Lent 2 March 8, 2020

Lent 2 March 8, 2020 Psalm 121, Genesis 12:1-4, Romans 4:1-5,13-17; John 3:1-17 For God so loved the world… ********************************************************** If we’ve ever been confused by something Jesus says… Today we’re in good company… As Nicodemus, a member of the ruling council of the faith community, who has been hearing about the amazing signs Jesus has been doing in Jerusalem, comes to visit one night, hoping to learn more about who Jesus is… and what his teaching is all about. We don’t know exactly why Nicodemus has chosen to visit by night – an unusual time to visit someone who you don’t know. Perhaps night time is the only time he has open in his busy schedule. Perhaps he figures Jesus is so busy all day teaching that night time might the only right time… to drop by this teacher from out of town… for a visit. Or perhaps Nicodemus might be a little nervous about being seen in public with Jesus – who has been identified already by the religious establishment that Nick is part of… as a potential threat to the good order of the community – having recently driven merchants and money-changers out of the Jerusalem temple courtyard… We’re not told the exact mix of his motivations. What we know is just that as the scene today ends, with Jesus still talking… Nicodemus is still… in the dark… And Jesus doesn’t seem to be trying to make it any easier for Nick to understand what he’s saying… as he speaks deliberately in words that carry multiple meanings. The word Nicodemus hears as “you must be born again” can equally well mean “you must be born from above” or “born anew.” All three ways of hearing the word are correct. But – Jesus means mostly “born from above” and “born anew”… While Nicodemus can only hear “born again” – which makes no sense to him… Jesus also uses a word several times that means wind – breath – and spirit… But by talking about the wind blowing wherever it blows, and we can hear it but not see it… Jesus has Nicodemus thinking about watching the weather vane to see which way the wind blows… While Jesus is actually talking about the Holy Spirit who makes new life – new creation – without which we can’t enter the kingdom of God. Poor Nicodemus gets lost in the word play – unable to make sense of what Jesus says… And it can feel like Jesus is playing with him… As Nicodemous asks ‘how can anyone be born (again) when they are old?’ And Jesus says ‘What’s your problem?’ Aren’t you a teacher of Israel?’ *** And I can identify with Nicodemus…. I enjoy the peculiar language of John’s gospel, even though it’s difficult…As Jesus keeps using words with double and even triple meanings… which does tend to bend our minds… and make us either think differently… or give up trying to understand… Still, I can enjoy John’s gospel, mostly because I’ve got access to a lot of help with interpreting Jesus… So I sympathize with Nicodemus, who doesn’t have as much help with knowing who Jesus is. He doesn’t have any commentaries (as we do now) on the gospel to help him figure it out. (The gospel of...

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March 12, 2017 – To save the world

Lent 2    March 12, 2017   Psalm 121, Genesis 12:1-4, Romans 4:1-5,13-17; John 3:1-17  To save the world ***************************************************** Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. And maybe he’s had a long hard day. Nighttime might be the only time he has to get away from all his duties… and come, see Jesus… But… John’s gospel is famous for its night and day, dark and light contrasts – between those who see Jesus for who he really is, and those who don’t… So it’s more likely this dark of night setting is a not-very-subtle sign of misunderstanding… As Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel, comes to Jesus by night. Representing not only himself, but also others like him – who, on the one hand, are attracted to Jesus, on the other hand, reluctant to be seen with Jesus. (Who has begun to have a reputation as both an amazing Godly guy – and also as a potentially dangerous radical with a reputation for rocking boats…) It’s also possible Jesus has been having a long day… He may be a little less patient than usual today with this after-hours visitor, as he responds to a respectful-sounding greeting – (Rabbi, all the stuff you’re doing – you’ve got to be from God)… But here’s Jesus, cutting his visitor off, almost mid-sentence, saying “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born anew.” The phrase (“born anew”) also means “born from above…” But either way, Nicodemus really doesn’t get it. And Jesus seems deliberately provocative now – challenging Nicodemus to deal with the radical nature of Jesus’s mission. Telling him – ‘The Kingdom of God is about everything made new. Born anew. Born from above. Its about new birth…Flesh, blood, water, Spirit… ’ But Nicodemus isn’t getting his drift… And Jesus questions his credentials as a leader – (are you really a teacher of Israel?) – as he goes into deep-theological-reflection-mode, building, with a reference back to the book of Numbers, building up to – “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.” And this is the last we hear from Nicodemus. (At least till he resurfaces again in John 7 and again in John 19, where we see him again in cameo appearances, again in dark place, but now starting to see the light…) Meanwhile, this conversation isn’t over even though Nicodemus is silent. Jesus is still talking…Speaking the most famous verse in the whole bible… But John 3:16 is not the last word from Jesus. And there’s more in this conversation than we can unpack in the time we have… But I’d like for us to spend the time we do have today mostly considering the verse that comes right after the famous verse, “For God so loved the world…” Noticing how, in this last verse today (John 3:17), we hear yet another, even stronger confirmation of God’s love for the world – the whole world. And yet God’s love for the world – especially as expressed in John 3:16 – is of course sometimes taken for granted. (Good old, good old-boy Jesus. This week I heard a song video on You Tube called “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16″...

