Today we receive an invitation, an invitation from God. God invites us to believe and to be reborn in him. We hear of Abram, who listens to God’s call, leaves his kin and country and goes bravely into a new life, following God. What faith he showed! Paul writes to the Romans about Abraham, how his faith and willingness to act on God’s wishes had blessed him and made him right with God. Then Jesus invites Nicodemus to believe and be born again. I’ve been born again quite a few times:
I was born in Calexico and at the age of fifteen I moved to Holtville which would be like moving from Montesano to Elma. In Calexico I was too tall and very skinny with thick glasses. I was desperately unpopular. So I was determined to remake my image with this move to Holtville. With cute new clothes and contact lenses I was born again. It worked. In Holtville I was cute and popular and before I knew it I was dating Butch Harvey, the captain of the football team. Frankly, I was perplexed as I couldn’t understand how changing my outside could make me a new person when I was the same inside. I didn’t love Holtville and I was eager to get to college where I could start over once again. This time, I wanted to be serious and scholarly, and no longer popular. I went to UC Riverside, about 3 hours from home, where I knew no one and started fresh. Here was another opportunity to be born again. But it didn’t work. I was not scholarly, still popular and I had not changed inside.
This pattern happened again and again. I moved to San Diego, Orange County, San Francisco and each time I moved, I looked at it as a fresh start - a time to be born anew. But when I was coming to Montesano, I was very conscious that this time I was just going to be me, the same person inside and out: just Corby. There was a peace to this, to accepting myself. No more getting born again.
Then I came to St. Mark’s and over time, I began to change. I felt truly born anew, not by changing my exterior, but I slowly changed deep inside myself, through prayer and practice, through the Holy Spirit. This time I was born anew, born from above. I was living in a different way, following a fresh set of rules.
At St. Marks, I found a new way of living my faith, not just in my head but in my heart. I realized that faith is not just agreeing with the Nicene Creed. Faith happens in relationship with God, in conversations with Jesus, in prayer. Faith is not just belief or trust but a way of seeing God’s presence in the world.
Faith happens when you realize that you do not stand alone. You stand with God by your side. Listen to how beautifully our psalm says this:
"My help comes from the Lord who watches over me while I sleep, who walks beside me, sheltering me from the hot sun. The Lord preserves me from all evil, keeps me safe and watches over my comings and goings from this time forth forevermore."
Paul is trying to get the Romans to understand this. He reminds them of Abraham, how he gained the blessing of God through faith. And what a blessing: God promises him that he will inherit the earth as will all of his descendants. The Message says it this way:“The fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does. God’s promise arrives as pure gift.”
Listen to this outstanding quote by Martin Luther: “Faith is the beggar's empty hand that can do nothing except receive a gift with gratitude”. God invites us to hold out our hand so that he can fill it with his loving grace.
This is good news to all of us. This gift, this grace is for all of us, good and bad. Have you noticed our reader board this week? Bonnie asked that we put this up: God loves you. Nothing you do can change that.
All we need to do is open ourselves to God and realize that we aren’t in this alone. On pancake day we recognized that we needed help from others, we asked, and boy, did we receive. In the same way, we must recognize our personal need for God’s help. We are not self sufficient. We are all connected.
Here is a story about a lady who knew how to ask God for help:
An old lady was well-known for her faith and for her boldness in talking about it. She would stand on her front porch and shout "PRAISE THE LORD!"
Next door to her lived an atheist who would get so angry at her proclamations he would shout, "There ain't no Lord!!"
Hard times set in on the old lady, and she prayed for God to send her some assistance. She stood on her porch and shouted "PRAISE THE LORD. GOD I NEED FOOD!! I AM HAVING A HARD TIME. PLEASE LORD, SEND ME SOME GROCERIES!!"
The next morning the lady went out on her porch and noted a big bag of groceries and shouted, "PRAISE THE LORD."
The neighbor jumped from behind a bush and said, "Aha! I told you there was no Lord. I bought those groceries, God didn't."
The lady started jumping up and down and clapping her hands and said, "PRAISE THE LORD. He not only sent me groceries, but He made the devil pay for them. Praise the Lord!”
Please pray with me: God of the Ages, forgive us for depending more on our own actions than we do on you. Teach us to rely on your grace instead of ourselves, that we may demonstrate our faith through our words, thoughts, and deeds. Amen