SERMON 3/20/11 LENT 2A
John 3:1-17 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.”
The Matrix was a science fiction thriller that was popular in the mid to late 90’s. The story line is about how the main character (Neo) discovers that the reality, into which he was born, is not what he thought it was. At first, he resists that the world, which he sees all around him, is a fabrication. He resisted the truth about his world because that world didn’t jive with what was real, what was whole, what was truth. Neo’s challenge was to see the world through new eyes, but he had to try to understand what was truly real and to discover how he was to live into that truth. At one point in the movie, Neo was offered the choice of which reality he would live. He was offered two pills, a blue one that would allow him to return to his old life, or a red one that would whisk him into a newfound reality.
The character Nicodemus in the John’s account of the gospel was a lot like our friend Neo from the Matrix. He had a particular view of what life was all about. He saw things from a particular mind-set and it was that viewpoint that limited his understanding of God’s Kingdom. Nicodemus came by night to learn more about Jesus, because of his curiosity about the Rabbi’s miraculous works of healing. Nicodemus was seeking understanding because this Rabbi had turned upside-down, his understanding of the reality into which he was presently living.
Jesus witnesses a new reality of life to the world. Jesus invites us to see and live in the Kingdom of God. The reality of the Kingdom of God exists in right relationships with both God and each other. The reign of God is present in forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, and sanctification.
When we accept our broken lives and then accept how, by the grace that flows abundantly from God, our lives are healed and our relationships are restored. That healing truth is easy to see in the narratives of Jesus’ teachings. It is clearly revealed in the son who receives the unrestrained welcome home after squandering his inheritance. That healing truth is easy to see in the story of the woman who was caught in adultery and chased by her accusers, then at the hand of Jesus, receives forgiveness and restoration to the community. Both the prodigal son and the adulterous woman received a life reborn, a new identity, a new community brought together by the grace of God.
Jesus Christ reveals this new life through the cross of glory, which is a new life of self-giving love revealed in the cross. God incarnate with outstretched arms revealed to the world a love that is beyond our imagination. God, who walked the walk we walk, who endured the pain of human life, who experienced the loneliness of rejection, who grieved the death of a loved one, who brought healing to the broken, stood humbled and dejected with open arms and proclaimed love, forgiveness, and grace to a world that resists it. Jesus demonstrates a new life of birth into a community reborn by water and Spirit.
Nicodemus couldn’t fathom the deeper meaning of the re-birth of which Jesus spoke. His world was based on literal things, a reality that was based on law, culture, and norms. Jesus instructed Nicodemus and he instructs us also, about the life that comes in conflict with law, culture, and norms. This new life invites us to resist no longer, the very mindset of God. Jesus taught us the mindset of grace, which is based on truth, mercy, and forgiveness. The Mindset of Grace is based on the inclusion of outsiders and self-giving love on the cross.
Sometimes we want that grace on our own terms, without the hard part of letting go. The grace of the Kingdom of God requires us to accept the invitation into the transformation of the Spirit, the mind-set change that no longer resists the partnership with God’s reign. A young woman showed up one Sunday at the local non-denominational church. She came that day, merely seeking solace, friendship and grace. She had lost her job, lost her family, and lost it all. The church seemed like the most obvious place to find God’s grace. Oh, she wasn’t dressed like all the rest; she didn’t even look like anyone else there. The worship style was strange to her, the songs were not familiar, and the whole experience was foreign. She walked in and sat down, but left feeling very empty. No one recognized that she was new to the community, no one sat with her, no one answered questions for her, and no one even took her by the and introduced her to others. Her need for God’s grace and self-giving love was not to be found that day. She left dejected, lost, and without hope. How can that be? Sometimes, out of our own fear to step out of our comfort zones, we resist the transformation and the new birth into which we are called to participate. We have to remember that the coming of God’s Kingdom cannot be constrained by human limitations. The Spirit moves where she wills and we must be partners in that movement. We as the church must be the conduit by which God’s grace gets acted out in a hurting world. Following the example of Our Lord, we must with outstretched arms reach out to the outsider, welcome the stranger, and embrace those unlike us.
In The Matrix, Neo leaves the comfort of his false reality and enters the “real world.” Through that entry, he discovers that he is part of a new community knit together through the same transforming experience. All those around him had left their own false realities and together they formed a new community. Jesus invites us to accept the new reality, the new life, the new birth of the Kingdom of God. Jesus invites us to live the life of truth, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and justice. Jesus invites us to recognize our own brokenness and through it, come to know the restorative grace of God.
Through our own brokenness, we become aware of the brokenness of others. Through the grace bestowed freely on us, we are conduits by which the grace of God may flow freely on others. This Kingdom of God turns upside-down our experience of life. It calls us into a new understanding of how we relate to God and each other. Grace, mercy, truth, reconciliation sometimes comes into conflict with the “dog eat dog,” “work your way to the top,” “it’s all about me” mindset of our culture. In the midst of that reality, we find it difficult to embrace a kingdom in which grace flows freely and abundantly. In a world of unimaginable pain and brokenness, we resist the truth that God’s reign can be present in each of us. By embracing our new birth, we will come face-to-face with the fear of change and uncertainty. Like Neo’s choice of the blue versus red pill, we stand on the cusp of a new adventure, a new way of life, a new birth. We must accept Christ’s invitation to live each day in anticipation of God’s grace, because whether we can see it plainly or not, the breath of the Spirit is blowing and she is beckoning us to live fully in the community of love and restoration.