4 Lent Year B
Ephesians 2: 1-10
John: 3: 14-21
I was a diffident and lonely child who grew up to become a diffident and lonely young woman. In spite of my lack of drive and initiative, some adults liked me anyway. When I was in middle school a teacher named Ms. Kerner said she saw potential in me. She often encouraged me by pointing out my strengths and telling me she thought I was wise and insightful. She tried to mentor me. I resisted.
In my early twenties my dad’s Cousin Liz in Minnesota, who was a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur, also saw potential in me. She encouraged me by connecting me with a national businesswoman’s association and encouraged me to move to Minnesota to work for her as her personal protégé’. I resisted.
Throughout my early life, other people saw potential in me, making honest efforts to give me a leg up. I always resisted. I realize now it was all about fear.
· Fear of losing myself in someone else’s dream. Yes.
· Fear of not really having this apparent “potential” after all? Yes.
· Fear of getting too close to another human being resulting in unwanted obligations and responsibility? Yes.
· Or, fear that if I put my heart and soul into something big, and I failed, my heart would simply break forever? Yes.
As a result, these doubts and fears kept me in a prison of depression, loneliness and immaturity well into my thirties.
My personal story of God’s Grace and willingness to change is rooted in the mystery of why I was open and ready when Joan and Margaret recognized some potential in me and literally drove to my house, picked me up and took me to Grays Harbor College. They showed me around the campus, and introduced me to their friends and longtime colleagues. I enrolled that day to get the credits I needed to transfer to University of Washington to complete my Bachelor’s degree.
Within this same time frame, I was called into formation at St. Luke’s. During this time, I was encouraged, mentored and kept financially afloat because Joan and Margaret overpaid me to do their yardwork and shovel llama poop.
Although by this time I was in my late 30s, I sometimes still felt childish and afraid of being dependent on other people’s mercy. These personal life experiences exemplify for me Jesus’s call to let go and trust something outside ourselves.
John’s Gospel tells us that the time has come to accept the absolute truth about what is expected of us. We can no longer sit on the sidelines. It is time to take action.
For context, Jesus is directing this lesson to Nicodemus, a Pharisee. This conversation takes place at night during the Passover. Jesus has had a long day. That very morning, he had had a meaningful exchange with the woman at the well, and that afternoon was the infamous table-turning incident in the Temple.
I imagine that Jesus is not feeling super patient and warm toward the Pharisees at this moment; and we know that on this evening, the feeling was particularly mutual. But not for Nicodemus. Although he comes to Jesus secretly in the dark of night, he is convinced by Jesus’s actions that he is “a teacher who has come from God.” Nicodemus shares with Jesus that several other Jewish leaders are impressed as well but politics keep them from identifying themselves.
Jesus is likely tired and sounds a little curt. Thus, Jesus is pulling no punches. He is clearly stating, “You have to choose Nicodemus, live in the light and love God, or stay in the dark.”
Jesus tells Nicodemus that it is not enough to come in secret in the dark of night, you must be “born anew into the light”. When Nicodemus appears to be confused, Jesus appeals to the Jewish scholar with scripture. Jesus directly compares himself to the bronze serpent that Moses held up to heal the people and bring them back to life. Jesus explains that just as the peoples’ lives were saved by simply looking at the bronze serpent, God has now lifted up the Son of Man so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Jesus is not mincing words today; he is telling this eager Pharisee:
· Do you want Light or dark?
· Do you want to live a new abundant life through faith, and be saved, or stay the same.
· Accept to be born in the Spirit, or stay in the world.
· Eternal life, or parish.
Paul compares the dark to living in death. Living in fear, sadness, loneliness and anger can easily feel like living in death and darkness. Being obsessed with the ways and sin of the world leads to frustration, stress and alienation, which can also feel like death and darkness. I think we all know the feeling Paul is talking about. Paul knows we know.
Lisa Sharon Harper, in The Very Good Gospel , writes, “How can we experience life without its Author? Shame, eating disorders, gender-based violence, climate change, shattered families, racism, oppression, war, and death itself all are natural consequences of humanity’s small and monumental choices to reach for peace in its own way.”
When Paul talks about the light, he appears joyful. When we communicate with others about the richness of loving God and living in the light; how God’s love becomes our love which transforms into the One Great Love, we feel it too. We cannot boast about our gratitude, light and joy; or our kindness, generosity and trust in God, because all of these are gifts.
People tend to love us when we are being lovable. But we are called to love everyone, the loveable and unlovable. This includes our loveable and unlovable selves. We choose to be servants in Christ. Thus, we pour our gifts on those we encounter, those for whom we might see some potential.
We do the kind work we do because God made it possible through Grace. And through Grace the work brings joy.
I love to tell the story of Joan and Margaret because they modeled for me the kind of Christian I wanted to be.
Like you all, Joan and Margaret lived in gratitude, joy and light.
Like you, they gave because giving generated more gratitude, joy and light. Gratitude, joy and light generate generosity, kindness and charity...and more abundant gratitude, joy and light.
This is what it is like to be saved, to live in the Spirit.
I love to tell the story of Joan and Margaret because they were confident enough in their own faith that they allowed God to use them to save others. And by talking about them today, I feel joy and they stay alive in my heart forever. This is eternity.
The lesson this week is that darkness is bad, light is good. So, by whatever means it takes to get there, the path reaches the crossroad, the place where we decide. Jesus was encouraging Nicodemus and He is encouraging us in the same way. Jesus wants us to choose a new life of lightness, abundance and eternal life.
God does this because through us God will change the world.