Sunday, 16 March 2014

Can't Make it to church? - Mar 16

Here we are at the second week of Lent - a third through  and I'm wondering how (and what) are we all doing? I ask that because although many of us are certain in so many ways, that certainty can be shaken and turned to confusion by the simplest of encounters with Jesus.

Take the character in today's Gospel as an example. For here we have Nicodemus, a member of the ruling classes and a Pharisee - someone who knows much (if not perhaps all?). A man who, under cover of darkness, encounters Jesus, the Christ and finds that what he knows is the confirmation that he knows little - a reality well known to me.

Why darkness?
Who was he worried about?
Who didn't he want to know that he had met with Jesus?

It is here, upon learning about being 'born again' that he asks, 'Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born again?'

It is here the born again so favoured by those who like to ask if you have been, comes into our language. For me the impact of the whole encounter is that in the life of a man who has it all and is 'religious' and assured comes the awareness that he hasn't even started you. He needs to be reborn - to visit the 'Go' of the monopoly game that is the spiritual life - and start the spiritual journey he thought he had mastered.

This is a call to begin, not an assurance of fulfilment or completeness.

It is too easy for us to speed onto the 'God so loved the world' bit and seek assurance when what we need to know is that this is the reason we are called upon to be born again and not the remedy. A reality that leads us wonderfully into a call, like Abram's, to get up and move from the places where comfort might be and travel in faith and trust to be a blessing and to be blessed too. Paul's words are a summation and assessment of Abram's call and perhaps we would do well to exchange our name for his (Abram's) and reread with different ears, eyes and heart.

Having done it - we need to make the words of today's Psalm ours and ask ourselves the question - Where are the places I think I have it made?
What do I see through God's eyes and the commitment and sacrifice of Jesus and the journeying of Abram?

Where are my eyes fixed?

Genesis 12.1-4a
Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
He will not suffer your foot to stumble; he who watches over you will not sleep. Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord himself watches over you; the Lord is your shade at your right hand, So that the sun shall not strike you by day, neither the moon by night.
The Lord shall keep you from all evil; it is he who shall keep your soul.
The Lord shall keep watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth for evermore.

Romans 4.1-5,13-17
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

John 3.1-17
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” 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.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

‘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.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Here's a bit of a bonus from Stainer's Crucifixion
The first major piece I sang as a chorister of eight
and something that touched me greatly

Almighty God,
you show to those who are in error the light of your truth,
that they may return to the way of righteousness:
grant to all those who are admitted
into the fellowship of Christ’s religion,
that they may reject those things
that are contrary to their profession,
and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion
Almighty God,
you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves:
keep us both outwardly in our bodies,
and inwardly in our souls;
that we may be defended from all adversities
which may happen to the body,
and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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