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Encounters on the Way: The Samaritan Woman

Judith Fritchman, “Living Water, The Woman at The Well” (2008)

 

(a sermon for March 15, 2020, the 3rd Sunday in Lent; third in a series, based on John 4:5-26)

It’s actually pretty surreal when you think about it: even while in this world so much is happening all around us, life goes on in all its glory and wonder. Bottom line is that even in this time of quarantine and “social distancing,”people are thinking about what lies ahead: I know of people who are having babies, people making plans for the summer, and specifically, people who are getting married! And so, as it turns out, I’m talking with people about getting married! And one of the very first things that I ask any couple who come to me to talk about getting married is for them to tell me “in 25 words or less” what kind of wedding ceremony they’re looking for. 

It seems like such a small question; but in fact, quite often the answers I get end up telling me a great deal not only about what we’re getting into with the wedding, but also about the couple getting married!  For instance, some want everything about the service to be traditional, right down to the “let them speak now or else forever hold their peace” part; while others insist on things being decidedly non-traditional both in language and in form.  There are couples who are very intent on having their vows to be personal and unique to them, some have very specific ideas about the music (my personal favorite was the bride and groom who actually wanted the song “Achy-Breaky Heart” as their Wedding Processional, and who were highly offended when I thought they were joking), while others want to make sure certain family members are involved in some way or that there’s a particular prayer or reading included that has come to mean something special to them.  And then, of course, there are a few who say it all in just three little words: short and sweet!

What’s interesting, though, are the surprising number of couples who when asked this question will look at each other for a long, awkward moment and then, slightly embarrassed, reply that they don’t really know what they’re looking for in a wedding!  And when this happens, I always tell them the same thing: to not worry, because part of what we’ll be doing in the planning process is working together to create the wedding they’ve always dreamed of, even if they didn’t know they were dreaming of it!

And actually, isn’t that a pretty good parable for life itself? After all, there are so many people who spend the better part of their lives dreaming of something… and yet aren’t really aware that they’re dreaming of it!  That’s not to say most of us don’t have an idea that there’s something out there that at least ought to give our lives a sense of wholeness and purpose with a little bit of joy on the side, because I dare say we do;but the question always seems to be, what is it?  To put this in the language of this morning’s scripture, we’re a people who are thirsting for that which will bring us satisfaction and fulfillment; the problem is that most of us don’t realize just how very thirsty we are, and really have little idea what exactly it is that we’re thirsting for!

Not that we don’t try to quench that thirst as we go along, and by any means possible.  There are in fact a number of wells from which you and I draw regularly, in the hope that we might find what it is that we think we need.  Some of us draw from the well of materialism, spending our living (literally and figuratively) at the mall in an effort to buy some satisfaction; a lot of us draw from the well of human achievement, trying to pile up success after success in order of find fulfillment; and then there are too many of us who dip into the well of human relationship, moving from person to person in the quest for understanding and acceptance and love.  It all seems good and very appealing, but the truth is that inevitably credit cards get maxed out, fame is fleeting, and all shallow relationships tend to reveal is a lack of depth; and in the end, for all the water we’ve drawn out of these wells what we’re left with are parched throats and empty lives.

Ultimately, what we need is something more than anything the world can offer us, something that we intrinsically know inside ourselves but cannot seem to name; we thirst for that which will keep us satisfied and keep us from ever being “thirsty” again.  You see, beloved, what we want – what we need (!) – whether we know it or not, is God. And more than mere platitude, this is the nature of our very humanity; it’s in our DNA: we are born with a thirst for something deep and eternal, and we cry out along with the psalmist that “as a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”  (Ps. 42:1)  On our journey of life and faith, each one of us needs water to quench that thirst; we need “living water,” but what we soon discover is the only one who will draw that kind of water for us is Jesus.

Which brings us to our text for this morning, the story of Jesus’ encounter “on the way” with the so-called “Woman at the Well.”  Actually, “a woman of Samaria,” and it’s important to note here that, truthfully, she’d come to that well in the midst of the midday heat not looking for anything else but… water!   Not living water, certainly, nor anything else out of the ordinary; merely some water for that day’s drinking, cooking and cleaning. 

And yet, it was an odd time for her to be at the well, as most of the women in that village would go to draw water early in the morning; but then again, this particular woman wasn’t like the others.  You see, what we know about this “woman at the well” is that she was different; different as in outcast from polite society, different as in knowing that wherever you go and whatever you do people are going to notice, and not in a good way.  This was a woman who knew what it was like to be gossiped about; to be degraded and dismissed by all those around; to always have this awful, aching feeling of lifelessness and an empty heart. 

