Cold Call

An unexpected knock on the door. The late night call. Ever received one?

Carol had a doozie. A church member who always seemed upbeat, she personified the glass half full perspective. Carol worked the graveyard shift, sleeping during the daytime. Her husband had “normal” hours, leaving in the morning, returning in the afternoon.

It’s midday. Carol’s asleep. Someone knocks on the front door. The visitor’s persistent, ignoring the “Do Not Disturb Resident” sign posted in an obvious place.

Reluctantly, Carol answers the door. Two people, seeking to share their faith about God’s love and Jesus’ promises. They are sincere, even polite, but Carol interrupts their prepared spiel, and explains she must get sleep. She suggests—equally sincere and polite—that returning in the evening before she heads for work would be fine.

The second Sunday of Lent – for March 20, 2011

He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God. (John 3:2)

They promise to return. And they do. But it’s days—not hours—later. Carol again answers; the chat’s much shorter this time.

They’re back next week. Carol, with the glass of water looking awful empty, but still clinging to nice, asks them to leave, please and thank you. One visitor—I think this was how Carol put it—cheerfully promises they’d return. Though exhausted, she manages to convince them to provide their phone numbers. She promises to call and arrange the “best” time to talk.

Why are people so irritating? But they are. We are. I am. Sometimes, something possesses us. We must share our faith or make a sale. We interrupt our fellow worker to talk about the new restaurant we’ve discovered or top a friend’s horror story about a recent injury with our own accident that’s far grimmer and grislier. We have to press the doorbell. We have to speak the next word. We can’t not share.

At her job that night Carol plucks a note from her purse. It contains hastily scrawled phone numbers. Let’s say it’s around midnight. Let’s say it’s Carol’s lunch break.

“Is now a good time to talk?” Carol pleasantly asks when a bleary voice finally answers.

Those polite lads never visited again.

Everyone has stories about a ringing or knocking that jars them from slumber. Perhaps the first grandchild was born. Good news! Too often there’s no “good” in front of the news. A panicked child calls, overwhelmed by her first year in college. A spouse on a business trip phones, explaining about a hit-and-run accident while sirens wail in the background.

We don’t text these events. We don’t politely Facebook the incident and hope someone responds. We call. We knock.

Far too often, what we can’t not share is terrible.

In the opening chapters of John’s Gospel, Nicodemus “came to Jesus by night” to ask questions. To interrupt the Nazarene because (at least this is how I imagine the scene) he couldn’t not make that cold call at Jesus’ door. Nicodemus didn’t arrive to share bad news. He also, as John’s account unfolds, didn’t stand in the pale light of a porch lamp to politely and aggressively share his good faith.

Nicodemus, maybe reluctant, maybe filled with self-doubts, maybe regretting rapping his knuckles on the door’s hard wood, stood his ground and interrupted Jesus’ night. As a person of faith, I love this Gospel moment. Nicodemus wanted to ask, wanted to listen. He couldn’t not listen. He couldn’t not interrupt so that he might learn.

Did Nicodemus get what he expected? I’m not sure. But I’m sure it eventually changed his life.

Jesus talked to him about being born again, about the demanding, transformational way of faith. And yes, Nicodemus also debated Jesus. He took Jesus literally about that born again “nonsense” and argued he couldn’t fit back into his mother’s womb. Based on John’s account, we have no idea if Nicodemus left in an angry huff or a confused hurry.

But what we do know, and this is why Nicodemus’ nocturnal visit inspires me, is that a long time later (John 19:38-42)—in the stark, revealing light of day—Nicodemus would lovingly attend to Jesus’ broken body and help carry it to the tomb.

Humans are odd and oddly irritating. We think we have all the answers and want to force those answers onto other people. Nicodemus knocked on the door to ask. How often have I attempted to batter someone’s door down to tell or demand or bargain?

How do we share our faith?

On this second Sunday of Lent, as I recall the upbeat, glass-half-full Carol, I want to claim a different version of her late night question . . . instead of, “Is now a good time to talk?” I pray, from the heart of my feeble, self-centered faith to ask, “Is now a good time to listen?”

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