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Unabashedly Joyful

(a sermon for April 26, 2020, the 3rd Sunday of Easter, based on Philippians 4:4-7)

In pondering our text for this morning, and in my continuing quest these days to unearth some inspirational music from what might be referred to as “the grooveyard of forgotten favorites,” here’s one song that’s been running through my head all week:

“Here’s a little song I wrote,
You might want to sing it note for note
>Don’t worry – be happy!
For when you worry your face will frown,
And that will bring everybody down,
So don’t worry – be happy!
(Don’t worry, be happy now)”

— “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” by Bobby McFerrin

Now, speaking pastorally, if there’s going to be one song on our lips after this morning’s service it probably ought to be “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” but I do have to confess that “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” might just fill the bill at a time like this!  Because I dare say what we all need a whole lot of right now is joy; and given that for most of us joy is intermingled with feelings of happiness, one of the best ways to bring that forth is to sing it out!  Because to quote another forgotten favorite, “if you’re happy and you know it… then your face (and your voice!) will surely show it,” and so not only does that serve to inspire joy in those around you, it also becomes an affirmation of our faith and an act of praise.  And isn’t that, after all, what Paul is getting at in our text for this morning: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.” 

Of course, in all fairness, I suspect that when Paul speaks of rejoicing, he’s talking about something much deeper than to simply not worry and be happy!  What Paul is talking about here in his epistle to the Philippians is about real and unrestrained rejoicing: the kind of joy that lifts us up from the place where we are; the kind of joy that sets the standard for everything else in life, the kind of joy that comes in having ones heart and mind wholly guarded in Christ Jesus.  What we’re talking about here is the kind of joy that exists at the very core of our Christian faith and what ought to serve as the hallmark of our lives as followers and disciples of our Risen Savior.   It is joy unabashed and it is joy unrelenting; and therein lies not only its power and its great importance for our lives… but also its challenge.

And I suspect you know why!  I mean, especially right now: how do you speak of unrestrained joy in an age of pandemic?  How do you tell someone to rejoice who has had to suffer through the effects of the Covid-19 Virus, or worse, who has lost someone to that disease?  What are we supposed to say to all those people whose lives and livelihoods have been totally upended over these past few weeks, with no real resolution in sight? How do you think they’re going to respond to Paul’s exhortation to rejoice in the Lord always?  Quite frankly, I suspect they’d be apt to think it shallow at best and condescending at worst: your life is falling apart?  “Again, I say rejoice!”

 In that context, an unrestrained and unrelenting joy doesn’t seem all that realistic or reassuring, does it?  And yet, in this age as in every age that has come before, that’s exactly what you and I are being called to bring forth in faith! 

So… what are we to do about this? How do we reconcile this call to be “unabashedly joyful” with all the real-world difficulties and struggles that we face?  Can we really “rejoice always,” or not?  Was Paul simply naïve and blind to what was really going on, or when he tells the Philippians and us to “rejoice,” does he have something else on his mind?

Perhaps part of the answer lies with Paul himself.  After all, here was a man whose entire ministry in Christ was marked by worldly persecution and ridicule; who was himself driven out of several towns and cities (often under the cover of darkness), and through the course of his life was also shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, and exposed to death, danger, hunger, thirst, fatigue and cold, all for the sake of the Gospel!  At the time of this letter to the church at Philippi, it’s late in his life; Paul’s in prison again, this time under guard of the Imperial capital of Rome, and expecting at any moment that judgment will be rendered and he’ll be executed.  And as if that weren’t bad enough, it turns out that the Philippian church is full of problems: they are few in number; they’re filled with fear and doubt about the future, persecuted by everyone in the city; and what’s more, there’s in-fighting going on at just about every level of the church.

It was enough to make any of us throw our hands in the air and give up trying.  And yet, here’s Paul – who remember, is getting old and feeble and at a point where a bit of discouragement would be understandable – nonetheless saying, boldly and without hesitation, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, I will say it:  Rejoice!”  In fact, Paul says this over and over again – sixteen times in only four chapters of this epistle (!) – and he can do it because this isn’t rejoicing merely for the sake of feeling happy, but because of the one in whom he rejoices.  Rejoice in the Lord, Paul says.  Rejoice in the Lord always!

