Sermon Title: “Of Night and Light”
Scriptures: Gen. 12:1-4a; John 3:1-17
Preacher: Henry Norkplim Anyomi
Lord God, we’ve gathered from different backgrounds; with different needs today. You saw us even before we put ourselves together for this service, would You please move amongst us, God? Edify us; encourage us; lead us that we might follow. Thanks for all You will do. Amen!
I was preparing for a school call and was barely through pressing my clothes when the lights went out. It was suddenly dark. What happened? Did the circuit breaker trip? Did the lights go out in my area? … In this sea of questions, I think of KC who lives close by. “Do you have light at home? My power is out and I’m wondering if this is areawide,” I probed. KC had light at home. We thought it may be the circuit breaker, and soon, KC was putting himself together to come help restore power to the manse. For future reference, I’m not very good with my hands …
Elsewhere, KB was making frantic checks with Rev. Becca to get answers on the power situation at mine. I moved around our campus, checking the chapel and the meeting hall to confirm if there was an outage there too. That would at least dispel this air of uncertainty and confusion, I thought. My checks don’t help much – more confused. I mutter a prayer and hold on.
Minutes later, my phone rings. It’s KB. “Henry, there’s a power outage in your area. You should have power later in the day, the electrician says.” I was so thankful for clarity and hope at last! As I end the call, the lights flash back on. Power restored! Thank God!
Where’s this going? Friends, meet Abram, one called by God to leave his family and land to a place that God would show him. The magnitude of God’s request probably doesn’t strike us as much when we read from chapter 12. A few verses earlier, we are told that Abram settled with his family in Haran before his father’s (Terah’s) demise. And it’s safe to imagine that Abram and his family lived in Haran for a long time taking into account Abram’s father’s years (70 at Abram’s birth; 205 at Terah’s death). So, not only was God requesting Abram to leave Haran, a land he had become very used to, but also to leave his family and friends. What was God’s offer? A land that God would show him.
Again, in hindsight, it may be easy to think Abram didn’t have second thoughts or that he wasn’t scared of venturing into the unknown – what Rev. Becca would call a journey “into the wilderness” and what I’m calling today as a “nightly moment.” Friends, another layer of complexity was that Abram was new to this relationship with Yahweh – his family worshipped other gods or so it’s argued. None of this was familiar – not even the God Abram was hearing from.
However, like many of us, Abram chose to believe in this God whose promise would literally immortalise his name, Sarai’s, and their family’s. The irony was that a nation, a great name, a blessing and things like these were being promised him at a nightly moment – Sarai was barren; Abram had lost his father, the visionary of their current settlement.
Friends, there are times that we come to a nightly moment like Abram’s – nothing we are used to seems dependable or promising. I was lucky to have KC, KB, and Rev. Becca on my blackout issue, but in most nightly moments, the people we thought we could count on are no longer with us and our future may seem very gloomy. But even in such moments, when we incline our ears a little more, we may hear what God is saying as we trudge on through the night.
The people of Türkiye and Syria have lived this nightly moment since early February. The world woke up to news that a 7.8 magnitude earthquake had hit southeastern Türkiye and heavily impacted the northwestern region of war-torn Syria. A number of aftershocks of varying magnitudes would follow hours later, killing over 40,000 people altogether and creating one of the direst disasters in decades. In this pitch-dark nightly moment, we’ve been confused and have often asked why and how this could come about. And we’ve probably noticed, as we continue to question that no answer can sufficiently speak to the questions we grapple with at this time. We, however, know that God is showing the people of Türkiye and Syria the way; God is showing humanitarian and disaster recovery agencies as well as the world the way as we together lend a helping hand to these nation states at this nightly moment.
On May 14, 2022, Payton Gendron shot 13 people (killing 10 and injuring three) at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Payton’s sentencing happened last month and one particular victim impact statement has stuck with me since then. The victim, Christopher Braden, a 55-year-old man, was severely shot in the knee and spent months going through surgery, rehab, and medical care. In Christopher’s nightly moment (having gone through four surgeries with two more to go, having difficulty walking, having had to stop work, among others), he chose to dwell on being a survivor when he was called to address the court:
“… I am frustrated with the things I haven’t been able to do since my injury … I could speak for hours about my injuries and treatment … However, I’d rather talk about being a survivor. I am still the same person before you [Payton Gendron] did this to me. My scars and pain remind me of how strong I have become. I am more alive and stronger than ever. You [Payton Gendron] haven’t taken away my will to live, you [Payton Gendron] haven’t broken my spirit. The scars are a constant reminder of what happened to me, but don’t define my future.” (emphasis mine)
I may not know anything about Christopher, but in his impact statement, the light of God shines through. I don’t know about you, but I see a Christopher who is willing to journey to the light despite the gloom of the night. To those of us who believe, may I charge us that our nights must not have the final word. When we allow Abram’s God to speak in those nightly moments, even when we don’t have all the details, we are sure to find the land God is willing to show us.
