|Easter Sunday, Year A||April 16, 2017||Easter Sunday, Year A||Matthew 28:1-10|
|Good Friday, Year A||April 14, 2017||Good Friday, Year A||John 18:11, 9:28-30|
|Maundy Thursday, Year A||April 13, 2017||Maundy Thursday, Year A||John 13:1-7, 31b-35|
|Palm Sunday, Year A||April 9, 2017||Palm Sunday, Year A||Matthew 26:36-46|
|Lent 5||April 2, 2017||Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A, Baptism||John 11:1-45|
|Lent 4||March 26, 2017||Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A||Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41|
|Lent 3||March 19, 2017||Third Sunday in Lent, Year A||Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42|
|➤Lent 2||March 12, 2017||Second Sunday in Lent, Year A||Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, John 3:1-17|
|Lent 1||March 5, 2017||First Sunday in Lent, Year A||Matthew 4:1-11|
|Ash Wednesday||March 1, 2017||Ash Wednesday, Year A||Matthew 4:1-11|
|Last Sunday after the Epiphany||February 26, 2017||Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 17:1-9|
|Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany||February 19, 2017||Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48|
|Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 12, 2017||Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37|
|Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 5, 2017||Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20|
|Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Reflections on Annual Convention, Susan Tilt||January 29, 2017||4th Sunday after the Epiphany||Matthew 5:1-12|
Sermon Date:March 12, 2017
Scripture: Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, John 3:1-17
Liturgy Calendar: Second Sunday in Lent, Year A
“"Christ Instructing Nicodemus" – Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678)
How we plan for our journeys through life and who we take along with us makes a difference in how we travel. Today’s lectionary readings offer some helpful hints.
In today’s psalm, a traveler is getting ready to start out to Jerusalem.
Let’s say this traveler is a young man named Reuben making his first pilgrimage to Jerusalem by himself. He has been there before, travelling with his family and people from his village to observe the Passover in Jerusalem, but this is the first time he is making the journey alone.
And Reuben is feeling anxious. He knows that the roads through the hilly, barren wilderness can be dangerous, and that bandits wait for solitary travelers. He also knows how easily he could get lost, since the landscape offers few discernable landmarks. What if darkness falls before he finds safe shelter for the night?
As he thinks about this journey he must make, he becomes more and more worried.
And so, on the night before he leaves, Reuben goes through the dark streets of the village to the home of Joshua, his trusted friend. They go up onto the flat roof of the friend’s house and there in the cool night breeze as they look up at the stars, and at the crescent moon hanging low in the sky just above the dark shapes of the hills surrounding the village, Reuben spills out his worries.
“Joshua, look at those hills and valleys—I’ve got to travel through them on my way to Jerusalem. But I’ll admit it. I’m afraid. What if I get lost? What if I’m attacked by bandits? What if I get caught in the dark with no place to stay? I’m going to be alone. Who’s going to help me out if I get into trouble?”
And his friend, who has made the trip alone to Jerusalem many times, is quiet for a moment, and then he offers his scared friend Reuben these words of comfort as the two friends look out into the darkness.
“My help comes from the Lord, Reuben. The Lord made the heavens and the earth back at the beginning of time. The Lord has never stopped caring and watching over creation. Don’t worry. You are the Lord’s beloved child, and the Lord will be traveling with you and watching over you, even when you fall asleep, because the Lord never sleeps. The Lord will keep evil away. The Lord will keep you safe, both day and night. The Lord watches over your going out and your coming in, now and always.”
“The Lord will watch over my going out, and the Lord will watch over my coming in, now and always,” Reuben says to himself. And peace wraps round him like a cloak, and he is no longer afraid.
Countless years before Reuben sought the advice of his friend about his journey to Jerusalem, Abram, an ordinary person living an ordinary life—was out in his field one day at dusk. He loved that time of day, as the earth settled into darkness, and breathed out fragrance as it cooled from the long day in the sun, and a hush settled on the land and the cool evening breeze sprang up. Abram looked up and saw the first stars coming out as the sky grew darker and darker.
