The Church of England - - SUNDAY - By the Rev Dr Liz Hoare The Rev Dr Liz Hoare (nee Culling) is tu­tor at Wy­cliffe Hall

Je­sus an­swered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Is­rael and yet you do not un­der­stand th­ese things?’ (John 3:10) It is in­ter­est­ing that John, the Gospel au­thor, has just told us that Je­sus knew what was in ev­ery­one (2:25), now tells us that he was as­ton­ished that Ni­code­mus did not un­der­stand what the Lord was telling him. Ni­code­mus had given his life to the study of the Scrip­tures. Surely they had an­nounced that God would give his great gift of the Spirit to his peo­ple so that their hearts could be changed and re­newed?

Yet when Je­sus told him he must be born of the Spirit he had no idea what he was talk­ing about. What made him for­get or be­come so dull that he could not grasp what God was say­ing? As a Pharisee, Ni­code­mus was a re­li­gious leader, some­one in the know, some­one who had re­li­gious in­sight and cer­tainty. It made him se­cure in a way that would find the idea of wind blow­ing where it willed dis­turb­ing for it would im­ply loss of con­trol, the very op­po­site of se­cure.

The prophets, Joel in par­tic­u­lar, had said that God would pour out his Spirit not just on the re­li­gious lead­ers, but on all peo­ple (Joel 2:28). Per­haps Ni­code­mus did not want to hear that ei­ther, for that too would un­der­mine his po­si­tion of author­ity and se­cu­rity.

Not be­ing in con­trol is a fright­en­ing thing so with­out even re­al­is­ing it, we build up ways and means of avoid­ing that risk. To­day more than ever, we value in­de­pend- ence and per­sonal au­ton­omy. We ex­pect to have con­trol over our own lives and this makes it very dif­fi­cult to let go or hand over the reins to some­one else. Even though we know in our heads that God is for us, that he loves us un­con­di­tion­ally and that his plans for us are good and not evil, we still hold on to our in­de­pen­dence. This closes us up and pre­vents us from fol­low­ing Je­sus whole­heart­edly.

It stops us from tak­ing risks in faith. It hin­ders us from trust­ing the Spirit to guide and lead us where he wants to take us. Our world shrinks and our vi­sion is at­ro­phied. It is said that the me­dieval as­tronomers of the west­ern world did not see any new stars for cen­turies be­cause they did not be­lieve there were any out there. Imag­ine! They had their in­stru­ments trained on the heavens and they missed so much. How like Ni­code­mus. How like us when we cling to cer­tain­ties and refuse to take the risk of faith.

The­o­log­i­cal cer­tain­ties are im­por­tant and it is im­por­tant to know. We need to know our Bi­bles. We need to have con­fi­dence in our Bi­ble teach­ers. We need to know that we be­long to a com­mu­nity of be­liev­ers and that there is a Chris­tian way to live. But we also need to be will­ing to be open to God’s Spirit blow­ing us where he wills, show­ing us new things and liv­ing in new ways that pro­claim the trans­form­ing pres­ence of Je­sus.

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