It turns out that there are two basic types of joy: external joy, the kind that comes and goes with whatever is happening in our lives, and which is wonderful, but is finite and can be easily be displaced or destroyed at a moment of conflict or struggle; and internal joy, the kind of joy that comes from within.  When Paul talks about joy, he means the internal joy that the Lord himself places within us. The great theologian Karl Barth said it well when he wrote that the joy of which Paul speaks is “a defiant ‘nonetheless,’” which draws strength from the gospel story and “from laying one’s deepest concerns before God with thanksgiving.”  This is a deep joy that takes root even in darkness; joy that has its source in God’s great presence and God’s hope for whatever the future may hold.

To put it even more simply, it’s not so much rejoicing because of all the things that have happened to us in life; in fact, very often we rejoice in spite of all that has happened to us, and that’s because we look first to Jesus Christ and what he has done for us, and in us, and to us.  Our joy is to be “in the Lord,” and because of this, you and I can rejoice in all circumstances, even those that are difficult and painful and involve suffering; not because of what it is we’re going through, mind you, but because of the grace of the Lord; the hope, strength, love and understanding we’re given to see it through, no matter what!

A few years ago, Lisa and I were invited with some others to the home of a Jewish rabbi, to share in a Shabbat meal, that is, a Sabbath meal; that night we did everything kosher, the food and the liturgy, and it was wonderful.  Having studied some Hebrew in seminary, it was nice to hear the biblical prayers spoken in their original language; all the traditions that go along with eating in a Jewish household are rich and meaningful, and the music – yes, we all had to sing in Hebrew, folks (!) – was fun and very, very joyful!  And how do I know this?  Because most of the songs we learned to sing that night had a chorus that the Rabbi promised that even we Gentiles could sing: “Di, di, duh, duh, di, di!”   I could do that!

Actually, one of the songs we sang that night I’ve never forgotten; it’s called “Dayenu,” and it’s a song for Passover.  I would not presume to sing that one here today, but suffice to say that the lyrics are a long enumeration of all of God’s blessings to his chosen people, but with a twist: with every verse, we sang about what would have been had God not given one of those blessings!  “Had he brought us out of Egypt, and not fed us in the desert, but brought us out of Egypt, well, then, Dayenu,” which in Hebrew means, “for that alone we would have been grateful.”  It’s a fun song to sing, and what it reminds us is that no matter the challenges we face in the present moment, we still have this relationship with a God who is present and powerful and moving in and through our lives in ways that we can’t even begin to measure or fully understand. 

When we have that, friends; even when we can only perceive it as though it were the size of a mustard seed; well, that’s when we learn to “not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let [our] requests be known to God,” truly knowing that peace which passes our human understanding… and rejoice.

I know… six weeks and counting in this time of quarantine and it’s all too tempting to let ourselves become sad and angry and embittered over what life and this world has “done” to us.  But it is faith in the wisdom, care and perfect mercy of God that strengthens us to transcend these difficulties of life so that we might know life’s real joy, which comes to us in Christ.  I’ve quoted a lot of songs today, but maybe the one we really ought to take to heart is the one about that “joy, joy, joy, joy, down in our hearts to stay.”  Because when others see such unabashed joy in us, they – and our world – cannot help but be the better for it.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 
 

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Encounters on the Way: Bartimaeus and the Rich Young Ruler

“Christ and the Rich Young Ruler” by Heinrich Hoffmann

(a sermon for March 8, 2020, the 2nd Sunday in Lent; second in a series, based on Mark 10:17-22, 46-52)

Here’s a question for you to ponder this morning:   What would you do if failure didn’t matter?

And by that, I mean, what is it you would be willing to do even if you knew going in that in doing so you were likely not to succeed?  And I’m not talking here about something that holds little or no consequence so it doesn’t matter whether you do the thing or not; what I’m asking about is doing that which is of so great a consequence that ultimately it doesn’t matter whether you succeed or not, just that you do it!

I’m thinking, for instance, of Nik Wallenda, the man who walked on tightrope across the opening of an active volcano on live television this past week: did he accept that challenge thinking that it didn’t matter if he failed at keeping his balance and walking the whole way across that hot flowing lava, just that he made the attempt? (Apparently it did matter, because it came out the next day that though he did make it across the top of the volcano, Wallenda had been rigged up with all manner of safety harnesses, so the only real risk was that of embarrassment; but I digress!) Or, for that matter, what about those men or women who decide to go for the great romantic gesture and opt to propose marriage to their partners at a football game while everyone is watching on the jumbotron; I mean, aren’t they the least bit terrified that he or she will say “no?”  Nope, they’ll tell you, for them true love is worth the risk of rejection; the possibility of failure simply didn’t enter into their decision, so… it’s “go big or go home!”