And he heard the Lord speak to him and say, “Abram, it’s time to leave this land, to go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation…..”
The writer of Genesis does not tell us whether or not Abram was alarmed by hearing the Lord, or concerned about leaving the land he knew and leaving his father to start out for some unknown land which the Lord promised to show him, but hadn’t shown him yet.
Ultimately, the details don’t matter. What matters is that Abram went, as the Lord had told him.
He went with these words of the Lord whispering like the wind that blew around him.
He went in faith. He trusted that the Lord would lead him in the right way, and that the Lord would go with him.
Now we have come to another night in scripture, the night that the Pharisee Nicodemus meets Jesus.
Jesus is controversial, to say the least. Jesus has just arrived in town for Passover, and when he gets into Jerusalem, he goes to the temple and is filled with anger when he sees that his Father’s house has become a marketplace that overcharges pilgrims for the animals that they purchase there to offer as sacrifices in the temple. Jesus drives the sheep and the cattle out of the temple area, and throws over the tables of the money changers. He orders the men selling the doves to leave and take their doves with them.
When the temple authorities question him, he says that if the temple were destroyed, he would raise it up in three days. Of course, the authorities don’t understand that he is talking about his own death and resurrection. They probably put him on their list of people to watch, but lots of people in town believe that he is the Messiah because they can see with their own eyes the signs that is doing.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee, is consumed with curiosity about Jesus and the signs he is doing that point to him as the Messiah. So now, as he hurries through the dark streets, Nicodemus hopes that he won’t be spotted by any of his colleagues, who think that Jesus is some sort of crazy radical.
Nicodemus finally finds Jesus, sitting out on the roof of the house where he is staying, resting in the cool evening breeze that had sprung up at sunset.
Nicodemus greets Jesus—
“So, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; you couldn’t do the things that you do without God being with you.”
Jesus senses that Nicodemus is seeking a way to have God be with him too, and so Jesus starts talking about traveling–traveling to God’s kingdom.
“Nicodemus, you can’t get to the kingdom of God, or even see it without being born from above, without being born anew, without being born again.”
Nicodemus thinks to himself, “Look at me, I’m a grown man. I’ve already experienced a great deal in life and gone many places. It’s true that I’ve never seen the kingdom of God, but I certainly can’t start over at this point and be born all over again.”
Jesus must have read his mind, because the next thing that he says to Nicodemus is this.
“Nicodemus, you’ve already been born out of water—your own mother’s womb water. But there’s something else you need for your journey to see the kingdom of God besides just your physical body. You need the Spirit too.”
“Do you feel this cool breeze swirling around us? Do you know where it comes from?”
“No,” Nicodemus says, “I don’t.”
“Do you know where it’s going?”
“No, Nicodemus says, “I don’t.”
Jesus says, “That’s right! You don’t know!”
“Nicodemus, here’s the deal. When you’re born anew, with the Spirit as much a part of you as your very breath, you won’t know where the Spirit came from or how the Spirit got to be part of you, and you’ll have no idea where it will take you in this life. But you will know one thing, that the destination and the place that you’ve always longed to be is in God’s kingdom.”
Jesus then adds that he should know, because after all, he has come from God to be here on earth as one of us.
And Jesus also knows that part of his journey will be to be lifted on the cross, but that’s a part of the story we’ll save for another day.
Nicodemus is completely confused by this time.
So Jesus puts it into terms that Nicodemus can understand—
“Nicodemus, God loves you and your Pharisee friends. God loves all people, and all of creation. And so he sent me, so that I can travel with you on whatever journey you choose. I’m hoping you choose to make the journey to the kingdom.”
“And I hope you’ll choose to take me along as your traveling companion.”
And so these tantalizing stories end.
Does Reuben, back in the psalm, start out the next day on his journey to Jerusalem, knowing that he isn’t alone after all? That God is truly with him?
Does Nicodemus eventually set out to find the kingdom of God, hoping to experience it here and now, in this lifetime?
And does he ask Jesus to go with him?
And what about you?
Where will you choose to travel, and who will you choose to go with you?