Last week we spotted that just behind the vicarage fence there’s a woodpecker nest inside a tree trunk. He knew it was there when he explored an endless squawking sound –young woodpeckers are tireless and noisy in demanding their food. Each day we get to see this cycle of relentless demand and endless feeding. It won’t go on forever and one day the young chick will have grown enough to leave the nest.
Growth and change are at the heart of our Gospel and Jesus instigated change and new beginnings wherever he went. In the reading from John 3 that change is focused at the personal level as Nicodemus seeks Jesus out and Jesus speaks to him about new birth. There can’t be any more dramatic image of change than that. Those who put their faith in Jesus are called to be born again. Over the centuries that’s been understood in different ways by the Church but all of those ways reflect the idea that this is about a new beginning.
The great thing about this is that new birth has to mean new growth. It’s not that Christians simply change an old life for a new one. The change Jesus talks about is a new start, a fresh beginning, a point of departure. We can’t be a woodpecker never willing to leave the nest. New life means new growth. If we don’t move on and develop in our relationship with God our faith will stagnate and become worse than useless.
That’s a little of what I think Jesus is saying to Nicodemus. It’s no good sitting on the side-lines or finding a bit of time in your day to sneak away to meet Jesus by night. Jesus isn’t selling Nicodemus some new interpretation of the scriptures or a minor dispute about the Sabbath. Jesus says to Nicodemus, ‘you need to immerse yourself in God’s Kingdom – you need a revolution in your life that’s so profound it’ll be like starting again”.
As we think about our own growth in faith, and the challenge to the church to grow, I want to introduce another image. This Bible illustration by Tissot gives some hints of how growth and change is achieved. The artist had spent time in the Holy Land in the 19th century and this picture represents the details he observed in his travels. It is not a meeting where Jesus dominates Nicodemus, or uses power as a way to persuade. Their two pairs of shoes in the foreground suggest a common respect for domestic tradition – as well as a hint that their meeting constitutes holy ground. Jesus is represented as an encouraging friend, reaching out his hand in reassurance and persuasion. Passionate to help Nicodemus understand but modelling a posture of equality and respect.
That seems to me a good model for us as we think of how we might help others grow in faith. A model of being immersed in our faith, eager to meet with others, but never overbearing or brow-beating. Spiritually taking off our shoes, treating the place of encounter as holy and willing to leave our own place of comfort to be in God’s presence.