I ask you again:  what would you do, what would you be willing to endeavor, dare or try if the attempt itself was worth it whether it succeeded or not?  Maybe for you the answer does come down to love; or maybe it would be for the sake of a long-held and much cherished dream, or for standing strong for a cause that is just.  The point is that there are there are things we might choose do in this life where failure is not merely an option but a probability; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.  As David Lose has written, in life “there will be failure.  There just will.  And if we only dream of doing things we can accomplish without failure, we will either be sorely disappointed, or realizing the naivete of the question, never try.”  Or to put another way: sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do… no matter what happens.

We actually have a supreme example of all this in one of our two texts for this morning, the story of Jesus’ encounter “on the way” with a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus, “sitting by the roadside” and crying out for Jesus to come and “have mercy upon [him].”  Now, we need to understand that this was a man who in his blindness had not only lived most of his life in literal darkness, but also had existed in poverty and far outside the periphery of society. Bartimaeus had long since been reduced to begging to passersby for any loose coins and leftover food they might offer in order to survive, and the fact of the matter that most people in his situation would have given up long ago on ever getting any kind of help; because, quite frankly, this was an effort doomed to failure!  But here he is, “Old Blind Bartimaeus,” all in on the attempt and crying out for all he’s worth even as the people around him were trying to shush him into silence!  He was determined, to say the least – truly, a man on a mission – and it didn’t matter what anyone else thought about its chance for success.  To quote David Lose again, “could it be that Bartimaeus was so used to failure and disappointment that he saw no reason not to try one more time?”  Or maybe it was that Bartimaeus had faith; faith such that you could – and should – always ask for the impossible?

I love what Susan Andrews, as pastor and leader in the Presbyterian Church has said about this: “This is what faith looks like,” she writes.  “Faith is needy. Faith is eager. Faith is assertive. Faith is hopeful. Faith is impetuous and persistent and risky and raw. Faith is personal and relational. Faith ends something and faith begins something.” Faith, Andrews concludes, is about going wholly and eagerly and assertively to God, and it’s about “God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”  I love that; it’s exactly that kind of faith that describes Bartimaeus “to a tee” and as it turns out it’s the whole reason why all his crazy, bold, impetuous shouting finally gets a response and Jesus does answer… and why – again on the basis of Bartimaeus’ faith – “immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”  Because isn’t it interesting that almost always in the gospels when someone has gone “all in” to ask for what they truly need from Jesus, once they’ve received it their first response is to follow Jesus? 

 You see, this story of Bartimaeus is a reminder to us that in faith we are free “to risk, to dare, to love, to live, to work, to dream, and to struggle… whether what we attempt seems great or small, likely or nearly impossible…because we have God’s promise that there is no small gesture and there is no impossible deed,” (David Lose, again) and that even in our failed efforts – because there will be failures and oftentimes things will not turn out the way we had hoped – God will also bring all things to a good end.  Bartimaeus reminds us that where our faith is concerned we are meant to “go big or go home,” but knowing as we do that however things turn out, all will be well and our lives will be never be the same.  At the end of the day, it comes down to whether we’re willing to take the risk.

Which brings us to our other text for this morning, the story of the rich young ruler…

Earlier in this tenth chapter of Mark, you see, we learn of another encounter Jesus had “on the way,” this time with a man who comes running up to Jesus, asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Now, it should be pointed out here that actually, as Mark tells the story, we really don’t know if he is truly a “rich young ruler.”  Matthew’s version of this story speaks of him as “young,” (19:20) and it’s Luke that refers to him as “ruler.”  (18:18)Truthfully, Mark says is that he’s simply a man, albeit one with “many possessions;” but he’s someone who has come to Jesus really wanting, needing and yearning to know conclusively what it takes, what one has to do to receive that life that would last forever.

