First Reading: Genesis 12:1-4a
1The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
4aSo Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.
Psalm: Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills; my help comes from the Lord. (Ps. 121:1, 2)
1I lift up my eyes to the hills;
from where is my help to come?
2My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.
3The Lord will not let your foot be moved
nor will the one who watches over you fall asleep.
4Behold, the keeper of Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep;
5the Lord watches over you;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6the sun will not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7The Lord will preserve you from all evil
and will keep your life.
8The Lord will watch over your going out and your coming in,
from this time forth forevermore.
Second Reading: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
1What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
13For 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. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
Gospel: John 3:1-17
1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He 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.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16“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.
17“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.”
Children’s Sermon Turn to your neighbor and share. When you have the munchies, what do you hope to find in your refrigerator or on your shelf? Or when you are hungry, what fun restaurant to do like to go to?
Let us pray. Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Last week we “started at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start” for the Lenten season and looked at Jesus’ temptation for our Gospel text and the temptation of Adam and Eve was our first reading. Satan approached Jesus, “IF,” “IF you are the son of God,” “If you are the Son of God, turn this rock into bread.” He knew Jesus was hungry. Satan approaches us, “If you are a child of God…” Satan raises doubts about God’s word, God’s will, and God’s way. In Lent we will see Jesus in situations that challenge people’s hungers, their sense of security and their feelings of power. We are reminded in Lent that we face similar challenges to our faith.
In today’s text we meet a hungry man, Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, not a drugie, not a beggar, not homeless, nor jobless. Nicodemus is one of the respected leaders, educated, surrounded by fellow workers that respect him. We would not label him a “bad guy” but a “good guy”- like we like to think of ourselves. But something is not right in his soul.
We know that feeling when we just feel that dull anxiety or unease that drives us to the refrigerator to check out what’s there. Perhaps your thing is the mall or the TV or the computer or your iPad. We hope that maybe someone has texted or emailed. There is an itchy spot in our soul and I am going to call that itch, “hunger.” Maybe it is not physical hunger but just a vague need for something we can’t quite put our finger on. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, in the anonymity of darkness. He acknowledges Jesus as a rabbi, teacher, and admits that the works of Jesus’ life prove the blessing of God. Jesus is a prophet but what does that mean personally to Nicodemus and to us? Jesus takes the lead and names the itch, Nicodemus’ question, in the unfolding encounter.
“…no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
Hunger drives us to choose between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world to find satisfaction. I suspect that most of us are so immersed in Christian lingo that Jesus’ words sound totally logical. After all, we made that choice at our baptism or at that mountain top experience. Now a days, “Being born again” is used by many to explain a spiritual moment of conversion. Chuck Colson titled his book, Born Again. Nicodemus was on the other side of that experience, though, without testimonials available on the TV, radio or podcast. Nicodemus was pre-faith in Jesus. Perhaps this describes our children or grandchildren, neighbors or friends. It seems Jesus is talking lingo that means something to some of us but that is confusing to others.
Nicodemus counters with a question about physical birth and about the seeming impossibility for a human like him to be “born again.” Before we dismiss this, let us reflect how many times we dismiss the word of God. We don’t think it could apply to us but it is for those younger than us, for those unencumbered with spouses and children, or for singles. We see ourselves old and defined by the events of our life. We know we are not that person of our youth; we cannot re-enter our mother’s womb. God’s word asks of us action as impossible as turning rocks into bread. If we wanted to be honest we too would say, “How can that be?” Forgive so-and-so?, tithe?, sing in a choir? or whatever.
Jesus clarifies. The kingdom of this world will offer solutions that work by the rules of this world. The kingdom of heaven is spiritual and offers solutions that are spiritual. Then Jesus counters, “Do not be astonished.” Perhaps we could translate that to, “O, you in the pew today, do not so easily dismiss the word of God, its power, or your value in the hands of God.” Jesus does not respond to Nicodemus as “ye of little faith”. Jesus does not diminish Nicodemus for his confusion or questions. Jesus does not belittle Nicodemus because he was doubtful and lost. Jesus deals with us gently when we are overwhelmed and searching for answers to our hungers. Jesus gives an example to Nicodemus and us that is understandable.
