Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

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

John 3:9
"How can this be?" asked Nicodemus.

A new journey

One day God came to Abraham and said, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father's home, and go to a land that I am going to show you.”  In other words, “pack up everything, your wife, your nephew Lot, your servants, your stock, everything you own, you’re going on a journey”.  There’s no planning to be done; the destination is unknown.    

If this is the only instruction you were given before setting out on an epic journey, how would you feel? There are so many unknowns –
you don’t know where you’re going (will it be safe),
you don’t know how long it’s going to take,
you don’t where you’re going to live but you do know you won’t be coming back here again.
Would you be happy to pack up all your worldly possessions and step off into the unknown forever, especially if you are quite happy where you are now as Abraham was?   

When the early settlers came to Australia from Europe, they packed up everything and left their homes but at least they knew where they were going, roughly how long it would take and where they were headed.  Even though they knew all this, I believe relocating to a place on the other side of the world involved a good deal of faith and trust in God in order to take such a long and treacherous journey by sailing ship. What is more, they had a reason for making journey.

God called Abraham to go on this mystery trip.  Abraham was happy where he was but God called him to go on a trip to take an unknown route for an unknown destination simply with a word of blessing and promise.
"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you” (Genesis 12:2)

Abraham doesn’t argue or hesitate. With God’s command and call and his promise of blessing, he faithfully obeys and begins a whole new life, in fact he is the beginning of a whole new history – he and Sarai are given the power to have a child and from that child will come a great nation and from that nation will come another child, Jesus.

Keep Abraham and his faithful obedient response to God’s call to accept this radical diversion in his life in mind as we turn to the Gospel reading.

The gospel writer allows us to sit in on a conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus.  Nicodemus is fascinated by Jesus and begins his conversation with a bit of flattery, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God” and we know that “no one could perform the miracles you are doing unless God were with him.” 

“We know”, Nicodemus says.  He and his Pharisee colleagues know all there is to know about God and how to live a godly life.  “We know” – we are the experts.  That’s the problem.  Nicodemus knows or thinks he knows what it means to walk God’s ways and that’s by obeying all the rules.

But before Nicodemus can say anything else Jesus cuts in, “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again” or “born from above” (John 3:3 uses a word here with a double meaning). That blows Nicodemus’ ship right out of the water.  Jesus lays it on him again, “No-one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).

This is so opposite to the way Nicodemus understands his place in the Kingdom of God.  Nicodemus has devoted his life to being good, committed to being faithful to God’s laws, devout in his worship and prayer.  The Pharisees had something like 10,633 rules for living a truly God-pleasing life.  No doubt Nicodemus was a good Pharisee, a good man, but Jesus blows a hole in the idea that goodness establishes a relationship with God and gets a person into the kingdom of God! As the Apostle Paul says, “There is no one who is righteous. … No one does what is right, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

Like Abraham, Jesus is inviting him on a mystery trip – a whole new journey, a radical turn around in his life.  Nicodemus is invited to rethink what it means to be a member of the Kingdom of God.  He always put a priority on what he was doing for God, but now Jesus is emphasising it is what God can do for him that really counts. 

Jesus is turning everything around for Nicodemus who was so confident in his own goodness.  Jesus says, “Believe it or not, Mr-I’m-okay-with-God, God needs to wash you clean and make you acceptable and worthy of the Kingdom of God. You need to be reborn by the power of the Spirit and be made clean and new by the blood of Jesus and be guided by the Spirit as you make choices in your journey with God.  Nicodemus, you need to let go and step out in faith, repent and trust in the one who has come to turn your darkness into brilliant light”.

Jesus is reaching out to him and inviting him on a completely new journey. 
Nicodemus flounders.  This is too much to ask, radical even mysterious journey.  “How can this be?” is his last word today. 

He can’t understand what Jesus is talking about because there are too many things, including his pharisaic traditions, getting in the way. He can’t accept that the Spirit can make the impossible possible.  He can’t see that the Kingdom of God is not about what he can do for God but about a relationship – a relationship between God and him created by God through water and the Spirit. 

Even when Jesus uses the relationship between a parent and a child to illustrate the special kind of relationship God has with his people, Nicodemus still can’t see it.  It’s beyond his comprehension.  He really is in the dark still, even though Jesus is trying to show him the light that will make a huge difference in his life, the light that focuses on the newness God gives through the Spirit, renewing us every day and walking with us as we walk the new life.

So there have it! Two people who are asked by God to take a new path, to travel down a new road.  The Lord spoke and Abraham trusted God. 

Jesus invited and Nicodemus struggled with Jesus’ words, “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit”. His heart wasn’t ready to hear the Good News of God’s great love. 

We are in the season of Lent. It’s appropriate today as we think about Abraham and Nicodemus – to ask, “How are we faring on our journey with Jesus?  Are we like Abraham, bold and trusting, or Nicodemus, struggling and finding it hard to believe, not that God is real, but that God’s love is personal and real and powerful in our lives?  Are there things getting in the way of the light of Christ making a real difference in our lives?

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, a death, or an angry person or a natural disaster like a bushfire, flood, or drought or a threat like the Coronavirus.
Sometimes those challenges will come from within us as we deal with our own failure or depression or temptation or lack of patience. 
Wherever those difficulties come from, they make the journey hard going. We can be like Abraham and trust God’s goodness and leave it all up to God and we can be like Nicodemus when so much gets in the way of seeing Jesus and his real love for us.

There will be those times on the journey
when our faith will seem to be inadequate;
when our understanding of God's love in difficult times is shaky;
when we can’t see where the road ahead is leading us;
when all we can focus on is the pain and grief and not see the mighty arms of God embracing us and holding us up.

It is by stepping out on the road to travel with Jesus with that little, scrappy yet precious faith that we do possess, that we will find the greater faith for which we all long.  That was the experience of Nicodemus.  In the end he stood up for Jesus at his trial and spent an enormous amount of money providing myrrh and aloes for Jesus’ burial. 

But there’s more.  Faith isn’t just something for times when the road is scary and rough, but it’s there to encourage and motivate us to be the love of Christ to others.  It’s faith in Christ that gets us off our backsides and shows kindness to a person we would normally ignore, reaches out to a person who is lonely or sick or stuck at home. 
It’s faith in Christ that speaks words of encouragement to our youngsters and elderly alike. 
It’s faith in Christ that tells us that Jesus is real; he is part of every day; he affects all that we say and do; he is there when we make a mess of things and gladly forgives us, renews us and restores our relationship. 
It’s faith in Christ,
his renewing in the Spirit,
the baptismal promise of God to always be our Father and Saviour,
the refreshment of our lives with forgiveness through the body and blood of Christ that daily revitalises our relationship with our loving God and urges us on to actively be members of the Kingdom and God.

May this Lenten season be one when the Spirit will strengthen our faith in his love for us that we may be a blessing to others. 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

8th March 2020

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