Sermon: Curiosity is always a faithful act

[Jesus said to Nicodemus:] “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

John 3:14-21

My sermon from the Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 10, 2024) on John 3:14-21.


Some of my favorite videos on tiktok or instagram are the people who claim they don’t like drama but do all kinds of odd things when their neighbors are having a very loud conversation. They might, for example, decide that’s a perfect time to take out the trash, sweep their steps, or carefully measure the height, width, and size of every one of their lawn decorations. The longer the conversation, the more they hand wash every one of their child’s outdoor toys, swiffer the deck, vacuum the front lawn, or rearrange all the gravel on their driveway one stone at a time. Listening to other people’s conversations is something we probably shouldn’t do but is something we love to do because being curious makes us human. Our curiosity, though, shouldn’t be limited to doing a few silly things to gather a bit of gossip by eavesdropping. Curiosity is a gift from God inviting us into the future God is bringing about. When we wonder, ponder, and ask questions, we discover a little bit of what it means to live in God’s word. And when we do that faithfully, we learn a little bit more about who our God is too. 

Today’s reading from the gospel according to John is, in a sense, a moment when we get to do a little spiritual eavesdropping of our own. Jesus was, at the time, having a conversation with a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a religious leader who didn’t want others to know what he was up to. He came to Jesus in the middle of the night, hoping everyone else would be stuck indoors. Nicodemus was, at this point, intrigued by Jesus but he also recognized his accomplishments were still a little thin. John shared Jesus was present when the universe was made and all things were made through him. Yet when it came to this part of Jesus’ public ministry, all he had done was turn water into wine and temporarily disrupted worship at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the celebration of Passover. Jesus’ history was sparse which gave Nicodemus a rather unique challenge of learning from someone whose story hadn’t started yet. [pause] Would he do what we think we would do if we suddenly found ourselves face to face with Jesus? Would he act super faithful, lavishing all kinds of praise, resembling a person who got what Jesus was about? Would he choose to protest, claiming that Jesus couldn’t be who he said he was? Or would Nicodemus be  incredibly awkward by remaining silent, afraid of saying the wrong thing to the Son of God? [pause] Nicodemus had the freedom to tell a story that made him look like the hero we always imagine ourselves to be or ask a question revealing a deep hurt, trauma, or fear weighing down his soul. He had the opportunity to do anything and what he chose to do was be curious. This curiosity, though, wasn’t merely about seeking information or an answer to fit any agenda he was carrying. Nicodemus, instead, practiced the kind of curiosity often expressed by a person who is always interested in other people’s stories – and that’s the actor Alan Alada. Just a few years ago, at the age of 83, he started a podcast attempting to broaden people’s understanding of science and empathy. It’s grown into its own thing, letting him interview people from all different kinds of backgrounds and experiences. And while he’s the type of person who might be easy to brush aside as that odd duck who just naturally knows how to connect with people, I was pleasantly surprised to recently learn that’s not always true. He admitted that his first response when meeting someone new and learning what they’re interested in is: “really? You’re interested in that?” It’s so easy to close ourselves off to other people’s stories and passions but he’s learned that curiosity isn’t only something you have; it’s something we get to practice. Curiosity is often pushing past our first response so we can focus on “relating to the other person… [by]…letting them in.” It’s a way of being that’s “not… so concerned with what [we] have to [others] them” but much more concerned “with what they have to tell [us].” And it forces us to accept we don’t know everything, that we are not always the expert in the room, and that we’re going to show others just how ignorant we truly are. Yet when we’re curious – when we listen and reflect and wonder and ponder and invite others to show us who they are – we break through whatever agenda we are carrying into something so much more. Rather than letting one experience, event, point of view, or verse be our whole story, we are suddenly brought into something so much bigger than anything we can imagine. Our Bible doesn’t tell us what questions, concerns, or thoughts Nicodemus had buzzing inside him before he came to Jesus. But it does show that when he met him, he chose to be curious. He began with a simple statement, inviting Jesus to reveal a little bit more about himself. He wanted Jesus to describe his past, where he had been, what he done, and all the bits of his resume that pointed to his present. He wanted, I think, for Jesus to show how what had come before gave him permission for what he was doing now. And while Jesus could have answered that question, he chose a much fuller story to tell. He quickly turned the conversation around, showing Nicodemus that Jesus’ story wasn’t over yet. What God was up to wasn’t only about what had happened; it also included what was to be. Jesus’ story, Nicodemus’ story, God’s story and all our stories were still being written. And while parts of that story would be full of joys and sorrow, laughter and tears, awe inspiring displays of hope and the overwhelming reality of the Cross – God’s love has, does, and always will come near. 

In just a little bit [At the 10:30 am worship], we’re going to be paying a little attention to someone else whose resume is, in terms of accomplishments, a little thin. She/Brynn is, after all, only six months old and her present is devoted to teething, making babbling sounds, and wondering where we go while playing peekaboo. She is precious and with so much of her own story yet to be written. Yet with a little bit of water, some prayers, and a community filled with people who know her and those who are meeting her for the very first time – God will bring her into the holy story that is already unfolding before her. It will be a future full of joys, laughter, and milestones we will celebrate and cheer. But it’s one with its own kinds of crosses that we wish we could shield her from. She/Brynn will, I’m sure, find plenty of opportunities to eavesdrop on her neighbors and will have many neighbors who happen to eavesdrop on her. Yet when her past or her present make her feel like her future has been undone, Jesus will be there to remind her of the future she’s already been lifted into. She will always have a place where she can be herself, where she can ask questions, where she can be curious with God, Jesus, herself, and the entire world. And while we can’t predict everything that will come next, we know that her story – like all of our stories – is rooted in a promise, a baptism, and the assurance that our eternal life with God has already begun.