John 3:2-4 “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.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, and no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin mentioned in three places in the Gospel of John.
He first visits Jesus one night to discuss Jesus’ teachings (John 3:1–21). He was ready to have his life changed and Jesus gave him those words. In that one nightly meeting, his life was changed. And he moved from being judgmental as a Pharisee to being compassionate; for he would assist Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body of Jesus for burial (John 19:39–42.
My story is similar in nature to Nicodemus. It began February 1967 on a cold, wintry night as I was questioning what I should do next in my life after graduation from Fairmont State – go to seminary or take an offer from Henry Stern and open a bookstore in Waynesburg, Pa.
I needed to sense God’s presence. I was an active Wesley Foundation member, been deeply involved in Greater Fairmont Council of Churches events, with after school programs, one-on-one probation efforts, basketball coaching, and taught Sunday School for 5 years with 8th graders at my church.
I decided to talk a long walk and try and sense God’s presence. I walked down the short cut of Grant Street to Pierpont, onto Boydston, Ogden, and Washington Street out toward Baltimore Street.
Somewhere on Washington or Baltimore Street, I saw a scribbled sign said, “House Church,” with about 20 steps. I decided to explore it.
After climbing the steps, the door opened with a little nudge. Going inside, I saw 6 pews, three on each side of the room. On a couple of them were a pillow and a blanket. At the front was a warm morning heater with an old-fashioned coffee pot sitting on top with a little coffee in it. And there were a couple of cups nearby. In addition, there was a collection plate with some loose change in it. Obviously, there was a Bible – didn’t see a piano or organ and there were no curtains.
I sat down and reflected why it was there. I felt almost homeless. Who would and why would they come there? In the distance, I heard a train whistle. Then I thought I realized why. Immediately below the house was a hill that leads to the tracks. Men and women would get off the train, climb the hill, take shelter, rest a while, drink coffee, perhaps take some change, and move on.
That’s what the church should be about: Sharing Jesus’ love by providing help, showing faith in action, and perhaps change a life by showing God’s compassion to those in difficult situations.
Fifty-two years later, that image still haunts and inspires me to be about that both in ministry and social service.
For those of us supporting the Fairmont Friendship Room, I believe we are showing that compassion to those who have gotten off track, who need a cup of coffee, some compassion and perhaps guidance to begin, as Nicodemus did, a new life change. And by supporting downtown Fairmont businesses and services, we are showing those who have invested their life and earnings to serve others that we care for them.
They have risked their faith in others, with their money, and for their livelihood. And almost 30% of all retail businesses in downtown Fairmont were started by those from immigrant or African-American heritage.
So, I do believe that one evening, one night, one moment in time, can change us for all times. We don’t always need 30 days of living a life to be changed by life. Often, we do things, not for others, but to hopefully discover who we are. And that can be for us, as it was for Nicodemus.