Silence and Centering – Pause for 5 minutes of Silence
“Be still, and know that I am God; – Psalm 46:1
Confession: Merciful God, we confess that we have often failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love. We have not loved our neighbors, and have refused to hear the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray, and free us for joyful obedience; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
FIRST READING: Isaiah 6:1-8
6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.
6:2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.
6:3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
6:4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
6:5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
6:6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.
6:7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”
6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
SECOND READING: John 3:1-17
3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.
3:2 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.”
3:3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
3:4 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?”
3:5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.
3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
3:7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’
3:8 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.”
3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
3:11 “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.
3:12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
3:16 “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.
3:17 “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.
Our Gospel lesson introduces us to a man who came to Jesus to ask him that same question … Where is God in my life? The man’s name was Nicodemus. He was a leader of the Jewish people, a man of wealth, and, clearly, a seeker after truth. For the most part the people who surrounded Jesus were ordinary people ~ fishermen, farmers, laborers. But not Nicodemus. He was a man of wealth and privilege. While others were condemning Jesus, Nicodemus, to his credit, wanted to learn more about the Lord and his teachings.
So long before there was a cable TV show called Nic at Night, this Nic came to Jesus at night, a time associated in mythology with unbelief, ignorance, and temptation. The Evangelist John loves double meanings. Nicodemus came under the cover of darkness, so he would not be seen, but he also came under the darkness of not knowing Jesus. I think a lot of people can relate to Nicodemus, good people, responsible people, who make a contribution to life, but just do not know Jesus.
In our Gospel lesson Nicodemus addresses Jesus in words that seem flattering, but are also very factual: 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 responds in a way that almost seems like he did not hear him. Our Lord says, … I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.
We don’t know why Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Some argue that he was eager to insure his privacy and protect his reputation. He could hardly be seen consorting with a vagabond preacher and itinerant trouble-maker. All we know is that this worldly man of power and wealth opened himself to Jesus in the hope that out of the darkness of the night he would come to the brightness of a new spiritual understanding. He came to Jesus, if not with faith, at least with faithful curiosity.
I think there are a lot of people like Nicodemus all around us … no doubt many in the Chapel today. The beauty of our Gospel lesson is that it shows Jesus as one with particular concern for people who are not afraid to ask hard questions. Jesus was not one to simply encourage people to add a few virtues to their lives, or subtract a few bad habits, or multiply their efforts to build a better world. He sought nothing less than a transformation in a person’s life.
First, Jesus said: no one can belong to the Kingdom of God without being born from above. Nicodemus clearly misunderstands Jesus and takes his words literally. He asks how a person can enter his mother’s womb a second time. Nicodemus will disappear from sight rather quickly, but confusion over what it means to be born again remains. We must remember that being born again is not something that any of us can accomplish; it is not an issue of intellectual achievement or personal attainment. It is something that God must effect in our lives. The simple fact is that we do not make a decision for Christ … God, through Christ, has made a decision for us.
It is regrettable that there is such division in American Christianity over this born-again concept. The more conservative churches in our country place a high importance on the issue of being born again. But I do not want to either criticize the evangelical emphasis on being born again, nor would I be of a mind to endorse this view. Faith is never a once-and-done action of a believing Christian, but instead it is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit who, as Jesus says, blows where it chooses.
Some might say that these more conservative churches with their insistence that one must be born again have become, in effect, the Nursery for American Christianity. Their emphasis on evangelism and conversion is a significant contribution toward encouraging faith in Jesus Christ. The mainline denominations, like the Episcopal Church, tend to be the Finishing School of American Christianity. Here the faith is given an intellectual depth, a liturgical richness, an historical tradition, and a degree of church order and structure. So we have two very different, but highly complementary expressions of the Christian faith: the Nursery and the Finishing School. So we should never be surprised that we count among our members many people, who have had their initial experience of Jesus Christ in a different, but vital, church tradition.
The second truth in our lesson is that eternal life has nothing to do with how long we live or what happens when we die. Eternal life refers to a quality of life we can know now and, by God’s grace, will continue to experience beyond this mortal existence. But it starts now! The world cannot destroy it. You may be pitifully poor, but have eternal life. You can be unemployed, terminally ill, crippled by broken relationships, but still have eternal life. Eternal life means that when all seems lost you are most irresistible to Jesus.
The third critical thing Jesus told Nicodemus was that faith is a mystery. Like the wind, faith comes but we cannot see it coming. It is neither a human achievement, nor an intellectual accomplishment. It is a gift from God for Christ’s sake. Faith is like healing. When a doctor treats a person, the patient does not have to understand human anatomy or medical technology in order to be cured. Faith is like that. We do not have to understand, we only have to align ourselves with God in order to have our lives transformed.
Finally, our Gospel lesson concludes with that holy horsepower text … God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. God so loved the world … O how we need to remember these words at a time when so many want to sit in judgment on others or question the value of people whose faith and culture are a mystery to us. We need to remember that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world, but to save the world, so perhaps it is incumbent upon us to be a little less condemning and a little more loving.
In the final verses of the Gospel we are told simply that God loves this world … even the God-hating world that crucified the Lord of glory. At this place in our Lenten journey, we would do well to pray that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we might be drawn into that fellowship of those who dare believe in Jesus and, indeed, the whole world that God loves so much!
Dear friends, we are all works in progress. We have only begun to walk with Jesus. Let us take time to listen and then be ready to risk, willing to share, prodigal in our love for others. And may we sincerely pray: Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, come in today, come in to stay … there is room in my heart for you. Amen. – By Fr. Almquist
Conclude with 3 Minutes of Silence