Sermon for March 12, 2017
Lent 2, Year A
Genesis 12:1-4a Psalm 121 Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 John 3:1-17
In today’s scriptures are the heart of what many believe it means to be a Christian. In John, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” and, “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.” Here are the three keys to being a Christian, you must come to Jesus on your own – as Nicodemus did, you must be “born again”, and you must believe in Jesus.
For many of us, this formula for “seeing the kingdom of God” seems too simplistic. We get the faith part – we understand that we need to have faith, but we, like Nicodemus have trouble grasping this whole “born again” thing – as if we can simple say, we believe in Jesus Christ, and our lives are immediately changed. Many who say they are born again, can tell you the exact day this happened to them. I can’t.
I can talk of key moments in my live when my eyes were opened and I could see God at work in my life – but I would never tell anyone I was “born again” on that day. Last Sunday I told you to expect some quotes today and throughout this Lent from the Mennonite pastor, April Yamasaki, if her study guide for Lent continues to be as good as her first’s week lectionary discussion. Well it has been. Regarding today’s gospel, she says there are three different meanings for being born anew. The first is what confused Nicodemus – to literally be born a second time. This, of course was not what Jesus meant. The second meaning is a metaphor for a spiritual birth. It describes, she says, “what might be called a heavenly birth, accomplished by God, not something that we can do ourselves.” The third meaning, she describes as being “born ‘from the beginning.'” Life, she says, is radically changed in that we no longer see the world as we once did – we see it with new eyes.
I like this way of thinking, in that the only way I think we can see the kingdom of God is to see the world through the eyes of Jesus. Jesus did not see the sick as “unclean”, he saw them as people who needed the love of God. It is easy for us to see all that is wrong in the world, and even easier for us to want to avoid the people we might consider to be ritually impure. But Jesus saw into the souls of those who came to him, he loved them, he cured them, and he called upon them to be better people.
When we see others as Jesus sees them, the divides that separate us can disappear and we can see the kingdom of God. I may not be able to tell you the day I was born again, but I can distinctly remember being changed when I started praying for the man I believed to be my enemy. I began to see him as a person, who like me, needed to experience God’s love. I can’t say that it changed him, but it did change me, how I felt about him and how I interacted with him.
Being born anew, according to this understanding, then, is about letting go of our old ways of looking at things and at people and seeing the world with fresh new eyes. In the gospel, Nicodemus goes to Jesus in the night, a time when he can have a private discussion with Jesus. Nicodemus addresses Jesus as Rabbi, or teacher, because he goes to learn from Jesus. We don’t hear how Nicodemus responds to what Jesus says, but Yamasaki does remind us that Nicodemus reappears in the gospel two more times – once arguing with the Chief Priests and the Pharisees on behalf of Jesus before his arrest, and again when he helps prepare the body of Jesus for burial. So it does appear Nicodemus saw Jesus as a righteous man. His eyes were opened.
Nicodemus saw what the other leaders of their faith did not, could not, because they were blinded to God’s kingdom by his understanding of the law. Paul’s letter to the church in Roman speaks of this problem. Paul makes the case for faith being more important than the law. To do so, he points to the Father of the Jewish Faith, Abraham. Abraham, or Abram in today’s reading from Genesis, is told by God to go, and he leaves behind all that is familiar, and goes. God, Paul points out, makes a covenant with Abraham because he is a righteous man – not because he followed the Law. In fact, Abraham lived long before God gave the Law to the people!
Paul says, “the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” Law, Paul tells us, brings wrath, “but where there is no law, neither is there violation.” Obviously you cannot be punished for breaking a law that does not exist -but that is not the point he is trying to make. The Torah, or the Law, was given to the people to help them. The Laws are guides for living in peace, but faith is about the relationship we have with God. Faith, Paul says, “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”
Faith is the key to being righteous. It is what draws us together and enables us, like Nicodemus, to seek a deeper understanding of Jesus and what we must do to see God’s kingdom. Through faith, we can experience life anew and the world can be transformed.
Remember the second meaning of being born anew? It is a gift of the Spirit – not something we can do by ourselves. The prayer from Cursillo came to my mind when I thought about today’s scriptures. Faith opens our eyes, and our faith comes from having received the Spirit.
Let us pray.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.