I know we are living through crazy and surreal times right now. We, like churches all across the country (and world!), are taking extra precautions right now to protect our community against the Corona Virus. We are following guidelines issued by the United Church of Christ and limiting our human contact, which means engaging in alternative forms of passing of the peace, not having greeting lines and not inviting people to join hands where I would have before (usually the kids hold hands for their prayer at the children’s sermon and we hold hands for the benediction). We are asking people to be mindful of their own germs and to not come to church if they are sick – I did notice our attendance was down last week, but I wonder if any of that had to do with the time change as well (zzz).
Anyway – one of the ways worship can still be accessible to my community during this outbreak is through this space! So here is my sermon from Sunday. We are back on the lectionary for Lent and I was preaching out of John.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
March 8, 2020
This Is The World That Jesus Came Into
So how was everybody’s week?
Do you feel a sense of calm right now? Or, perhaps, did you read or see anything in the news that may have caused either your blood pressure to go up or you to feel a sense of stress or aggravation?
I, for one, spent a considerable amount of time googling “how do I stop touching my face?” “should I refinance my house when the stock market crashes?” and “how many days until the election is over?” The chaos of the world, combined with a couple of other really strange things that happened this week, eventually led me to google, “is mercury in retrograde?”
And while I still cannot seem to stop touching my face, I can, at least, conclusively say that yes, mercury is in retrograde, but will be out tomorrow night.
So maybe that will help.
I will get to today’s scripture in a minute, but I want to start off this morning by sharing a little peak into Tuesday Morning Bible Study. We are currently studying the minor prophets in the Old Testament – we started with Amos and then moved on to Hosea, because both come out of the same historical time frame and we thought it would be kind of fun to look at the similarities and differences between the two prophetic accounts.
Amos is all about social justice; the prophecy centers around God’s frustration with Israel for their lack of attention to the poor and marginalized and for the unequal distribution of wealth in their nation. As we read through Amos in bible study, it reaffirmed to us why we gather in the first place; that we, as Christians, have to do more than simply talk about our faith, but we have to live it out, as well. It encouraged us, as members of a local church, to focus on simple and grassroots ways that we can reach out to the most vulnerable in our midst and help them in real and practical ways.
And then we started Hosea.
While it comes out of the same historical time frame as Amos, the context is very different. Hosea uses the metaphor of an adulterous woman repeatedly being unfaithful to her husband to describe what is happening between Israel and God. The imagery depicts the divine as a man and the sinful as a woman, which, I am sure you can imagine, becomes problematic, particularly when the divine (i.e. the man) incites violent punishment against the sinful (i.e. the woman).
I had some thoughts.
And Linda Coffin, I want to thank you for your wise words in the middle of my rant, because you said something that I have repeated to myself probably several hundred times this week – “But this is the world that Jesus came into.”
This is the world that Jesus came into. This is the world that God thought was worth saving. This is the world that was not considered a lost cause, but considered worthy of grace and redemption and second chances.
This messy world – this is the world that Jesus came into.
And so, as I navigated a week with a lot of messiness – fears over the Corona virus, primary elections in what is already a contentious election season and a lot of other bizarre things that I had going on and the people around me had going on – I could not help but think the same is true today. This is the world that Jesus came into. The world that we are living in today – albeit politically tense and in the middle of a global public health crisis – this is the world that Jesus came into. This is the world that God still thinks is worth saving. This is the world that is not considered a lost cause, but is, too, considered worth of grace and redemption and second chances.
This messy world – this is the world that Jesus came into.
What a beautiful and hope-filled promise this is.
Our scripture reading for this week reinforced this promise to me. The last verse of the passage we just heard, John 3:17, says: “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.” Again, God believed this world was worth saving. Jesus came into this world, he walked on this earth in human flesh, because God believed this world was worth saving. God sent Jesus to this world to save the world in all of its messiness.
This passage is an exchange between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus is only mentioned in the Gospel of John; there is no clear source of information about him anywhere else in the bible. Nicodemus appears three times in John; here in this passage where Jesus tries to explain to Nicodemus what it means to be born of the Spirit, in the seventh chapter of John where Nicodemus defends Jesus to the temple police, the chief priests and the Pharisees when they are talking about arresting Jesus and finally at the end of the Gospel, after Jesus is crucified, when Nicodemus joins Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.
Despite the fact that Nicodemus only appears three times, he is a significant character in this narrative, because he represents a constituency that is supportive of Jesus, but does not fully understand him. We see his confusion in this mornings’ passage when he hears Jesus’ explanation of what it means to be born from above and asks, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? How can these things be?”
Nicodemus is not negating Jesus or telling Jesus he is wrong. In fact, Nicodemus says to Jesus, “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.” Nicodemus believes in Jesus, he just does not fully understand.
I read a commentary this week reflecting on Nicodemus and the fact that he represents the kind of timid disciple that the Gospel writer really wished had come out more openly for Jesus, but never did. This reflection resonated a lot with me, because I think many of us could often be described in the same way. We believe in Jesus, but we still have a lot of questions; and sometimes those questions cause us to step back and be a little bit timid. We are often passive in proclaiming our faith – or even leaning into – when we still have so many unanswered questions. Because I think, in many ways, we live in a world where we think in order to believe in something, we have to understand it completely.
But that is not what Jesus says to Nicodemus. Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him … may have eternal life.”
Not has all the answers.
Not leads the perfect life.
Not never finds themselves surrounded by chaos.
Everyone who believes in him … may have eternal life.
There are four Gospels in the New Testament; they tell the story of Jesus. The first three – Matthew, Mark and Luke – are called the synoptic gospels. Synoptic comes from the Latin word, synopticus, which means seeing the whole together. These three Gospels are seen as the synoptic gospels because they share a lot of the same content and stories.
The Gospel of John, however, where this passage of scripture comes from and the only Gospel where Nicodemus appears, is very different. From the beginning, it is much more of a mystical narrative. It forces you, as the reader, to suspend the notion that you have to understand everything and instead, allows you to get swept up into this narrative of light, grace and truth where you lean into your beliefs and not necessarily what you can explain on a physical level.
In the passage we just heard, Jesus talks about what it means to be born from above, to be born of both water and Spirit and to believe in both earthly and heavenly things. And despite what Jesus seems to think are fairly straight-forward answers, Nicodemus does not completely understand. If I am being honest, when I read this I do not completely understand, either. But again, Jesus tells Nicodemus – a man who believes in Jesus, yet is still timid with questions – God gave his Son so we can believe in him, not necessarily make sense of it all.
And so this has been my hope this week.
That I do not have to understand the world around me or explain what is happening in order to believe in the hope and the promise of resurrection.
That our world is very much still worth saving.
That we can live in this very human world and navigate our very human lives, while still leaning deeply into our spiritual foundation that comes from God.
That, in a way that we may never see or understand, God will take the chaos of the world today – including the Corona virus and the 2020 presidential election – and create something holy.
Because this is the world that Jesus came into. This is the world that God thinks is worth saving. This is the world that is not considered a lost cause, but considered worthy of grace and redemption and second chances.
Don’t ever stop believing that.
So may we all have the wonderment of Nicodemus; not only the courage to ask hard questions, but also the strength to believe when we do not fully understand.
Thanks be to God!