Let’s come to the John reading now. There, we meet Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jews. He comes to Jesus at night. Though his mission is unclear from the text itself, he comes arguably to know Jesus and his ministry better. Some biblical scholars have proffered varied reasons for Nicodemus’ nightly outing. Some think that he was afraid of his colleague rulers on the Jewish council (Sanhedrin) and others think he was ashamed to be seen with Christ. I want to broaden the conversation. Give me a nod if you have woken up in the middle of the night to think about or through a matter or two before. I have. So, what if Nicodemus couldn’t sleep because there were real burning questions he had that night? What if he was having an internal nightly moment – so confused and conflicted and saw Jesus as the unmissable way out? Friends, I want us to see the humanness in Nicodemus’ visit to Jesus – that he couldn’t sleep over a thing or two.
The Lord was indeed his way out of his dilemma. Little surprise then that when the two meet, the Lord, being omniscient, chimes in (with his charge on rebirth), even before Nicodemus is through with his point. You see, Nicodemus didn’t come that night simply to affirm Jesus, as some make it appear (see verse 2). I doubt that. And Jesus not only knew that, he also saw Nicodemus’ deep-seated need. Hence, Jesus’ jumping straight to the heart of matter – be born again. Friends, let me suggest to us that our Lord sees our deepest longings, even when we are pretentious or indirect. Jesus sees our internal conflicts and questions in our nightly moments. These may be things that the world cannot see and probably tend to misinterpret, but our Jesus sees them all. And this Jesus knows where we are going even before we start speaking. He knows.
Further, let me say that not only does Jesus know our needs, he knows what to do and is willing to show us. He tells Nicodemus all about being born again, including answering his questions and revealing his life’s mission – which is to save the world. Nicodemus’ life was not the same after this encounter as we see him later in John’s account supporting Jesus’ ministry (such as dissuading others against illegally seizing Jesus and helping in Jesus’ burial). Friends, if only we could come to this knowing Jesus, he would show us the way out of our individual nightly moments too! This could be anything from an edifying Bible passage to someone we may share our joys and sorrows with (as happened in my power outage story) to a solution to a delicate matter. Let’s brave it and come to Jesus.
But sometimes our nightly moments tend to make us think God is angry with us because of past or present wrongs, hence, the darkness and suffering we may be experiencing. Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in verse 17 of John 3 should be a source of assurance and comfort. There, we meet a Jesus who doesn’t come to “condemn the world,” but to “save” it. Friends, our own righteousness couldn’t save us and that’s why Jesus came. We, therefore, need to stop beating ourselves up, trying to be perfect. Our Lord Jesus is our perfection, and because of him, God will never visit hardship upon us because of past or present wrongs. At a minimum, Nicodemus’ visit to Jesus shows us that God is our light and salvation; not our doom and gloom.
Friends, to sum up, through Abram and Nicodemus’ stories, we see that even in our nightly moments, God knows us, God shows us, and God saves us. But just as we see in both cases, we must be willing to go in the way God shows us. Abram left Haran for Canaan and Nicodemus came to Jesus. Where are you as a person today? And where are we as a Church? What is God calling us to? Like Abram, will we listen for what God is saying and follow in the way God leads? And like Nicodemus, will we set aside our statuses and titles and come to Jesus for answers? How can we help in the Türkiye-Syria crisis? How can we support our communities’ minority, needy, and oppressed persons? And like Christopher, will we allow God’s light to shine through our scars?
May God be our help and may this good God add God’s blessing to the preaching of God’s word. Amen!
God Almighty, You know where we are as individuals and as a Church. Reach out Your hand and touch us. Send forth a clear word and lead us in the way we should go. We pray for all those walking through nightly moments in our homes, communities, country, and world. Help them know that You know each of us by name and show us how we may find joy in its fullness. Ultimately, may we all come to know Jesus, Your Son, who saves us now and always. Amen!