August 31

08/31/2014

 
Picture
Pentecost 11 (Lectionary 22)
Exodus 3:   1-15
Romans 12: 9-21
Matthew 16: 21-28

                

One of my favourite comedians is a fellow named George Wallace.   Ironically,

George Wallace is an African-American comedian who has been telling jokes for close to 40 years.  For those of you who have some memory of American politics in the early 1970’s, understanding that George Wallace is black, is a bit of a delicious irony.   For those who don’t share that memory, please ask someone else over coffee. 

George Wallace is kind of famous for including “things he doesn’t understand,” in his comedic routines.   He will always start out with, “Things I don’t understand,” or “I talk about stupid things that make no sense.” 

Examples:   “Things I don’t understand.   How come people who snore, are the first to fall asleep?   Things I don’t understand.   How come the weather man on TV is never right with his forecast and still has a job the next day?  Things I don’t understand.”

In the grand scheme of life, those are pretty silly examples, but they give you pause for thought.   When you stop and think about it, the silly things are often true. 

Silly things are sometimes difficult to understand; if we can’t understand silly things, how can we understand weightier issues?   There are a lot of very complicated things that are difficult to understand as well. 

There are lot of things in this life that are difficult to understand and I think that God is one of them.   How do we understand God?  How do we understand  the heart and mind of God?   Who is God and what does God do?  What does God not do?

If we can’t understand snoring, how can we possibly understand God?

So maybe a way of understanding God, is to go to church?   Maybe in church, we can listen to the preacher and begin to understand.   Maybe listening to the words of the Bible, will help us understand.

Which is nice, but considering today’s Bible passages, this might be easier said than done.  Today’s Bible passages present difficulties because they do not make it any easier to understand God.  Today we are exposed in those passages, to the heart and mind of God and it is difficult to understand.   It doesn’t necessarily make sense. 

Consider the first reading from Exodus.   In this story Moses encounters God in the burning bush.  During this encounter, God tells Moses that he, Moses, is going to go to Egypt and free the people of God who have been held in slavery for the past 300 years.  


This does not make sense to Moses.  

Moses is a shepherd tending sheep out in the sticks, somewhere in the Sinai peninsula.   On top of that he does not even own the sheep; they belong to his father in law.   God wants this shepherd to leave the backwaters of the Sinai peninsula and travel to the cosmopolitan land of Egypt, enter the palace of the pharoh, in essence walking onto the stage of kings, queens and international statesmen.   This lowly shepherd of sheep does not understand.

To make matters worse, Moses is to be sent on this impossible mission by a God with no name.  In those ancient days, every god of every society, had a name.   The names of those ancient gods spoke of their power and majesty.   This god had no name.  When pressed, this god said, “I am who I am.”  This could also be translated as, “I will be who I will be.”  What kind of name was that?

There was no game plan, no specifics of how Moses was to lead the people to freedom, other than that this god would strike at Egypt; and he was sent by a god with no name.

Things that Moses did not understand. 

Hundreds of years later, as Jesus went about Palestine preaching, teaching and healing, his followers confessed that he was the Messiah, God’s long awaited deliverer. 

In response to their confession, Jesus tells them that the Messiah must suffer and die and be raised on the third day.  The response of the disciples, as pictured through Peter was very emphatic; the messiah is not supposed to suffer and die.  The messiah was to come and conquor, deliver God’s  people from oppression through strength and power and might. 

Jesus, who praises them for their faith in confessing him  as messiah, now compares their response to that of the devil.   On top of that, he urges his followers to emulate his example by becoming aware of the sufferings in the world and participating in the sufferings of the world as a way of delivering the world from such suffering.  Jesus called it denying one’s self and taking up the cross. 

Things the disciples did not understand.

The apostles and most notably Peter, did not understand and later on, the apostle Paul tried to make sense of such things, by putting all of this suffering and denial stuff into action, into the realm of human understanding. 

One example is today’s 2nd reading, from Romans, where Paul says,

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor…..  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.   Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.   Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.   Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.   Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.   If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.   Beloved, never avenge yourselves….   No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 

Is that any clearer?  Things we do not understand.

As much as we may want to understand, to put ourselves into the same space as the mind of God, it is very difficult.  Martin Luther said as much when he was trying to explain a portion of the Apostles’ Creed.   Luther said that he could not by his own reasoning or strength, understand God.   There are many things that we do not understand.

