the one about the question...
March 13, 2017, 12:00 AM

Sermon from March 12, 2017

Text: John 3: 1-17

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, it is an age-old question. It is a question that many have debated, it has split traditions, churches, and families. It is a question that is asked within this conversation that we ‘spy’ in on within our gospel this morning. That question?

Is it born from above or born again? What and perhaps who is Jesus talking about?

The oddest and at times maddening part about all this is that Jesus answers a question that appears so far out of left field. In fact, Nicodemus doesn’t even ask a question let alone the question that Jesus is answering. Nicodemus here is still ‘buttering’ up Jesus in hopes that he sees his approach to him in a non-threatening way.

The image that always pops into my mind as I read John 3 is that of an old film-noir crime story. Two individuals meet in secret in the dead of night with only a lone street light lighting them both. You know those conversations always have deeper significance and ulterior motives. After the conversation ends, the party that arranges the meeting fades back into the cold darkness never to be seen again.

Thinking of it in that way, I can surmise that Nicodemus truly wanted Jesus to know that he doesn’t come with ulterior motives, not at behest of the Jewish authorities and religious elite to which he is a member.

Nevertheless, Jesus cuts right to the chase.

One must be born from above or be born again/anew.

Naturally, we along with Nicodemus are taken aback. The ‘answer’ to the unasked question seems so out there that we are literally caught off guard. When we collect ourselves, we too ask the same questions that Nicodemus does. Still, Jesus’ response hits us square in the gut. Now, he’s answering a question that isn’t being asked as our Lord talks about being born from the Spirit.

As this conversation unfolds, we try to view this all as something that we must do. We must be born from above/again. It is here that I’m being more and more convinced that Jesus just might not be talking about us. Perhaps, just maybe – Jesus is referring to himself.

As we enter into the second week of our Lenten journey, we are confronted with the sin that has been with us from the beginning of time. The sin that it’s all about ‘us.’ That sin where everything revolves around me. They must be talking about me. That’s all about us. Everything.

Now, naturally what God does is indeed for us. In fact, those words ‘for you’ are pivotal to our understanding of the meal in which we will partake in just a few moments and in which we get to receive each week. We know that this meal – this act that we are linked to of Jesus’ ‘final’ supper with his disciples – is indeed for us. We know in our forgiveness through Jesus’ loving action of salvation on the cross we are fed this meal.

It is for us.

But, when so many important, pivotal, and monumental moments of our scripture point towards us, there is the sin that leaks in everywhere else – that everything must be about us.

Yet, here I still think that Jesus is referring to himself.

Nicodemus is stating all those ‘buttery’ truths about Jesus; he is from God, he performs miraculous signs and deeds. No one could do that apart from God.

Jesus agrees, accept he isn’t just a teacher. He’s the one born from above. He’s the one who has come down to point us towards a birth in spirit. He’s the one who sees the kingdom of God at hand. He’s the one who not only has come from God, he isn’t the one who only has God present with him, he is literally of God.

The one sent from above.

Throughout the season of Lent we do a lot of stuff that’s pretty selfish. Sure, selfish for our own Good. But, many of us – myself included at times – view our Lenten disciplines as little ‘new year’s resolutions 2.0.’ It didn’t stick 2.5 months ago, so I’m going to ‘re-up’ during Lent.

I’m going to the gym so I can be in better shape.

I’m going to give up cursing so I can be a better person.

I’m going to give up chocolates/dessert/sweets because I don’t need that…as much.

It’s always about us.

As we read this part of John’s gospel, maybe it’s not always about us. Maybe, just maybe it’s about Jesus. Also, just a pastor point – the way in which John’s gospel is written it is usually more about Jesus than it is about us.

We love John’s gospel so much because it swiftly and deftly points everything to Jesus. Jesus is the one in control. The signs he performs point to him. Every word that comes from his lips, every act that he performs, every step his feet take him – point to who he is.

Jesus cries out to us in so many subtle and direct ways that he’s talking about himself. It’s as if he is pointing at his own chest as he speaks here. Then, and only then, does he breathlessly utter those words that we love so dear. Those words that we have reduced to car bumper stickers, notes written on eye-black, hashtags upon social media, and more.

After Jesus points to himself as the one born from above we receive John 3:16 – For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Don’t worry – I purposely used a different translation than one I’d imagine you are used to hearing. Hearing things in similar ways helps us hear it again as if for the first time.

God sent the one from above to be present with us. That is how much God loves us – sending us God’s own from above to be with us. As Nicodemus begins ‘buttering’ up Jesus with truth and accolades, Jesus is busy building Nicodemus and us up to see our Lord for who he really is.

Yet – thankfully – Jesus doesn’t stop there. We hear that God loves the world. God has sent the Son. God seeks eternal life, not death. He then continues -  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him.

Folks – throughout John’s gospel Jesus is talking about who he is. He points to where he’s come from. He invites us into that relationship of love, worship, and service. He reaches out in words and actions to grab a hold of us as if to say, “I’m here. I’ve always been here. I love you. Do not be afraid. Let’s get to work.”

The beginning of this conversation spoken in the darkness of night, points to the one born from above, the one who brings light to the world, the one who is the light of the world. The one who was indeed sent from God – God’s own – to bring life and not death. For God did not send this one – God’s own son – to sentence us, but so that we all might be saved through him.

So, it might not always be about us when Jesus is talking – especially in John’s gospel. But, in that love that God has for us and through our Lord – it always ends up being for us.

That’s what I want to remember during Lent. It’s not always about us, but it just might always be for us and the world. That’s how God loves. That’s the love that Jesus invites us into as well. Amen.

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