So understand this was no empty or casual inquiry on the man’s part; and also that though he was certainly no blind beggar, the effort of this “rich young ruler” to get to Jesus and find out exactly what he needed to know was no less relentless and certainly just as determined as that of Bartimaeus.  First of all, Mark tells us that he “ran up and knelt before [Jesus],” which in and of itself was a stance of humility and great respect, that as a student unto a teacher; and he does refer to Jesus as “Good Teacher,” a title that Jesus immediately refutes, saying that “no one is good but God alone.”  Moreover, as they continue to talk it becomes clear that this man knows the rudiments of his faith: he understands the commandments, and what’s more, he keeps them just as he always done from the time of his youth; so he’s not  come into this discussion “cold,” as it were.  He is what those of his time and culture (and ours, for that matter) would consider to be a faithful, sincere and righteous man; so far, so good!  But then comes the kicker; and you’ll notice, by the way, that what Jesus says next is not said unkindly, nor as a taunt, but it’s spoken with love: “Jesus looked him hard in the eye – and loved him,” as The Message translates it. “He said, ‘There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor.  All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”

And that, of course, hit the “rich young ruler” very hard; we’re told that he was “shocked” by this, and with nary a word, “went away grieving.”  Think about this for a moment; with all that he is, this man has run up to Jesus to get the answers he’s been seeking so fervently, and not only has he met Jesus and not only has Jesus honored his faith but he’s also invited him to be a disciple (!), and yet… he immediately and purposefully heads in the opposite direction!  And the reason, as all three gospels telling this story make very clear, is because of the money; because “he had many possessions.” Simply put, there was just too much – too many possessions, too much property, too much stuff – for him to let go, even if letting go would bring him the eternal life he was so yearning for.  This was the thing this man would have seemingly risked everything for regardless of the consequence; yet, unlike Bartimaeus, at the end of the day, he was unwilling or unable to take the risk to divest himself of all his possessions and so, as The Message puts it, “he walk[s] away with a heavy heart.”

Two different encounters with two different men coming out of vastly different situations, but asking for pretty much the same thing: life.  But only one received all that he’d been yearning for… and what was the difference?  Faith.  The same faith that frees us to risk and to dare and to love and to live is the faith that opens up the future before us with all its possibilities… but only if we’re bold enough to go “all in,” trusting in God’s leading to bring us there, no matter what else happens along the way.

The great C.S. Lewis had it right, you know: he said that one of the great enemies of discipleship is our great desire for a relationship with God that is moderate and not too extreme; one that is cautious, calculating and careful.  In other words, living the attitude that “religion is all very well up to a point,” while continuing to place our trust in everything else, just in case.  A moderated religion, wrote Lewis,  ends up being as good for us as no religion at all.  Because what Jesus asks of us in calling us to follow him is never to be in moderation; Jesus asks for the extreme, for nothing less than our lives, our selves, our all.  Jesus calls us to let go of everything else on which we put our trust and our devotion, no matter how great or how little that might be, and put that trust and devotion in him instead. The so-called rich young ruler couldn’t do it, so he went away grieving… but Bartimaeus, knowing full well he had nothing else but Jesus, was made well.

So then, let me rephrase my earlier question: What would you be willing to do if failure didn’t matter; or more to the point, what would you be willing to do for the sake of faith?  How extreme are willing to go when it comes to following Jesus? Are you a “rich young ruler,” so to speak, or a Bartimaeus?

It’s a good question for any of us to be asking ourselves, especially in a world and a predominant culture that just seems to thrive on wanting us to take our faith and be quiet about it, “shushing” us so not to upset the status quo; be that in the way we stand up and speak out against the injustices of the world, or simply in how we’re seeking as a church in this time and place to be bold regarding the presence and power of God in Jesus Christ.  Because it is my firm belief, dear friends, that our future as the church – not only as a congregation here on Mountain Road, mind you, but as the whole church of Jesus – is dependent on our being “all in” as persons and people of faith even at the risk of failure, because we know that God will bring us to a good end… and to life.

After all, if I might quote the words of one Walter Elias Disney, “A person should set his goals as early as he can and devote all his energy and talent to getting there. With enough effort, he may achieve it. Or he may find something that is even more rewarding. But in the end, no matter what the outcome, he will know he has been alive.”

Beloved, in faith and by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, may it be said of each and every one of us that we made the choice to be… alive!