So now what? 

I don’t want to make this sound trivial, or trite, but I think we are left with the promises of God and with faith.   

Maybe we have all heard this before, that you have to have faith and we do need faith.   Often we put this into the context of being well-behaved people who do all the right things and believe in all the right things.   Somehow we think we need to believe no matter what; our faith must be unflagging and we need to prove how good we are at having faith. 

Faith is not being super-duper believer who believes in the face of all odds.   Faith is an action of trust.   Faith is trusting in something you can’t see, can’t prove and can’t understand. 

Faith in what?  The promise.  

Moses did not understand what God wanted him to do.  Moses did not understand why God chose him.   Moses did not understand how God was going to pull this off.   All Moses knew was that God promised to be with him and that was about it.   God assured Moses that somehow and in some way, God would help him liberate the Hebrew peoples.

Jesus promised his disciples that his suffering and death  would liberate humanity.   This liberation was on a divine plane and not in the realm of the human.  Jesus promised that the son of man would come in glory with angels and that they would not taste death.  

By the way, the apostles did not understand what it mean, to “not taste death.”  We are not sure either.  

The resurrection of Jesus was the turning point; through the cross God conquored sin and death .   God forgave the sins of humanity and granted the promise of eternal life.  Jesus promised his followers that they could participate in the redemption of humanity, conquoring evil, prevailing against sin and death, by taking up the cause of Jesus.   The cross.  And he would be with them every step of the way.  

Things we don’t understand. 

How is it that we can pour water on the head of a baby and see this is a sign of God’s presence in the life of that baby?  How can simple water on the head signal forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life?

Things we don’t understand.

How is it that we can receive bread, eat it and drink wine or grape juice and understand that this is God with us, Jesus here and now, Jesus inside of us.   How can simple bread and wine signal forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life?

Things we don’t understand. 

We don’t understand, and yet Jesus tells us that this is what he died for.   This is what he suffered for and this is what he was raised from the dead for, by God.   This is the gift that God has promised through Jesus and we trust that somehow and some way, God will do all of this as God has promised.  We take it in faith. 

We take it in faith because as Luther says, this is beyond our own strength and reasoning; it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the gift of faith.  God gives us the gift of faith, even when we cannot muster up any faith.   Somehow God gives us a way that we can live and hope and act and put one foot ahead of the other, day by day. 

Things we don’t understand. 



Amen.


 
 
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Pentecost 10 (Lectionary 21)
Romans 12: 1-8
Matthew 16: 13-20

Object if you want to use:   a set of keys

When you stop and think about it, keys play a significant part in our lives.   Can you think of moments when keys became an important part of your life?

When it comes to keys, one of the more significant parts of our lives involves driving a car.   I can remember when I began to learn how to drive and my Dad handed me the keys to the car.   I can also remember when, later on as a teenager, I was handed the keys and headed off on my own.   I don’t remember where I went, but maybe I simply went and picked up my friends.

But…. I had the keys!

Certainly as a parent, I can remember handing the keys to my 3 children, as each of them began to learn how to drive.   I have never asked them if THEY have any memory of it, but I trust it was significant for them.

Mind you, driving the car isn’t always the most significant contact we have with keys.              



I can vividly recall the first Church Council meeting I attended at King of Glory Lutheran Church in August of 1991.  Pastor Rolf Nosterud, the interim pastor, welcomed me to the meeting and then threw the church keys on the table.  I can still hear those keys hitting the table.   “there,” he said, “the keys to the kingdom.”

So what did that mean?

Well, the first thing that popped into my mind, was that I personally was now in charge of  “the kingdom.”   Those keys signaled something to me, notably that I possessed the keys and that the responsibility of being pastor of that church, was now mine.  

I guess you could say that I was in “the driver’s seat.”                                                               



When those keys hit the table, the full weight of responsibility was keenly felt.   Not only a keen sense of responsibility, but also a huge sense of trust.   The interim pastor and the Church Council there, TRUSTED the fact that I was now the pastor.   I felt that trust as I picked up the keys, the “keys to the kingdom.”

Now we should acknowledge the Roland Ziprick is not the only person who has ever been given the “keys to the kingdom.”   In fact, we have a very graphic and famous example in today’s gospel reading from Matthew. 

