John 3:1-17, Isaiah 6:1-8, and:
Link for Helder Camara poem, “Isn’t the Creation Wasteful?”: http://www.nothingforgranted.com/showreflection.php?r_id=70
Three weeks ago,
on the first morning a tulip opened in our garden,
we left for the Midwest.
I was morose.
We drove through the winter bare mountains
still only slightly budding
with hints of the green to come.
On our way west the scenery shifted
into tall grasses,
flowering trees just past the blooming stage,
and on into the entrance
of heat and summer.
I stayed a week longer than Katy
as she and two of our children
drove both cars back to Vermont after a graduation,
and eventually flew home after performing a wedding.
When I arrived
it was a new world.
is the only word I can find to describe it.
After a winter that took our collective breath away,
returning to be surrounded
by such exquisite abundance
It is as the Helder Camara poem proclaims:
isn’t your creation wasteful?
Fruits never equal
the seedlings’ abundance.
Springs scatter water.
The sun gives out
When the angels of our better nature
are guiding us,
of such wasteful generosity
does indeed cause us to
as open-handed givers.
if you are like me,
the stunning array of opportunity
and the unearned blessedness
of life’s loves and grace,
even in the midst of pains and difficulties,
confuses and confounds.
I so often wander life’s hallways
in search of solid railings to hold onto,
and definitive answers to guide me,
and clear manifestos to frame the uncertain edges.
But God’s wasteful abundance
knocks me silly,
concusses the penchant for orderliness in my mind
and creates shock and awe
like Isaiah stunned
by spiritual hallucinations
crowding his dreams.
God’s wasteful abundance
and sloppy love that weeps beyond
and through any sense of boundaries
slaps Yankee frugality in the face
and should give us all pause.
“…Seeing you a prodigal
and opened handed giver
let me give unstintingly
like a king’s child
like God’s own.”
But here is the deal:
We all have a Nicodemus
and sometimes he or she gets control.
Nicodemus is smart,
probably pretty well read
and nobody’s fool.
He or she is the successful one;
a little grandiose,
and a good steward of his or her own reputation –
you know, concerned about
what others will think and say about us.
The Nicodemus inside
is quite concerned
about staying within the lines
and operating by the right beliefs
sanctioned by the right people.
Nicodemus does not want to discover
that he or she has been following
the wrong person
or believing the wrong thing
or doesn’t know the critical pieces of information.
the Nicodemus inside us
with what he or she has,
with what he or she is willing to let go of,
and about surrendering to mystery or awe.
Nicodemus lives in our head
with a slight-to-severe disconnect
from our body,
and a little too awkward toward
the stunning sensual splendor
of the world all around.
We all have a Nicodemus inside
he or she gets control.
When that happens
we have great difficulty
encountering God –
actually experiencing God
in the world of small things.
The bigger Nicodemus gets inside
the smaller our sense of God’s presence becomes.
The reason, of course,
is that Nicodemus
wants and needs control,
and God will not be controlled.
All of us,
every single one of us,
seeks to control God.
An undomesticated God
is simply too unpredictable
and too dangerous
for our comfort.
And so we do things
and become scrupulous.
It is a universal human tendency
so there is no reason to deny it
or feel badly about it.
It is who we are
and what we do.
The task is
to shrink the Nicodemus inside
to a manageable size –
so we manage him or her
instead of Nicodemus managing us.
On Trinity Sunday
it is good for us to return to the beginning
and remind ourselves
of the first principle
of our religion
because it is also how we manage Nicodemus.
The first principle of our religion –
of our spiritual wisdom –
is revealed in Exodus,
the first story and first book of the Bible
if we go by history instead of editing.
It is where Moses encounters the burning bush.
It is not unlike Nicodemus
encountering Jesus’ whackomysticality
when what Nicodemus really wanted
was a few simple, concrete answers;
or Isaiah encountering the six-winged creature
waving a hot coal
when all he wanted was to worship
in the temple.
That first encounter with Moses,
sets the pattern for all future encounters
and establishes the protocol
between God and humankind,
and it is stunning.
Moses is told in no uncertain terms
that he is encountering THE god
who WAS and IS and WILL be;
a god named, “I will be who I will be.”
God will not be defined
by any doctrine,
That first principle
revealed on a secluded mountain
in the presence of a burning bush
is that God is not manageable,
not knowable in any human sense,
“Go on,” God says to Moses,
“you don’t get to know who I am
other than what little I give you from time to time.
Deal with it,” God says.
But the Nicodemus inside religion,
and the Nicodemus inside us,
sure doesn’t like that answer.
In fact, the Nicodemus inside religion
ignores that little introduction
and spends its time making up boxes
it tries to put God in
as a means of managing the unmanageable.
So if WE want to manage
the Nicodemus inside ourselves
or the one inside religion itself,
what we need to do
is find ways to feast on awe.
Our daily, spiritual diet
if we can do it,
needs to include stuttering
over wasteful abundance
and on confounding mystery
and over grace that seems too good to be true.
Awe over the big things
like a life saved from heroics
or some stupendous new human technology.
And awe over the simple ordinary things
Stuttering over amazing things
like humming birds;
and over mundane things
like the planet Saturn blazing low in the night sky.
Awe over outrageously wasteful abundance
like the existence of
Naked Mole Rats and Shetland ponies;
and over every day things
like thirty-seven shades of green
in the pastures and hills surround by mountains.
If we can ingest a steady diet of awe
over things big and small,
then we can shrink the Nicodemus inside
and grow the heart of an unstinting giver
whose open hand
leads to open encounters
with the God
that is actually present
in our midst…