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2020 in Faith, Jesus, Lent, Life, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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Encounters on the Way: Nicodemus

Henry Ossowa Tanner, “Study for Nicodemus Visiting Jesus,” 1899

(a sermon for March 1, 2020, the 1st Sunday in Lent; first in a series, based on John 3:1-17)

The first thing you need to know about Nicodemus is that religiously speaking, he was “kind of a big deal.”

He was, as John’s gospel makes clear from the outset, a Pharisee; but not just any Pharisee: Nicodemus was likely one of 70 members of the Sanhedrin, which made him part of the ruling council of the temple in Jerusalem and a member of what was essentially the supreme court of the Jewish faith.  So not only was Nicodemus a member of a religious class wholly dedicated to strict adherence to the law and rigid interpretation of Jewish tradition, he’d also risen to a place of great power within that body and was a well-known and well-respected teacher of the Law.  Basically, to quote Frederick Buechner’s description of him, Nicodemus was “a VIP with a big theological reputation to uphold.” There would have been no reason for Nicodemus to be the least bit concerned about this itinerant preacher who’d been around the city and attracting so much attention from all the people.

But Nicodemus had heard a whole lot about Jesus… and it bothered him; but not in the way you’d expect.

Actually, I love the comparison made by Bob Deffinbaugh in a commentary regarding our text for this morning.  Suppose, he writes, “you are a renowned pianist, trained by the finest concert pianist the world has ever known.  When you perform, crowds gather to listen.  Everyone hails you as the master [musician].”   But then along comes this young man from out in the sticks “who never had a piano lesson in his life, but simply taught himself to play on a broken-down instrument in his grandmother’s house.”  And yet, when this alleged musician comes to town, people throng to hear him perform, and “when he does, tears come to the eyes of those in his audience.”  But finally, when you get to hear him play, you understand why: “You, better than anyone else, recognize in him a musical genius that you never had and that you never will.  When you hear him play,” writes Deffinbaugh, you know deep down you will never hold a candle to him.

And so it was for Nicodemus when it came to everything he was hearing about Jesus.  Now, as John tells this story in his gospel it’s still early on in Jesus’ ministry, but Nicodemus was already well are of who Jesus was, about his teachings and of his growing reputation; and it was troubling and intriguing all at he same time.  “When [Nicodemus] hears Jesus teach,” Deffinbaugh goes on to say, “he hears answers to questions that have bothered him for years.  He watches the crowds as they listen to Jesus… [and] how he speaks in simple terms but his message has great power.”  Not only that, but everywhere Jesus goes there are signs and wonders happening, far beyond anything the Pharisees could ever claim; and oh, by the way, this Jesus had already proven to be fairly well outspoken against the religious status quo of the time, and the people were listening to him!  None of this was sitting well with the Pharisees, much less the Sanhedrin; even they knew they had a lot to lose if this so-called “Jesus Movement” took hold.  And perhaps this concerned Nicodemus as well… but here’s the thing:

Nicodemus was also curious… he wanted to know more… he needed to know more.  Truth be told, when it came to Jesus, Nicodemus was “half disbelieving… half aching to find out what he’d heard was true.” (Nancy Rockwell) Nicodemus needed answers, so he went to Jesus to find out for himself.

Of course, given Nicodemus’ great standing and reputation in Jerusalem – to say nothing of what the rest of the Sanhedrin and his fellow Pharisees would most certainly have to say about it – all this happened under the cover of darkness; better, he reasoned, to be safe than sorry. And did you notice also that the first words that Nicodemus says to Jesus are, shall we say, a bit political in the way that he compliments Jesus: “Rabbi,” which in and of itself served to acknowledge the legitimacy of Jesus’ teachings, and then, “we know you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you can do apart from the presence of God.”  But Jesus ignores this completely and dives right in to the matters at hand, one profound teaching after another:  “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above… no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit… you must be born from above.”

Now, I have to imagine that Nicodemus came to this late-night conversation well-prepared with a long list of questions to ask Jesus; but what happened is that Jesus immediately took the conversation in a direction and to a level that Nicodemus was totally unprepared for!  Here’s Old Nicodemus, this learned scholar who had spent his whole life being absolutely certain of everything he ever knew to be true, is suddenly left to be stammering, “But how is this even possible?  What do you mean, being born a second time… no one returns to the mother’s womb!  What about the law and the prophets and everything I’ve built with my life over the years?  How can any of this be?”  But Jesus just keeps on going:  “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit… [after all] the 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.” 