In the gospel reading, the disciples of Jesus are confronted with a very simple question.  Jesus asks them, ABut who do you say that I am?

Jesus had been moving about the countryside preaching, teaching and healing and he had been gathering huge crowds.  Of course, not everyone in these huge crowds is familiar with Jesus; familiar with his identity or his purpose.   So of course, as people cluster around Jesus, and they begin to experience his ministry, they begin to ask questions.  They wonder who he is, what his purpose and mission might be and in the process, they come up with all kinds of answers.  The disciples have heard those answers, Jesus himself may have heard those answers.  But now, he asks his disciples, ABut who do you say that I am?

In response to that question, the apostle Peter, the de facto leader of the other 11, makes his famous confession:  "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

Not only does Peter acknowledge that Jesus is God’s Messiah, the one that God has promised to the people of Israel throughout the centuries, but Peter recognizes even more.

Yes, this is the deliverer God has promised to send, but Peter also sees the divinity of Jesus.   This is the Son of God, the son of the LIVING God, Yahweh.   Yahweh, the Lord of all lords, the one who delivered Israel throughout the centuries, makes good on Yahweh’s promise by sending God’s self to deliver.     

Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus thinks that this understanding came from God.  Yes, Peter was a man of great faith, but the faith that he expressed was a gift from God.  Peter was a fragile and vulnerable and complex human being, living in a complex society that projected an image totally opposite from the image of Jesus.  It is not very likely that Peter could have made that confession on his own.  In a divine moment of revelation, the gift of faith, the gift of open eyes and heart was given, and Peter could see and understand and confess that Jesus was indeed, the Messiah, the Christ. 

So how did Jesus react to Peter?  Jesus commended Peter, and then handed Peter the “keys to the kingdom.”   Jesus was telling Peter and the others that they were in the driver’s seat.  They were going to be making more and more of the decisions.  And, they would be responsible, caretakers of the story of Jesus.  It was their responsibility to share the story of Jesus with others.   Jesus is trusting them to make loving decisions and that they will share his story with the same love and grace that Jesus shared his own story. 

So what does this mean for us?   It means quite a lot actually.  

First of all, consider OUR confession of faith today, the Apostles’ Creed.   Open up your hymnal to page 217.   Notice the middle paragraph and the size of it in comparison to the other 2 paragraphs.   The early church fathers also struggled with the question of Jesus’ identity and so when they wrote the Creed, they stated the identity of Jesus.  

Martin Luther had a great explanation for this confession of Jesus as Messiah.   Do you remember your Confirmation classes?  Do you remember Luther’s explanation to the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed in your Small Catechisms?

If you can’t remember, here it is:

What does this mean? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

 
What does this mean for us?  Secondly, consider the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed.   As you look at that 3rd paragraph in the creed, we see OUR response, the responsibility and the trust. 

As I read it or speak it from memory, I confess that I believe in the holy catholic church.   I participate in the life of the church, I live out my faith in the world, as an extension of what goes on in this church.   I share in the communion of saints; I believe in and share the faith of all those who have died and gone before us.  

What is the core of that faith?   It is the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  That is the essence of the story which Peter shared, the rest of the apostles shared and which we share in Grace Lutheran, Dawson Creek, or St. Paul’s Lutheran in Maple Ridge. 

What does this mean for us?  Essentially, Jesus is tossing US the keys, the “keys to the kingdom.”    

This means that Jesus trusts us to share his story; to tell the story of Jesus in word and deed, with the same grace, mercy and love that Jesus shared his own story.  

It means that WE are now in the driver’s seat.   WE are being called upon to be the church and to be the ambassadors of Jesus, just like the apostle Paul considered himself.   The responsibility of telling this story rests with us.  

Jesus is tossing the keys to the kingdom to us, ALL of us.   He is not throwing the keys down in front of the pastor or even in front of a few people.   Jesus tosses the keys to ALL of us.

I think the apostle Paul captures this sense of the keys being tossed to ALL of us, in the second scripture reading for today. 

In the reading from Romans, the apostle Paul says:  “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

 Therein is the responsibility and the trust that has been given to us as we catch those keys.   We catch them and we become that living sacrifice.   Our service to Jesus is our spiritual worship and we get into the drivers seat.

