely honest with you I was also rather relieved.
Relieved because there had been just so much flux in the house. For years actually. So much coming and going. My niece had lived with us for a couple of years. We hosted a young man, a refugee from Honduras for a couple of months. So much change. So, I was a bit relieved when, a few weeks ago, things quieted down at 627 South Street.
Well “quiet” may not be the best word for it, because the first thing that we did as soon as the screen door slammed behind the last kid to leave was to call the carpenter, the wall plasterers, the painters and the floor sanders. For the last many weeks we have been on a huge home improvement jag. I have been cleaning out closets, and carting bin after bin to the second hand store. After so much change and flux over so many years, I am desperate for the house to be solid again. For things to be in their proper place, for the world to seem steady and predictable once again. For my keys to remain in the place where I put them when I set them down at the end of the day.
The Hebrew people in our story this morning have also be in flux. They had seen great changes. Nothing has stayed the same. Each day bringing new challenges and new terrain. They have been a scattered and wandering people for generations. It all started as you remember back in Egypt with Moses and the burning bush. With longing meeting longing, igniting a plan and a purpose. Moses, with the help of his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam led God’s people out of slavery to Pharaoh. And as the people crossed through those waters of new birth, crossed through the Red Sea to a new beginning, Miriam it is said, danced and sang and played the tambourine on that shore of new freedom.
And it is these same people who Moses led who were given the Ten Commandments and were given new life — no longer slaves to Pharaoh, no longer widgets in some transactional economic system, but instead to be beloved children of God, co-creator of goodness and tenders of creation.
But it did not stop there. They again crossed another river, this time the river Jordan and entered into a time of strife as they had to find out how there were to live in this strange but promised land.
And that brings us to today.
Today the Hebrew people after years of wandering, flux and strife are now home. They are home and their first impulse is also to get busy getting their house in order. They too feel a deep desire for solidity, predictability, for things to be in their right place. They do not call the carpenter and the plasterer but they do call David as their King. And the Ark of the Covenant, that beautiful vessel that housed the tablets of the Ten Commandments and in which the glory of God dwelt, why should that be camped out in a tent? It is time to bring it up to Jerusalem, and establish it in its right and proper place.
And so they do. And it is good. So very good. So much so that it is David now that has the tambourine and it is David now who dances.
Our world could use some of that joy now don’t you think? Our world could use some solid ground, and stability, don’t you think? Wouldn’t it be fabulous to hear some tambourines once and a while?
Can you imagine what it would feel like to know that we have finally made it? That we have arrived at that place where all is well, stable, where we can finally rest? Can you imagine what that could feel like? To have a climate that no longer groans and thrashes in its suffering, but that is healthy and well and at peace. To have done the work of unmasking and dismantling the lie of white supremacy, so that no longer are people gunned down in their living rooms but instead are welcomed into a world were all God’s people can not only be alive but to also fully thrive? To no longer shove people into boxes of worth based on gender or sexual identity and instead to rejoice in the full fluidity of what it is to be alive and to love?
Can you imagine?
Nicodemus cannot. No, Nicodemus, cannot. He knows not the waters of new birth, but only the fear and loss of what has been. The Romans now are Empire. The time of King David has passed. He comes in the cover of night because night is what he has come only to know. He has come to know only a landscape of fear, instability, flux and dead endings. The possibility for something more is beyond his imagining and so when Jesus says that there is more. That new life is on the move right now? Well that is just mind bending to Nicodemus, compassionate and brilliant I am sure that he is – that Pharisee of long ago. That pillar in his community and man of great faith. For Nicodemus, the liberation and the tambourine that Jesus hands him is just too much and he stands there stunned, stammering “How can these things be?” “How can these things be?”
There is a paradox and the very heart of our faith. One that I continue to struggle with and that perhaps you do as well. The paradox is that I think we want God to make things good and right and stable (at least that is what I want God to do), but what God promises is not that. What God promises is that God will be with us in what is not good and not right and not stable. While we work hard to get our own personal lives in order, to make them secure and as solid as possible and to hunker down within them, God is moving in another direction. It is not that we do not need security, safety and a house that is well ordered. God knows that we do, but the good news is that God seems to prefer to remain not the confines of box no matter how glorious that box may be, but instead God seems to be on the move entering into the broken places in our lives and in our world so that we may be accompanied in them and so that by God’s grace they may be transformed. Or Jesus says “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”
I think that is what God is trying to show us in the life of Jesus and what Jesus is now trying so hard to show Nicodemus. Life is going to be messy. It is going to be hard and full of suffering. That is the human condition, but the good news is that in the midst of it all God will be with us. That is what we see in the life of Jesus. Jesus who in the light of the day goes to the hungry, the hurting, the sick, the possessed and the grieving. Jesus goes to all that is broken to be with us and hold us, and help us through that suffering. Emanuel “God with us” staying at our side until our very last tear falls and is caught by the hand of compassion.
For if God so loved the world that God really does enter into the hardest place of suffering in the world to know that suffering so that it may be transformed, then we can be assured that God also is showing up in our greatest places of suffering as well. And not just showing up there with a hand to catch our last tear but with the strength to persevere into a tomorrow that we may not yet be able to see.
That is the good news that can shines forth even in the midst of the very hardest of news.
So what does this mean for our living? Well for me it means not turning away but daring to enter in. It means letting tears fall if they need to fall while somehow trusting that there will be tambourines on the far side of such a water shed.
Rob Bell, Theologian, Pastor and writer says that if one were to sum up the Bible, If one were to sum up the predominant message of our Holy Scripture which is the account of people’s lives with God, then that predominate message would be “New Creation.” It is what is at the heart of everything, that impulse of yearning within all matter that leans into new birth. Bell sees this proclaimed through the Biblical witness as time and time again, people are delivered into new life.
In not too long from now, as hard as it is to believe, we will be celebrating this impulse towards new creation as we gather around the manger once again. We will marvel at how the divine is delivering itself to us in the most unexpected of ways and then bidding us to come with him and to let that Spirit of divine presence rise in us as well.
So yes, let us enjoy our freshly plastered walls and shiny floors. Let us enjoy the quiet and peace that having our house in order brings, and let us rest in the presence of the divine that most surely is present to us there. But when hard times come, and when it is time to step into and face the hard places in our world, let us be assured that God will meet us there as well. Let us trust that God is at work in those hard places, helping to deliver and recreate. Let us draw close to God so that the waters of new birth — our tears or the waters of divine compassion which are truly one and the same – may anoint and recreate us. And may the light of God’s goodness guide us and show us the way to that day when the tambourines will sound again. Amen