With just a few new teachings from Jesus, you see, all of Nicodemus’ cherished certainties had begun to unravel; where once there was clarity, now there were a whole new series of teachings that were, to say the least, overwhelming.  And this was not just something applicable to Nicodemus alone:  it’s worth nothing here that as it’s translated from the Greek, Jesus uses the word you – as in, “you must be born from above” – in the plural, meaning that these very radical teachings of Jesus apply to all of the pious Pharisees, all of the powerful Sanhedrin and in fact the entirety of those who would be numbered amongst those who would follow God!  Jesus was setting forth a new standard of faith and righteousness that went far beyond the idea of rigid adherence to the Law and were, at the moment, simply too much for Nicodemus to comprehend, much less embrace as truth. 

But even as Nicodemus’ mind and heart were reeling, somewhere in Jesus’ words there was for him, well, a rebirth.  When exactly it happened is uncertain; but actually I’d suspect that it began at the point when Jesus, having already talked about Moses “lift[ing] up the serpent in the wilderness” as a sign of life, utters those powerful and all-essential words, “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,” which most certainly must have raised the eyebrows of the older Rabbi, but even more so when Jesus added this (this translation courtesy of The Message): after all, “God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was.  He came to help, to put the world right again.” 

Like I say, when it all came into focus for Nicodemus is uncertain; all we know is afterward Nicodemus would never be the same after that.  There are actually two other references to Nicodemus found in John’s gospel: the first comes in the seventh chapter (vss. 50-51), in which Nicodemus defends Jesus, albeit in a way that’s very safe, quiet and consistent with the Law, by suggesting that the law “does not judge people without giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing.”  But then there was also that moment, after the crucifixion, when Nicodemus, carrying burial spices and oils, went with Joseph of Arimathea to bring Jesus’ lifeless body to the tomb… and this time did so in broad daylight.  For Nicodemus, it was a journey that was begun in the darkness but eventually came into the light; and it was a journey that was propelled by his own seeking and his willingness, however reluctantly at first, to encounter Jesus on the way and to ask the difficult questions of what it truly means to walk and to live in faith.

And here’s the thing, friends: as you and I make our own journeys of faith – both during these 40 days of Lent that lead us to the cross and beyond, but also on the way of life itself – it would seem to me that Nicodemus would be a good inspiration for each one of us as we set forth.  Because what Nicodemus reminds us is that being “born again” is not so much a “re-do of our first birth.” It is, to quote the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Weems, a Methodist pastor and preacher out of Florida, “a different kind of birth – one that allows our spirits to overcome whatever blows the physical world has dealt us and live freely, fully remade, with knowledge and experience of the living God.”

But how can that happen, friends, unless we don’t first ask the questions we need to ask so we can find out the answers?

Some years ago, in a prior church, I had a young parishioner who actually said to his pastor, “I don’t think I need to go to church anymore… I really think I know all I need to know about religion.”  And he wasn’t kidding!  Call it youthful bravado, an overwhelming sense of inner certainty, or simply the great desire to spend his Sunday mornings somewhere else (!), but the bottom line is that at least in his own mind this young man had no further questions to ask of God; and nothing I would say to him could ever convince him otherwise!  Now, I trust that as he grew in age and maturity, and as life unfolded in its always mysterious and surprising fashion, he discovered that yes, in fact, there were questions and subjects that he and God had yet to discuss… but if not, I feel sorry for him.  Because truly, friends, faith is not a destination, but an ongoing journey with twists and turns and unforeseen happenings that can only be confronted in the presence of God in Jesus Christ and by the leading of God’s Holy Spirit.  Each one of us, you and me, are people meant to be born of the Spirit and set forth on a way that is walked upon the earth but governed by heavenly things.  We must never be afraid to let that Spirit take us where it will, and as it does, to ask the important questions of being and of true faith.

Sometimes the answers received will bring us comfort and much needed hope, and yes, sometimes we’ll find ourselves feeling nearly as confused as we are challenged by the truth of what the Lord has to say to us.  But what we’ll always find is that in ways we can never predict or wholly understand life – now and eternally – will come into focus, and we will never be the same again.

A good way to begin this Lenten season, I think, and a good reason to come to the table of blessing this morning.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN.

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry  All Rights Reserved.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2020 in Faith, Jesus, Lent, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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