“.8The wind blows where it chooses…”
The kingdom of heaven is like the wind. We feel wind. We know it is blowing but we only see the results of its work. We don’t really know where it comes from and even if we had some scientific explanation it would not change the impact or our experience of its presence. We cannot see God approaching nor can we put our finger on how he is working in our lives but without doubt we know we need air to live and Jesus is saying we need a vital relationship with God to really live!
I’m sure you’ve heard that before so let me switch the question. How would you describe the presence of God in your life? How do you explain it to others? Jesus used wind but he also used the analogy of light bringing illumination. Light does not explain the dark night of the soul and those hard times when we just can’t feel or see God’s presence. Jesus used salt as an example. Salt brings out the flavor in life. Again, life is often humdrum and demands perseverance. Wind is not very personal and salt can loose its flavor. Recently I have found a new word, “caregiver.” As I sit with my husband as he declines from Parkinson’s disease and dementia, many days he is barely awake enough to recognize me. Seldom does he even talk. And yet from the smiles I know he is aware of my presence and appreciative. King David called God his “Good Shepherd.” I like, “The Lord is My Caregiver.” How would you describe to another God’s presence in your life? Light, salt, wind, good shepherd, caregiver, friend – quickly share with your neighbor.
Jesus gives a second example to Nicodemus from Jewish history. He points Nicodemus to Moses in the wilderness. The people left Mt. Sinai and the giving of the law and were in the wilderness. Life in the kingdom of this world is like living in the wilderness. The people “grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses. (Numbers 21:4-9)” God sent poisonous snakes among them and many were bitten and died. The people repented in the face of death, admitted they were wrong and asked Moses to intercede for them. God had Moses mold a bronze snake, put it on a pole, and any who looked up to it, lived. Being born again is like turning from grumbling against God to looking at the snake that has been killed, or we would say, Jesus on the cross. Being born again is spiritual language to explain that change of allegiance from looking back to Egypt and turning to look up to God.
We loose a lot of energy trying to define who’s a sinner, who is breaking what “laws.” That means we spend time focusing outward on others and comparing ourselves and defining the rules. We only need to look up to God about ourselves. The lives of other people can be examples of how God’s wind blows and ordinary lives are changed. My daughter once said to me when I reminded her, I too had gone to a senior prom, “Oh Mom, that was in the last century!” Perhaps there is someone who has modeled Christianity to you. You have seen the reality of “the wind” blowing in their lives. Take a second to thank God for that person!
Lastly Jesus in essence tells Nicodemus that he, himself, has experienced what he is talking about. “13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Ultimately it is the reality of the experience of faith in our lives that speaks. We know that when that itchy feeling niggles at the back of our hearts and minds, that a donut is not going to give eternal satisfaction. A new dress or a new car or a new house or a different living situation or different job is not going to satisfy the hungers in our lives or give us security or even increase our power. We must learn to be able to share the reality of Jesus within ourselves. I do not think there is a formula for a right way to share but integrity with our message of hope is important. If it is real to us, and we truly care about the other and not just collecting witnessing scalps, that’s the best we can do. Salvation is the Holy Spirit’s job but it is important for us to live with integrity our faith and share.
We finish our text this morning with the verse we memorized, John 3:16, in confirmation and that is known as “the Gospel in a nutshell.” The story of Nicodemus, a hungry man with an itch, a question in his soul, sets the context for this verse that perhaps has become rote memory and that closes our text today. “
16“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.
Let’s try and rephrase it.
“For God…” not the US government, not our parents, not our husband, and not our doctor but the God of the universe, the creator.
“For God so loved the world…” God was not angry with us for our sins so killed his son, not so holy that he stays off in the heavens till we climb up to him. This God loves the whole world, not just Americans. He loves the “others” that are hard for us to relate to because of language, customs, or different flavors of Christianity.
“For God so loved the world that he gave…” the kingdom of heaven is a gift, free for the receiving with no strings attached,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…” God is Trinity, three in one, mystery not management,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever…” that includes us with warts, wrinkles, and sins. God acted before we believed while we were yet sinners, not as a reward for faith!
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes…” Faith is not a one time event but a way of life that is expressed in our lives into our world daily.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes will not perish but have eternal life.” Life as we know it does not terminate at death. We have hope for the future. We are hopeful at Lent because Jesus fills the empty places of our life better than our favorite restaurant!
Let the people of God say, “AMEN.”