And again, this is ALL of us.   In the reading from Romans, Paul says,   “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.   We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. “

This passage suggests to me that the keys of the kingdom are tossed to all of us and each one of us uses our God-given gifts.   Each one of us has our own drivers seats, and we use our individual gifts to be the church and tell the story of Jesus. 

When my Dad tossed the car keys over to me, I was at once excited and fearful.   Oh and by the way, I was a young and inexperienced driver, but he trusted me with the car.   I would like to think that I slowly improved as a driver; I am not yet a perfect driver.   But I got to drive the car then and I can still drive.   I still have the keys. 

Same as my first day as pastor.   The keys hit the table, I was a very inexperienced pastor, but I was still given the keys.   I would like to think that I have improved in some areas of pastoral duties, and I think I am still learning in other areas.   but I still have the keys and still try to live up to the responsibility and trust that was first given me. 

The same goes for the rest of us.   We may not view ourselves as good and experienced story-tellers for Jesus, yet Jesus still tosses us the keys to the kingdom.   Big or small, he wants us in the drivers seat.  Big or small he wants our gifts.  Like a teenager getting behind the wheel for the first time, we are excited and fearful, but that doesn’t stop us from driving!

We have been given the keys to the kingdom.   May we live up to the trust and responsibility Jesus has given his followers throughout the ages.   



Amen.  


 

July 20

07/20/2014

 
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Pentecost 5 (Lectionary 16)
Genesis 28:10-19a
Romans 8: 12-25                                                                                 Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24                                                                         Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43


My wife Darlene and I have just returned from some vacation time and part of our time was spent in Calgary at the home of our oldest daughter.   While there in Calgary, the news broke with the story of a 5 year old boy who went missing, along with his grandparents.                                       


Five year old Nathan O’Brien was dropped off at his grandparents’ home by his mother and tragically all three went missing.   Earlier this week, the heartbreaking news came that the Calgary Police had changed their investigation from a missing persons file, to homicide.                           


Beyond the pictures of weeping family and friends and people throughout the community erecting memorials to the potentially slain victims, one is left with a pit in the stomach.  It seems almost beyond comprehension that someone could murder the grandparents, but then to take the life of a little 5 year old boy, an innocent young life, takes it beyond belief.

On a global level we have been witness to an incredible tragedy in which nearly 300 people lost their lives as the Maylaysian Airlines plane was shot down over Ukranian territory by a surface to air missile.   Once again, innocent lives are taken in a senseless act.                                             



What is equally amazing is the fact that I dwell on only 2 events in the world this week; there are countless other areas in the world which are experiencing such violence, such tragedy.

All of this is quite discouraging.   It is discouraging because we look and see that we are in a world still fraught with EVIL.   There might be all kinds of ways to analyze and try to figure things out in a rational sense, or maybe even make excuses as a way of attempting to answer the eternal question:   “Why?”                                                                                                                 



Unfortunately, we may not be able to answer that question to our satisfaction and we may be left with the understanding that this world is beset by evil.   

Discouraging and frustrating.   Okay, the world has evil elements.  Now what do we do?   Our frustration may compound because we might feel a sense of hopelessness.   No matter how much we might hope, or wish, or pray, we seem powerless in the face of evil.

For people of faith, the sense of powerlessness might be very keen because we pray.   We pray so hard for a cessation to war and violence.   We pray for healing and many, many other things.   Like the apostle Paul who notes in our scripture readings today, we groan with the rest of creation.   Creation groans in pain and we long for peace, safety and security.  

We groan and pray and long for the end to such decay.  

We groan.   Yet while we groan, we have an opportunity this morning, to hear from God.    God has a word to say to us despite our groaning.  

In the Scripture readings for today, we hear from God.   Through the words of Jesus, God announces that God will overcome evil.   Jesus says in our gospel reading,

Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Jesus says that God is going to burn evil and eradicate it, just like you or I would burn weeds, burn garbage.  God will one day destroy evil.                                                                           



God makes a promise to one day destroy evil.  Such promise is reflected in the story of Jacob, which forms part of our first lesson today.

