2nd Sunday in Lent
The Reverend Lynn Sinnott
I’m going to start with a story. Several years ago, I served a church in the Rochester diocese and it was a pretty good size church. Well, I think it was about 2003 when we elected an opening gay bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire. That was announced one day and the next day a third of my congregation left. We went from being a pastoral-sized congregation to being a family-sized congregation with almost no children, no Sunday school teachers, and the skeleton crew of leadership. No one was willing to sit down and talk, except for one woman.
Shirley was in her 70s. She was very dear to me and an Olympic pray-er. And she saw all of these dear old friends of her leaving. She felt the same way they did. She shared their conviction but she had been at that church for over 50 years and did not want to go. So, she sat down and we started to talk about it. You know when people have deeply felt and long held convictions, you cannot persuade them with logic, with argument. It doesn’t work. Those kinds of beliefs and convictions are rooted first of all in our culture, and in our families, our friendships, our work places, our neighborhoods, and in our emotions. There’s no reasoning with emotions.
So, I struggled to find a way to help Shirley find peace. What I finally came up with by the grace of the Holy Spirit was this: I suggested to her that we each take the next week and pray. To pray specifically for openness to God for willingness to have our minds and hearts changed. If you have never tried that, I can tell you, it’s not easy. I certainly didn’t find it easy and I know Shirley didn’t either. But she agreed. As I said, she was a pray-er. We each went out, separate ways for the week, and prayed and prayed as honestly as we could to be open to whatever God wanted for us.
We came back together a week later and God is amazing. You know? God is amazing. She didn’t come in and sit down in my office and say well I completely changed my mind. That was not what she did. What she said was this, “I don’t know if I’m right or wrong. I just don’t know. But what I heard God saying to me very clearly was: “It’s not your problem. It’s not your judgement to make. That’s my job. Allow me to make whatever judgments are to be made in and about the world. And make sure that you don’t sin against love.”
Wow! I looked at her and I gave thanks that this woman held me to be a friend. What incredible courage and faith and humility to be able to go before God and say “I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know if I’m right or wrong. You lead me where you have me go.” Amazing.
And then we have Abram. Abram was a well to-do, highly respected member of his society.
He had herds and servants and family and I’m sure was very, very comfortable. Now we may not have all of those things but I’m pretty sure most of us are pretty comfortable where we are and whatever our place in life is. God said to Abram I want you to pack up, gather all the herds, all the family, whoever you’re going to take with you and head out into the desert. I’ll tell you later where you’re going.
I don’t now about you, but that doesn’t appeal to me at all. I’ve got to have it all organized, laid out, know exactly what I’m doing and where I’m going, and why.
Abram took the same journey that Shirley had taken with courage, and he was no youngster either. He had faith in a God he just had an inkling about. In humility he packed it all up and headed out.
And then of course we have our friend Nicodemus. He came to Jesus under the cover of darkness because he had a lot to lose. Nicodemus was a member of the theocracy of his country. He was a pharisee. He was held in high esteem, with the responsibility of keeping the status quo. It was his job to defend Israel as Israel was right then and there. The law, the prophets-all of it as they saw it. That was part of what he was to do.
But you know that man looked at Jesus and he saw something radically holy. He said to him, “I know you have to be from God. You couldn’t do the things you do if you weren’t. So, tell me what’s going on. Tell me how this happens.” Jesus told him. Then, of course, you have that long involved discussion that almost sounds silly to us today because we’ve been steeped in the idea of flesh and spirit and water and all of that.
Nicodemus couldn’t get his mind around it. He couldn’t get his heart around it. It didn’t make any sense to him. Truly it made no sense to him. How can this be? Jesus says to him “You call yourself a teacher of Israel and you don’t get it?”
Nicodemus didn’t. He didn’t. He had all of the rewards of the flesh: power, prestige, respect, authority, and a comfortable way of life. And what Jesus was trying to say to him – that won’t get you into heaven.
Those are not bad things. You know? They’re not bad things. Nicodemus was not a bad man. The problem with all of those things of the flesh is that they tend to be come so important to us that we can’t let go of them for the things of the spirt. We struggle to let go of them so that God can more fully take a place in our lives. Nicodemus went away that night not having gotten where Jesus was trying to get him to go. He went away that night. We don’t know if he ever did get there. We have to hope.
We know that later on when the Sanhedrin, the assembly of Jewish elders, met he defended Jesus to them — risking a lot. We know that after Jesus was crucified Nicodemus took the herbs and the spices to anoint Jesus to the tomb. So maybe with Nicodemus it was the little steps.
I have to tell you God doesn’t care. God doesn’t care if we take the little steps or the big steps. How many steps we take, God is going to meet us. My hope and belief is that Nicodemus did get there, to the end of his journey, and saw the things of the Spirit that God was willing and hungry to give him.
None of those people really knew when they started out what the end was going to be. They already had everything they thought they needed. What they didn’t realize was that God has so much more. God has a world of goodness and blessing. Abram was told do leave and God would make him a blessing I would bless him and make him a blessing.
We are told the same thing. We are meant to be a blessing. We are meant to bless this world. We are not meant to judge it. We are not meant to retreat from it or to fear it. We are meant to bless it. And God will give us all that we need and if we’re willing to take the journey to find out what God would have us do. God will more than meet us halfway. God is never outdone in generosity. Never. We have to find within ourselves, with God’s help, the courage and humility to take the journey. To the glory of God. Amen.