Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

Text: Genesis 12:4
When Abram was seventy-five years old, he started out from Haran, as the Lord had told him to do.

Travelling down the road

Going on a long journey to another country is no big deal these days.  No so long ago when I was a kid :-), going from South Australia to Victoria by car was considered a pretty big deal.  These days travelling overseas and across the world to far distant lands is not only enjoyed by the gray nomads but also families.  After the holidays I ask the kids at school what they have done during the break and inevitably someone will say, “I went to Fiji” or “We went to Paris”.  At a recent meeting here at St Paul’s, those sitting around the table were organising the schedule of meetings for the year and at least half of those present announced that they would be travelling overseas some time during the year. 

I love travelling to new places and before I travel to countries I haven’t been before I check out how safe it is, what’s the condition of the roads, the road rules I need to know and what the local drivers are like, what the weather is like, something about local customs, good places to stay, any dangers I need to be aware of, especially when travelling off the beaten track. 

But four thousand plus years ago, when God told Abraham to pack up everything and go to an unknown destination, he couldn’t do any of this.  By modern standards, the distance Abraham travelled wasn’t all that far, but even if Abraham knew where he was going, this trip was a big deal because he didn’t know where he was going.  Besides, Abraham was well off and he had a lot of stock, many servants and good land so to pack up everything and go to a place only known to God was a big deal.  He was already 75 years old.  He wasn’t showing him where to find a retirement village.  God was leading him a place where he could establish his cattle and sheep station and start all over again.

So we hear, When Abram was seventy-five years old, he started out from Haran, as the Lord had told him to do”. Why does he do it?  He goes with the promise of God resounding in his ears, “I will lead you to a new land and give you many descendants and they will become a great nation.  I will bless you and through you I will bless all the nations.”  He undertakes this journey trusting God’s wisdom and love.

We are entering the second week of Lent and aware that Jesus is walking another journey only this time he knows what the destination will be.  This is not an easy walk.  It takes a good deal of courage and will-power and faith.  He is walking down the road towards Jerusalem and he knows that he is walking towards suffering at the hands of his enemies and his death on a cross.  He flinches at the very thought of what he will have to endure.  He even prays that he wouldn’t have to suffer it. 

Why doesn’t he turn back?  He travels down that road with the words of the Father resounding in his ears, “This is my Son, my dearest beloved Son, with whom I pleased”.  He trusts the Father’s love for him and for all people and he has this same burning love in his own heart.  He wants to go down this road because he wants what the Father wants.  He wants all people to be free of their sin and to enjoy everlasting life. 

We heard it in our Gospel reading today, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its saviour” (John 3:16-17). Jesus wants what his heavenly Father wants –
to give new life and freedom to all people;
to give people a second chance;
to free people from the weight of sin and guilt
and to open the way to life in heaven forever.

Jesus deliberately travels down the road to Jerusalem knowing that after all the suffering, there will be the resurrection.  Whenever Jesus spoke of walking the road to Jerusalem he concluded by saying that three days later he would rise again to life (Mark 10:34). 

You and I are travelling down a road.  How is that journey going?  Each of us answer that in a different way and maybe if I asked you next week you might answer differently.  The answer often depends a lot on what is happening in our life at any given moment and how well we are coping with the difficulties and challenges that come our way.  Sometimes those challenges come from events and people that we have no control over, like a sickness or an annoying person.  Sometimes those challenges will come from within us as we deal with our failure or depression or lack of patience.  Wherever those difficulties come from, they make travelling down the road hard going and like Jesus we will shed tears.

And like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, at the moment when we think that everyone else is sleeping through our pain, that the heavenly Father reminds us of his commitment to us.  This promise of God’s commitment to travel with us down the road of life became ours on the day of our baptism through a very simple act involving a few drops of water.  Through this very simple act, God began wonderful new relationship with us.  God did something for us.  God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit made a commitment to each of us. 

Our Father promised to keep on loving us.
When we are feeling down in the dumps, depressed,
upset with the way life is turning out,
afraid because the road ahead looks hard, uncertain, unclear and painful,
our baptism reminds us that our heavenly Father has made a covenant with us that he will always be there in the middle of whatever it is that is troubling us.

Like a loving parent who is never too far away from a small children,
through the water of baptism our Father has made a covenant with us
to calm our fears,
help us when it’s hard,
comfort us when we are hurting,
support us when we are at our weakest,
reassure us of his love,
and to never be far from us when we call out to him.

When we were baptised we were linked to Jesus, the Son of God – his cross and resurrection.  God promised that the forgiveness and righteousness that Jesus won on the cross is ours.  We stand in a special and holy relationship with God. 
So when we feel a sense of failure and an awareness of our sin, our baptism reminds us that it has been all paid for!  Our guilt has been replaced with the righteousness of Christ.  We are God’s holy people and there is now nothing standing between us and eternal life in heaven.

At our baptism, God's gift of the Holy Spirit enables us to trust Jesus, who gives us the faith and confidence to rely on our heavenly Father to take care of our every need. 
Daily the Spirit teaches us, reminds us of Christ’s forgiveness when we fail and enables us to walk God’s ways. 
Daily the Spirit urges us to be Christlike in everything we say and do.
Through the Scriptures and Holy Communion, the Spirit reminds us of the covenant God has made with us and refreshes us with the knowledge that we can trust him to walk with us as we travel down the road no matter how rough it might get or how unclear the future might become.

In the Gospel reading, we hear of a Pharisee who is also travelling down a road – the road of life and has come to visit Jesus privately.  Nicodemus doesn’t give us any clues what his motives might be for visiting Jesus but the fact that John states that this visit takes place at night in the dark probably indicates that Nicodemus was a man travelling the road in the dark.  Before Nicodemus could even ask Jesus a question, Jesus says, “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.” 

At first Nicodemus thought Jesus had really lost the plot talking about “being born again”.  Jesus is quite sane.  He is talking about the relationship between God and us and how it’s come about that there really is a relationship between God and us. 

It’s much like our arrival in this world. 
How much say did you have in your conception? 
Did you choose the date of your birthday? 
Did your mother decide to give birth to you because you were especially cute, or clever, or because she somehow knew you would be absolutely adorable? 
Did she give birth to you because she knew that there would never be a day when she would say tongue in cheek, “Maybe I could put him/her back and get another one who would be just a bit more obedient?”

None of us had anything to do with our birth into this world, and likewise our birth into God’s Kingdom is none of our doing – it’s all God’s doing.
Life is a pure gift in each case!  The new birth into the kingdom of God is a gift by God's power. 
This relationship that God creates with you recreates you, gives you a new start, new values and a whole new perspective as you travel down the road of life. 
This new relationship changes you and changes the way you see other people and view the events unfolding in your life. 
It changes the way you see your own worth in the middle of those painful events and depressing times and life destroying moments, when you begin to think that life isn’t worth living anymore.
It changes the way you view yourself in the middle of what seem to be uncontrollable events.
You are not travelling alone – you are travelling with the God in whose name you were baptised. 
You are dearly love by the God of the Universe – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

What better travelling companion could anyone want as we walk down the road of life; a travelling companion who gives hope and encouragement at every twist and turn along the road until that day we reach our heavenly home.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
16th March 2014

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