In the reading from Genesis, we find Jacob on the run.   Jacob, the second born child of Issac is on the run because he brother Esau wishes to do him harm.                                                               

Yes, Jacob did steal his brother’s inheritance through deceit, but I am sure he never believed that such trickery would bring expulsion from his family, loneliness in the wilderness and potential death at the hands of his brother.                                                                                                   

Jacob is alone, but in a dream, he encounters God.  In that dream God says to him,

 “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."

In the end Jacob is not alone; God is with him and God will never leave him.   Someway and somehow he will be looked after, he will be cared for and the troubles and tragedies he potentially faces will be removed from him.   He is known by God.

Being known by God and what that means, is reflected in today’s Psalm.  In the reading from the Psalms, we hear the heart and mind and love of God.   God promises to burn evil because God knows us. 

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.   Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.   You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”

The psalm writer who knows that humanity is loved by God is sure of one thing:

Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

Darkness may surround us as human beings from time to time, but darkness does not surround God.   The night is as bright as the day for God.   God will overcome the darkness, God will erase evil from the face of this earth.                                                                         

God will erase evil from the earth.   We don’t know how, we don’t know when, but we live in hope.  Hope in God is our strength and that strength comes in many ways.                                                  

Baptism is one of those ways.  

Today was supposed to be a baptism day.   Today we were supposed to baptize Emmerson but unfortunately circumstances have postponed his baptism until late August.                           


This should have been a day of great joy and celebration not a day to remind us again of our groaning and of the evil in the world.  While that may be the case, I look forward to the baptism of Emmerson because it gives me comfort and solace and gives me hope.  

In baptism we are reminded that we are known by God.   We remind ourselves that we are children of God and INHERITORS of eternal life.                                                                                       

Yes, we are children of a fallen humanity and yes that fallen humanity creates and perpetuates evil.   But our fallenness, our darkness is not the last word of God.   God promises us that God will liberate us from sin and death.   Even in our baptisms, we acknowledge that one day the love of God will conquor all and rule all.  

Such are the promises of baptism. 

While we can’t baptize today, we can affirm our baptisms today to remind us of the love and grace of God.   Today we affirm our baptisms to help us live in hope.                                                              

We acknowledge the darkness in the world, but we also acknowledge how God works and moves in the world and how God invites us to participate in rolling back the darkness.  We work with God against evil.   In the end, God will remove all evil, but in the meantime, we participate with God in rolling back evil, one little event, or act of kindness at a time.                          

Today we affirm our baptisms to help us live in hope.             


Hope springs eternal.   Thanks be to God.  

Amen. 


 

March 16, 2014

03/16/2014

 
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Lent 2
Genesis 12: 1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17
John 3: 1-17

I was born on April 27, 1956.   I say this, not that you might “do the math” and figure out my age, rather I say this to remind us of the human experience.   I do not remember being born, but I was born and so, share in one of the most common human experiences; we all experience birth.   In fact it is probably safe to say that other than death, birth is something which is experienced by every human being.  

We have ALL experienced birth and we know that this cannot be duplicated.   Of course, this brings us to the problem of today’s gospel reading from John, the 4th Evangelist.  The problem with today’s gospel is that we cannot experience birth again.  


Nicodemus saw the problem immediately.   

Jesus is visited by Nicodemus, a man of great status.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the ruling Jewish council, a very powerful and influential man; even so, Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of night.  This Jesus may still be suspect and he certainly has his detractors; Nicodemus chose to stay anonymous and not be identified with Jesus.  

Nicodemus knew, as everyone else did, that the signs and miracles Jesus was performing, were specifically pointing to the advent of God’s kingdom in their midst.    It appeared that God’s presence was with Jesus and the kingdom of God was possibly being introduced through Jesus.   How could one clearly see this coming kingdom of God?  Are there additional signs and wonders that one could look for that would confirm Jesus was the Messiah and that God’s kingdom was being realized through Jesus?  How could one ensure that they would be INCLUDED in the kingdom of God?

Nicodemus asks lots of questions and was totally unprepared for the answer. Jesus responds by saying, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."  

Now, I put emphasis upon the phrase FROM ABOVE.  In the process of translating ancient manuscripts from ancient languages like Greek, into English, the translator has options.   The Greek word used by the 4th Evangelist is anothen, which can mean both “from above” and “again,” or “anew.”  This text is often translated into English as BORN AGAIN, but I will opt for the translation, BORN FROM ABOVE.  