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February 21, 2016 – Second Sunday of Lent

Lent 2 Feb 21, 2016 (Ps 27, Genesis 15:1-6, Philippians 3:12-4:1) Luke 13:31-35 ************************************************************* There are times when the gospel doesn’t seem much like good news… At least on first hearing. Today’s gospel reading may be one of those times. The word gospel means good news. So when the gospel doesn’t sound like good news we should look deeper, and ask God where is the good news. As we meet up with Jesus today, he’s been on his way to Jerusalem for some time (about five chapters in Luke’s gospel), teaching and preaching, healing the sick, casting out demons, causing a stir wherever he goes… Just before where we rejoin the story today, Jesus has been preaching the difficult side of the gospel – telling crowds not to assume we’re all going straight to heaven, without passing go… Telling us – tread the narrow path, walk with him, listening close to everything he says…Because the way to God’s kingdom is hard, few there are who choose it… And many who are first will be last… And some who are last will be first… And at this very hour, as Jesus is saying all this… Some Pharisees come on the scene to tell Jesus ‘Better get away from here quick. Herod wants to kill you.’ Usually the Pharisees, remember, are not known as friendly supporters of Jesus… And some suspect what they say here may be a story they’ve cooked up to get Jesus out of the neighborhood… But in Luke’s telling of the gospel, the Pharisees (the strictest sect of their day) are not always all bad… Here their intention seems good. And whatever their motivation may be, the threat is surely real. Herod, who rules Galilee on behalf of the Roman Empire, has already killed John the Baptist (a cousin of Jesus), and murdered one of his wives, two of his sons, and many of his political enemies… “Fox” seems far too good a word for this guy, who embodies political evil. (Who makes our current brood of national wannabe rulers look like house pets by comparison….) But… Jesus says ‘go, tell that fox – I’m casting out demons and healing many – today and tomorrow – and on the third day I complete my work… Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must continue on to Jerusalem…where all prophets go to die.’ Not all prophets literally die in Jerusalem. Jesus, speaking in parables, is saying Jerusalem, spiritual center of the nation, is ultimately responsible for the deaths of all the prophets. And it will take Jesus more than three days to reach Jerusalem. Again, Jesus, speaks in metaphors, letting us know he will continue healing, curing, casting out demons – bringing good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind…all the way to Jerusalem… Where he knows he will be put on trial, condemned, and executed as a criminal… And on the third day, rise again. Jesus has been telling his followers all this for awhile now. They have heard… But they still don’t understand… By now, his disciples know Jesus is the most fearless person they’ve ever seen. They’re probably not surprised to hear him mocking king Herod’s threats, and staying on course to Jerusalem… They understand this kind of...

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March 1, 2015 – Take it up

Lent 2   March 1, 2015 Psalm 22,   Mark 8:31-9:1   Take it up ********************************* Jesus has just asked his disciples “who do others say I am?” And– “ who do you say I am?” And Peter has named Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, the Christ. Good answer. Jesus then starts teaching that he must undergo great suffering and rejection and death. And Peter objects strenuously. Jesus says “Get behind me Satan! You’re setting your mind on the world, not on God’s way.” Then Jesus calls the whole crowd of followers (and people even thinking about following), and says “if anyone wants to be my followers, let them deny themself, take up their cross, and follow me. Those who want to save their life will lose it. Those who lose their life for my sake and the gospel’s sake will save their life.” I’m guessing there probably wasn’t a big stampede of people lining up to take up the cross and follow. But – as we read on, we do find crowds… still following Jesus…even all the way to the cross. (Peter included, though he famously turns aside, denying Christ three times in one night; still Peter comes back and follows….) And the path to the cross for most of us is seldom a straight line…Taking up the cross and following Jesus still doesn’t come naturally for most of us, most of the time. I love Jesus. We love Jesus. We love what he’s done for us on the cross. We try to be his followers every day. Still I confess, I’m still struggling with the part about taking up my cross and denying myself. I’m all for it, in theory. If Jesus says it, I’ll try to believe it and do it. But when it comes to self-denial, I’m Joe-average at best. Many of you are much better than I am at self-denial. I’ve been trying to follow Jesus nearly 45 years now. But I still struggle with taking up my cross – “the emblem of suffering and shame.” Embracing the cross, losing my life, is still part of the gospel that I continue to find challenging. Which may be why I’m fascinated with the artist Marc Chagall’s portrait of himself – painting Christ on the cross – that graces our bulletin cover today. (I’m the adult child of an artist on my mother’s side, and Chagall’s my very favorite artist. You may have noticed how often his pictures appear on our bulletin covers.) He was Jewish, and very familiar with the long, sordid history of Christian persecution of Jews. He grew up in Russia where anti-Semitism was rampant, and lived through the era of Hitler and the holocaust. As a Jew, he could probably think of reasons not to be interested in the founder of Christianity. And as an artist, Chagall loved life in all it’s colorful diversity. He painted many scenes from the bible with great sensitivity. He also delighted in painting scenes of sensual beauty…And as an artist, he probably could think of reasons to avoid Christ on the cross… But here’s Chagall, inspired by both the Spirit and the flesh – not only painting Christ on the cross – but painting himself into the picture with Jesus… Chagall in fact painted Christ on the cross...

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