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Lent 2 2017 Sermon
Jim Campbell

It came up at Bible study this week the question of what a Seder, or Passover, meal is. and what it means to the practicing Jew.  So, I have an answer (and why it is important at this time of year):
The Passover Seder is a Jewish ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover.  It is conducted starting on an evening in late March or early April in the Gregorian calendar.  Passover lasts for 7 days in Israel and 8 days outside of Israel (other than for adherents of Reform Judaism for whom Passover is 7 days regardless of location).  The Seder is a ritual performed by a community or by multiple generations of a family, involving a retelling of the story of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt.  There is actually a Biblical verse (Exodus 13:8) commanding Jews to retell this story of The Exodus from Egypt: "You shall tell your child on that day, saying, 'It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.'"  Traditionally, families and friends gather in the evening to read the text of the Haggadah, an ancient work derived from the Mishnah.  The Haggadah contains the narrative of the Israelite exodus from Egypt, special blessings and rituals, commentaries from the Talmud, and special Passover songs.  Seder customs include telling and discussing the story, drinking four cups of wine, eating matza, partaking of symbolic foods placed on the Passover Seder Plate, and reclining in celebration of freedom.  The Seder is performed in much the same way by Jews all over the world.  The Seder is the most commonly celebrated of Jewish rituals.
This event has a lot of meaning in our Lenten season, as Jesus and his followers were there in Jerusalem at the time of celebrating the Passover, just before his death and resurrection.  As we get to Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday in the next few weeks we will read more about this Passover Meal turned into the First Communion by Jesus.  Christians now celebrate a different important event in their religion at the end of Lent, Easter (with Jesus’ death and resurrection).  In both religions these events are seen as what God did for us—for the Jews their exodus from physical slavery, and for Christians our exodus from sin.
Now that I have spent about 400 words ducking the readings for today about Faith, here goes. 
Anyway, what is Faith?  I have two types of definitions, one from the secular dictionary, and one from the Bible:
Secular—1) allegiance to duty or a person, resulting in fidelity to one's promises, and sincerity of intentions acted in good faith; 2) firm belief in something for which there is no proof; and 3) belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
Bible—from Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Simply put, the biblical definition of faith is “trusting in something you cannot explicitly prove.”

I thought the message of Faith was pretty simple to see in our readings: Genesis 12 talks about the Faith of Abram and how much God would bless him throughout time eternal; Romans 4 talks over and over about why Faith and not just following the Law is the path to righteousness; and in John 3 Jesus explains to Nicodemus, a learned and confused Pharisee, why just relying on one’s own genealogy and education about God does not make a person of God.
But our Bible study threw a few speed bumps in that road. First, Corby took exception with the idea that only by having Faith in God should be the path to God’s grace.  She said there are really good people who have no faith in any God that should also get God’s grace in the “end”.  Also, she pointed out a study using infants that showed altruistic caring of one for another in their needs way before they could ever be exposed to any religion.  Basically we discussed whether the only path to God’s eternal grace is through belief in Jesus Christ or not—which is what John pushes throughout his Gospel. 
We also got off into the realm of whether good works is that important, or whether it is Faith that counts the most.  And, of course we spent time with the Holy Spirit piece and the “born again” part of becoming a true Christian. (Note: there is a sense that this term “born again” has some negative connotations among at least some Christians, probably because of how it has been used to single out some as true believers as compared to everyone else.  And, that it brings up images of the altar call, people speaking in tongues, and dancing and whatever that are not very familiar at least with a lot of long time Episcopalians.)
April Collett shared with me some church signs she saw online; a couple of these signs kind of relate to today’s readings:
--How do we make Holy Water?  We boil the Hell out of it!  (from the First Church of Awesome Works)
--Church Parking--Trespassers will be Baptised (from the Christian Fellowship Church)
I think that those who push forward their case for Christianity--believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God--as very important, just as the Jews have their primary tenants of their faith to come to God, as do Muslims with theirs, etc.  Is only one of these perspectives right, and the others wrong?  How can we know?  How can we judge?  How about for those who have no faith in a God, but do similar good things as many people of faith that God looks favorably on?  I also point out that for us in our weekly Bible study to even be this freed up to talk about these things make us unique as compared to a lot of Christian study groups.
But back to the concept of Faith.  I think Jesus was pointing out to Nicodemus that the idea of the Jews being born into the people of Israel was enough to ensure their entering God’s Kingdom was flawed.  Jesus instead says that spiritual renewal (Baptism by Water and the Holy Spirit) is the key, which involves real Faith, not genealogy.   I think that Faith does show in our works for Christ in others.  And I think most people who do things to help those around them God looks favorably on are people of Faith, whether it is about a God, or in the goodness that they inherently feel they should show, whether or not they are moved by others of a religious Faith or not.  Beyond that, I think we are here in this church because we join together in this way to show our Faith together each Sunday, and this time we have together makes that Faith real for us.