It may sound like splitting hairs, but there IS a big, big difference.   

Whether Nicodemus heard born again, or born from above, it suggested the same thing to him:  one cannot repeat the birth process.   And we would all agree with Nicodemus, no matter what the age.  Robert Hoch, Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Worship, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, IA wrote the following on the website Working Preacher (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1979): “When I shared this text with my daughter, nine years old, the idea of being born from above seemed too abstract.   But when I asked her if it was possible for her younger brother, three years old, to return to his mother’s belly in order to be born all over again, she laughed:   “Nooooo ... he wouldn’t fit and plus he couldn’t see anything!”                                                            

We all laughed. And I think that small experiment in reader response criticism might lead me to prefer the more literal translation: it seems to make Nicodemus’ objections recognizable, at least to our nine-year-old.”  

While we can all laugh at the musings of a 9 year old who laughs at born again, we need to understand that while Nicodemus felt he had identified the problem, he essentially did not UNDERSTAND Jesus.  Nicodemus gets it wrong; it is not born again, it is born from above.                        

Some Biblical scholars suggest that one can harmonize the Greek language by saying that Jesus suggests we need to hear both meanings rather than either one or the other:   ‘“To be born anothen’ speaks both of a time of birth (‘again’) and the place from which this new birth is generated (‘from above’)” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1979).

And this is VERY important.  Jesus suggests that one can only be a part of and experience the kingdom of God if one is born from above.  From ABOVE.  

The kingdom of God, the promises of God, comes to people who are “born from above,” “who are born of water and the spirit.”

What does this mean?

People do not work for this birth, people do not earn this born again experience.  Instead, says Jesus, one is born again, from above through a specific event, an event that happens at the cross.  Jesus will be lifted up on the cross, he will suffer and die; he will sacrifice himself for the rest of humanity.  The promise of God is that humanity will be saved; humanity will be redeemed and made holy and pure by God, through this event on the cross, through this death and sacrifice.  

The promise is that God will give up God son, out of love, so that humanity will have the gift of life.  Humanity will HAVE the gift of life, not judgement nor condemnation, but LIFE.  God expects nothing back, expects no repayment.   God does not expect humanity to earn this eternal life, but to simply have faith and trust in God’s promises.  

From ABOVE?  Yes, from above; in effect, God comes DOWN to humanity, comes deep into the human experience, to die and at the same time, to give life.   

To emphasize this, Jesus speaks those famous and timeless words, 

"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.”

God comes down, dies, rises again, through Jesus and gives us the gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.   

Even here, this kind of birth from above seems rather impossible.   We are a conditional people; we are very much a cause and effect type of being.  We live our lives, using the words, “if,” and “then.”  IF I do this..... THEN, that will happen.  

WE live in an “if,” “then” world.  

As an example, we say to ourselves, “IF I work hard enough, THEN I will have all the wealth, all the riches, all the things that I want.”

Or.... we say.... “IF I make a deal with God, IF I promise to keep all the laws and rules that God dictates, THEN I will surely get to heaven.”

That is the kind of birthing process we understand and to which we respond.  

But that is not the birthing process that God gives to us.  God want to give us more than we realize or maybe even desire.  God is rich in promises.  God wants God’s people to have the very best, the fullness of life.  God knows that there is no humanly possible way that we can keep all the rules; there is no way we can cover all the “ifs.”  We can’t keep all the laws and demands necessary to live clean and spotless lives.   We are not perfect and God knows it.

God knows that we need to be born FROM ABOVE.  So God births us from above.  

The only thing WE can do, is trust and have faith.  Even here, God knows that we struggle with faith and trust at times and even HERE, God promises to send God’s spirit to us, to open our eyes, to make us pure and holy, not through our own efforts, but through GOD’S efforts.   Even here, God will give us the gift of faith, so that we can trust in this strange birthing process.  

And through this strange birthing process, we are NEW!  We are not DIFFERENT, we are NEW.  As the Scriptures say, we are new CREATIONS.  And then what?

Then we live this out.   We find our expression, within the kingdom of God.   We live in the kingdom; we find our space within the kingdom of God as we experience the gifts and blessings of God.  We share those blessings of God, so that others will know that God through Jesus has birthed us all, from above.  We live as if we have been reborn; WE ARE NEW.   

Thanks be to God!  



Amen.