A few years back I was in Jerusalem with a group of people.
One afternoon a few of us were wandering around the outside of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem and we discovered a spring and stairs leading down into a tunnel.
A sign said it was Hezekiahs tunnel.
An elderly Jesuit and myself, decided to walk through the tunnel.
We managed to convince some Palestinian youths to lend us use some torches, for a price, and climbed down into the tunnel
The tunnel was dark and filled with water, which went up to our waists.
Thank God it was warm.
It was wide enough to stretch out our arms like so and high enough to touch the roof, if we reached up
We began to slowly feel our way along the tunnel and shone our torches through the darkness as we went
Trusting the torches would keep working
The tunnel had bends in it and a few short dead ends, where they tried to cut away at the rock where it was too hard.
It seemed to form an S shape
At one stage the water came up to our shoulders.
Another time my torch went a bit dim, but worked again, when I gave it a shake
After more than an hour of walking, we could see light in the distance.
Ten minutes later we walked out into a large pool of water surrounded by columns that held up the roof of a building built around it.
It was the pool of Soloam.
We had come to place where the blind man was healed by Jesus.
In todays gospel John tells us about a man called Nicodemus who came seeking Jesus at night.
Nicodemus wanted to know how he could enter the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus was a secret disciple of Jesus
He was afraid of the Jews.
He was a Pharisee, a leader of the Jews
They focus on the law.
What was it like for Nicodemus?
I once worked as a lawyer. Its like a being a Pharisee
When I began studying theology, it was a bit of a shock
My world had always been black and white
Now everything seemed - grey
I was required to think about theological issues, such as:
Being born from above
The wind blows where it chooses
I had the same response as Nicodemus
How can this be?
What are they on about?
After fifteen years of studying theology, it seems like the more I know, the less I know.
Its been a journey of trust and faith, where Ive lived it out more, than Ive thought it out.
For me, faith is like going ahead and doing it away, without a map and without fully understanding.
Nicodemus seems to have had a similar journey
He comes to Jesus and encounters mystery and the unknown
He finds Jesus message overwhelming.
Feeling perplexed and confused he declares:
How can this be?
Yet, Nicodemus loved Jesus.
He was there at the beginning of Jesus ministry
He was there at the end, after Jesus died.
He helped Joseph of Arimathea, place Jesus body in the tomb.
He embalmed Jesus body with Myrrh and aloe then helped wrap his body in linen cloth and spices.
John doesnt tell us what happened to Nicodemus between the time he met Jesus and the time he embalmed his body.
Perhaps his journey was like walking through a dark tunnel
Faith can be like that!
Never understanding, yet knowing
Hungering for what God offers us
Not fully understanding how we become children of God.
Loving God, despite this
Realising, we dont have to understand everything
Studying theology is a transforming and life giving experience but it doesnt give us all the answers
When I first began the journey it was a shock to be told, all these things I believed in about God, were not true or needed "amendment"
I used to joke about it with my friends
Id tell them it was a bit like holding a rose, like this one.
Each time one of my beliefs was shown to be incorrect or needed amendment or Id learnt something new, Id pull off a petal
O my God Id always believed that!
Is this what it means?
O my God it means that!
Youre telling me, thats what it means?
One day I had no petals left
It didnt seem like I had a rose anymore
I wondered what that meant for my faith
Everything seemed a mystery
Grey and unknown
I kept hoping things would get better
Over time I realised the most important stage in a roses growth was when the bush bore fruit and a rose became a rosehip.
I came to like the image of God as a rosebush, a rose as Christ and rose hips as the fruits of the Spirit.
Its my hope Nicodemus looked back on his journey and all that had happened to Jesus Christ and came to understand
Now Paul was a Pharisee like Nicodemus.
Until, he encountered Jesus, on the road to Damascus. He was transformed by the experience and was baptised.
His letter to the church in Rome reveals he has come to a deep understanding of his relationship with God.
Paul speaks of a journey from fear and the bondage of the old life, to a new life.
A new life where we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us and transforms us, filling us with the fruits of the Spirit
For Paul, God is not harsh and judgmental, where one is always afraid of punishment for breaking the law.
He speaks of a journey from having to match up to a standard of exact obedience to a new life where we live with freedom and mutual trust.
Its about embracing a new life, where our conduct is guided by love and intimacy with God.
For Paul, this new life comes about through the Holy Spirit, who enables us to call God Abba, where God has adopted us as his children.
Perhaps Nicodemus found all this too hard.
Jesus promised a total inner transformation, through the Holy Spirit, by being reborn, which we have come to know means baptism.
Jesus said to Nicodemus: Being born of water and Spirit is the only way for you to enter the Kingdom of God.
Nicodemus is perplexed and confused
The world in which he knew God seems to be turned upside down
How can this be?
The total transformation Jesus is speaking of would make him a stranger to his own faith, culture and society.
He would not be the same man he was before.
Jesus offers him and us, an invitation
If you look at the icon of the Trinity on the front of the Order of Service you might understand the dynamics of the story of Nicodemus.
There are three strangers sitting at a table.
Many people believe these three strangers represent the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
A fourth place is set for us
There is an invitation from God to sit at the table and receive his abundant Grace
The gospel of John and Pauls letter to the Church in Rome speak of this abundant grace
This invitation is to a new way of being and living in God
So whether we are a tunneller or a rose or a bit of both we may look back one day and discover, all we have ever needed, is within us.
The kingdom of God is within us.
The Lord be with you