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Embed code for: Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent 12 March 2017
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Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent Sunday 12th March 2017 Genesis 12. 1-4a Psalm 121 Romans 4. 1-5, 13-17 John 3. 1-17 I want to start this morning by saying a big ‘thank you’ to everyone who helped and supported our ‘Come and See’ event last week – our part in the ‘Talking Jesus’ mission in our diocese. There are far too many of you to name names! You know who you are – and what you did – and what we achieved. It’s good to know that we are a church who can work together. It’s good to know that we are church people who are happy to show others who we are and what we do. It’s good to know that we are willing and able to share with others what we believe in. I hope that at least some of you found the preparation for ‘Come and See’ helpful. It helped me to clarify, in my own mind, what my faith means to me. And it helped me to discover ways of expressing that to others. A church is made up of a whole variety of people. Each one of us has a faith that is personal to us. And each one of us expresses our faith in different ways. Today’s readings from the Bible all speak of faith. Here are three people – Abram, Nicodemus and Paul - whose approaches to faith are very different. Abram’s relationship with God is one of total trust. How simple it all is! God asks Abram to up sticks and leave his country and his family, to travel to an unknown land. And Abram goes, just as God had told him. God promised greatness and blessing for Abram. But He also made no small demands! Abram and his wife, Sarai, together with other members of their family, had already travelled some 560 miles. They had left their home in the prosperous city of Ur, in what is now southern Iraq. They followed the River Euphrates north-west, to the city of Harran, in what is now Turkey, driving their flocks and herds. Now God calls Abram to travel even further. He will travel another 450 miles south-west into Canaan. If you have half an hour to spare this week, it’s worth reading the whole story of Abram ( or Abraham, as he was renamed ) in Genesis, chapters 11 to 25. Throughout his life, Abram’s faith was tested in many ways. And yet he placed his trust in God and was obedient to God’s commands. I’ve recently been reading a novel by the Canadian writer Ruth Ozeki. She tells the story of a young girl growing up in Japan in the years before the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. According to ancient Japanese legend, Ruth relates, earthquakes were caused by an angry catfish who lived under the islands. The only thing holding the catfish in check was a large stone wielded by the Kashima God. The Kashima God uses the great stone to pin the catfish to the ground. If the Kashima God dozes off, or gets distracted, or is called away on business, the catfish’s head is released, allowing it to wiggle and thrash. The result is an earthquake. What kind of a god is that, I wondered – a god who dozes off, or gets distracted, or is called away on business? Abram’s God is a God in whom he can wholeheartedly trust. As the psalmist wrote: “He who watches over you will not fall asleep. Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” Abram was a simple man – “a wandering Aramean”, Moses later calls him. He was a simple man with a simple, yet steadfast, trust in God. There’s nothing simple about Nicodemus! Nicodemus is a cautious and a questioning man. He comes to see Jesus by night. Was he wary of being seen by others, careful of his reputation? Nicodemus is full of questions for Jesus. “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” “Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” “How can these things be?” These questions are not too surprising! Jesus is speaking of spiritual matters, using language that anyone might struggle with. Nicodemus is a man with his feet firmly on the ground. He is a Pharisee, concerned with the detail – the letter – of the law. He’s concerned, too, with the practical things in life – with the need to comply with the letter of the law at all times. Today’s readings seem to invite us to compare Nicodemus with Abram. On the one hand we see Nicodemus, the lawyer, struggling to understand, earnestly pursuing the letter of the law, and striving to do the right thing. On the other hand, we see Abraham, who simply puts his trust in God and immediately does what God asks him to do. In the early years of the church, we see Paul, too, trying to reason out what faith is all about. Paul was an educated man, a thinking man. He was surrounded by people who thought that it was not enough for Gentile Christians to be baptised. They must also be circumcised and keep the whole of the Jewish law. People could only be saved, they said, through obedience to the law of Moses. But Paul insists that people can do nothing at all to bring about their own salvation. People can only enter into a right relationship with God through faith. Look at Abraham, Paul says. God accepted Abraham, not because of his good life, but because of his faith. Paul came to a clear, abiding, and deep-rooted understanding of faith. “Faith rests not on human wisdom but on the power of God,” (1 Cor 2.5) he declares. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Eph 2.8) Faith helps us to grow spiritually. While “our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day”. (2 Cor 4.16) Faith, our ‘shield’ and our ‘breastplate’ protects us from evil. A church is made up of a whole variety of people. Here are thinkers – people who need to ask questions, to apply logic and reason, to work everything out. Values, rules and standards are important to them. Faith, for them, might require a leap into a more abstract world. Here are intuitive people, who are quick to grasp new ideas, people with creative imaginations, to whom simple trust might more readily come. Here are emotional people, for whom relationships take centre stage - people who have an easy understanding and warmth for others, who will respond readily to the gospel message of love. Here are seekers and doubters and sceptics. Here are people gifted with words – speakers and writers – ready to teach, ready to explain. Here are practical people, whose faith is expressed in ‘the trivial round, the common task’. We start from different places. But I hope we can all arrive at the same journey’s end. I started with ‘Talking Jesus’ and I’m going to end with it, too. I want to draw your attention to Carol’s ‘Talking Jesus’ display, which you can see over here. “Let’s not be afraid,” Carol writes, “to speak of or ask questions Jesus - the person who is integral to our faith – once you start talking, people may listen and hopefully learn to love and follow him too.” In today’s gospel reading, John the Evangelist bursts into the narrative of his story about Nicodemus with one urgent, vital message: “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.” This is our faith. May we who share this faith continue to work together to ‘bring life to others’. ‘May we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world’. simple man – “a wandering Aramean”, Moses later calls him. He was a simple man with a simple, yet steadfast, trust in God. There’s nothing simple about Nicodemus! Nicodemus is a cautious and a questioning man. He comes to see Jesus by night. Was he wary of being seen by others, careful of his reputation? Nicodemus is full of questions for Jesus. “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” “Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” “How can these things be?” These questions are not too surprising! Jesus is speaking of spiritual matters, using language that anyone might struggle with. Nicodemus is a man with his feet firmly on the ground. He is a Pharisee, concerned with the detail – the letter – of the law. He’s concerned, too, with the practical things in life – with the need to comply with the letter of the law at all times. Today’s readings