Seven Churches in South Oxfordshire

Sermon – Belief



(John 3:1-21)

I stumbled on the steps going up to the roof, nearly pitching myself off into the darkness. I don’t know whether there was an uneven stone, or whether my foot caught on the hem of my robe. There was no moon that night and I could scarcely see. The stars were shining but their beauty was useless, as they gave practically no helpful light at all.
He was there, waiting for me as he had promised, a single lamp burning gently by his side.
Just a small light, but emerging from the shadow of the outer stairs it seemed to me as if it
could illumine the whole of Jerusalem.
He rose, greeted me, and we sat together, the lamplight enfolding us, making a space for our
meeting within the darkness of the night, above the silence of the city.
He said nothing, waiting for my opening. I am used to people waiting for me to speak. People expect answers and wait politely while I frame the Law’s requirements into their situations.
But on this night the role was reversed; the Teacher was now waiting for the Pupil to fumble

and grope for words to frame….. what?

Suddenly all the questions I had made ready were dissolved in the realisation of my own
arrogance. His miracles, his welcome to me, his deep attention for us to talk of the things of
God, all these surely meant that God was close to him?
I mumbled something like “God is with you”.
A baby began to cry somewhere across the street. After a few moments its mother came to
fuss and comfort the little one and the silence of the night returned. He spoke directly to me:
“You must become as that infant, being born again, if God is to be with you.”
Something I had been afraid of for a long time was confirmed; I was outside the Kingdom.
I was not with God. Whoever I was, wherever I was, this miracleworker had in one sentence
exposed the truth about my life. I might teach about God, walk with the God people, sing the
God songs, know the God book, but I was not with God. And that made me desperately sad.
How could I change that? Become a baby? I had not understood. There is no going back in
time, is there? There is no starting over, is there?
A night breeze came from nowhere and fluttered the leaves of the fig tree which grew up one
wall of the house and out over part of the roof area. The leaves flapped and rustled and the
lamp guttered, its light glittering on the smile in my host’s eyes.
Like the wind, he said, God’s Spirit brings life where He wills. There is no return to a womb
of flesh, but the gift of spiritual birth is at God’s will, in God’s time.
Something stirred in me, like the warm night air quickly passing not around, but right through
my being, and leaving in its wake a small field of summer flowers whose fragrance at once
began to flood my soul.
It was as if he could sense it together with me, and could see ahead to the coming avalanche
of my questions: “How do I know this? How is it real?”
At once the light concentrated itself and he seemed to gather it around him like a Teacher’s
robe.“  You must believe. You must believe in me. You know already that God sent me.
God in his love for the world sent His Son for the world’s salvation.”
The summer flowers sang at his light and I saw in that moment the connection between the
two. The hidden, inner work of God’s Spirit was made possible by the public, outer gift of
God’s Son. That inner work was to bring us to spiritual birth – life with God.
Sensing my need to reflect on what had passed between us and to hold awhile the newborn
crying for joy within, he offered me the lamp to light my way down. I took it gladly.
I say now that my life began then. In family gatherings I would tell to their amazement how I
had been born on a roof at the age of forty-five. Everything up to that encounter with Jesus
was a making ready for what God had planned for me on that night.
But I had not yet seen what it would cost the Son of God to bring the whole world to birth.
© Kevin G Davies 17/9/2001


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