But once again on this particular day she wasn’t looking for answers or even relief; all she wanted was the water!   And so she couldn’t have anticipated this conversation with a stranger who not only seemed to know everything she’d ever done, but also seemed to understand what it was she really needed.  And yet, because of this encounter she had with Jesus that day, everything changed forever.

“Give me a drink,” Jesus says, and what follows is one of the longest dialogues that we have in the gospels. Now, the fact that they are having this conversation at all is amazing in and of itself, since Jesus is a Jew and the woman is a Samaritan, and as John is quick to point out, Jews and Samaritans “don’t share things in common;” but that’s only one boundary that Jesus tears down.  Jesus immediately starts talking about “the gift of God,” and who it was asking her for drink, and how he could give her “living water,” which would “become in [her] a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” What’s fascinating about all this is that even as Jesus is speaking, the woman is still assuming that he’s simply referring to another well somewhere, a fresh spring hole in which to draw water; but of course, what Jesus is referring to is something much more personal than that; something greater and deeper than she could even begin to understand or even articulate! 

I love the fact that there’s even a touch of humor in this conversation; you know, that whole exchange about her having no husband, when in reality she’s had five and then there’s another besides?  You’ve got to imagine that she’s winking at Jesus when she answers him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet!”  And all through this talk she’s thinking, who is this man, and what is he talking about? How does he know so much about me?  But make no mistake; Jesus’ words have already had a profound effect on her; in fact, if you read on from where we left off this morning, what you find is that she’s starting to see that perhaps there is… more; more to be desired and sought after in life, more that offers true satisfaction and fulfillment than she’d ever imagined before.  She ends up telling everyone about this man Jesus, and in the process she asks this question, which is actually more of a statement : “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

The thing you’ve always dreamed about, but just didn’t know you were dreaming about it.  

That “one thing” which you were looking for but never really had the sense that you ought to be seeking it out. 

The great question you need to have answered, but which you’ve never asked.

The water that will satisfy your thirst so that you’ll never be thirsty again, though you never actually realized how thirsty you were!  

That’s not only her story, friends, but ours as well; and the good news is that the same kind of “refreshment” that was offered to the woman at the well can be ours as well; through Jesus, who comes to  meet us where we are; who reaches out to us (even though we feel like we haven’t deserved it, or earned it, or are “good enough” for it), and does so that we might truly have what it is we truly need.

And if you’re looking for a word to describe that, I would suggest to you that the word is “grace.”

It is by grace – yes, amazing grace that God extends through Jesus Christ – that we are offered up the experience of the divine in every step we take, in every word and thought that’s shared, in every step along our journey (no matter how unexpected that journey might become!).  As we drink from this living water that Christ provides – that is, when we begin to let our lives be fueled and nourished by that which God provides – that is when we begin to get a true sense of everything we’ve always known we wanted for our ourselves and our world;  that’s when you and I begin to make the connections of meaning between all the seemingly disparate parts of our lives and living; and that’s when we begin to experience what we’ve always dreamed of:   a life girded on the joy of love manifest in our hearts through Jesus Christ, that we might overflow with life full, abundant and eternal.

This is grace, and by definition, a gift, freely given; and the best part is all we have to do is accept it for what it is, and the rest will follow!

Back years ago, when Lisa and I were homeowners, one of our first big projects was to erect a cedar fence around a fairly large portion of our yard.  But as we were in the process of digging deep holes in which to sink the fence posts, with just about every hole we dug we struck water, and a lot of it; in fact, it was practically gushing out of the holes, which was surprising to us because our property was on a hillside and our yard never seemed particularly wet!  We just could never figure out where all that water was coming from.

As it turned out, however, a couple of months later we had occasion to view a 100 plus year-old map of our neighborhood, and what we discovered is that our house had been built on what used to be a huge apple orchard; and also that back then there had been a bubbling brook flowing right through our back yard!   Apparently at some point, the water table had shifted and the brook itself had dried up; but the water was still there.  Even though we couldn’t see it, there had ever and always been this cool, clear and life giving water flowing beneath our feet and just beyond our view; we just never knew it!

God’s intent is always to quench our deepest thirst; and the spring of living water that he provides has always been there; even when we don’t see it.  Even in our rush to find something else to satisfy our yearning, even as we move desperately from once source of “fulfillment” to the next, even as we lament the lack of any kind of fresh water whatsoever in our lives, in fact, God is still there, waiting patiently, ever and always ready to quench our thirst with the living water that’s been there all along.  And we know it’s true, because even now, there’s Jesus, standing there at the edge of this deep, bubbling spring, dipper in hand and ready to give us a drink.

Thanks be to God who even now, calls us to the well so that we may drink fully and deeply.

Amen and AMEN!

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

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2020 in Jesus, Lent, Life, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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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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