Sermon: Sunday, 16 March 2014 (Sandy Obarski)

Homily – Sunday, March 16, 2014 – Second Sunday in LentChurch of Gethsemane Rev. Sandy Obarski – Deacon Gospel – John 3: 1-17

When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he needs to be born again by water and the Spirit, he is asking Nicodemus to let God work in his life. It changes our place in the story. Nicodemus reminds us that even our best educated and most authoritative among us are still searching. In this morning’s gospel Jesus tells Nicodemus and all of us, “You must be born from above. The wind blows where it choses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do you not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus is the person who comes to Jesus by night. He hovers on the margins and in shadows of John’s story. He is neither the first in the church nor the last to follow Jesus from afar. No doubt it was difficult, perhaps even dangerous for Nicodemus to follow Jesus publicly, during the bright light of the day. He was, after all, someone who was part of the Jewish establishment, for whom Jesus seemed to be at first only a nuisance, but later a political problem and threat. Nicodemus had to be cautious and to exercise discretion. He was the forerunner of many of Jesus’ disciples who have had to be careful about when and where they practiced their discipleship.

If any character from the Bible can be regarded as a representative of twenty-first century church members, it might be Nicodemus. In many ways he is a sympathetic character. A successful and self-confident person, he plays a leadership role in his community. He is spiritually open and curious, yet also rational. He approaches Jesus directly and tries to figure out Jesus’ actions and social networks. He is committed and curious enough that he makes an appointment to talk with Jesus face to face. However, Nicodemus is not ready to go public with his interest in Jesus, so he makes the appointment in the middle of the night, when he can keep his faith secret, separated from the rest of his life. He is not yet ready to declare his faith, not ready to let it change his life.

Like it or not, we look into the eyes of people like Nicodemus every Sunday morning. Being a mainline Protestant is not exactly popular, and though people may come to church occasionally, or may be active members, many believers with whom we interact are Nicodemuses in their wider life. They have faith, sometimes deep faith, and they are spiritually curious, but they keep their faith in their personal surroundings.

When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he needs to be born again by water and the Spirit, he is asking Nicodemus to let God work in his life. We are all called by the Spirit of God to participate in a variety of activities in our lives that at some time in our lives we thought we would never be doing. As you are out and about in the world today where does the Spirit reveal to you seeing God at work in the world?

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to spend the day with several hundred people who were letting God work in their lives. All of us in the group were from different walks of life, a variety of Christian denominations, and several religious faiths. I attended the JRLC Day on the Hill with five other members of our congregation. We didn’t sit together as a group because we were to sit with the people from the legislative district where we each live. It was wonderful way to meet new people in our lives working together with the same goals. God was working in the lives of every person who attended that event.

The letters JRLC stand for Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, an organization doing interfaith advocacy for social justice. The focus this year was on Family Economic Security, which fits perfectly with the Episcopal Church in Minnesota’s focus on Mission Opportunity 2014: Engaging God’s Children in our Neighborhoods. Day on the Hill was an opportunity to advocate along with people of faith for a higher minimum wage, a lower cost of childcare, and an end to high interest rates for payday lending. Everyone in the room and the legislators we met with don’t all agree with any exact answer to these concerns, but we do all agree something needs to be done to become a more moral and just society for all people in our communities.

As I said earlier we are all called by God to participate in a variety of activities in our lives that possibly earlier in our lives we never thought we would be doing. I know earlier in my life I never thought I would be doing what I participated in last Thursday. It was a very fulfilling day. As you are out in the world today where does the Spirit reveal to you God at work in the world? Who among us has room to grow in our faith? The good news in this morning’s Gospel is that God is prepared – even eager – to do the hard, messy, sweating labor that will bring us to maturity and new life.

That is good news for all of us who are members of the Episcopal Church of Gethsemane. We are involved in the hard, messy, sweating labor that will help our congregation as we go forward into the future. Does it sound reassuring to hear that God is prepared – even eager – to do the hard, messy, sweating labor with us as we go forward to new life in our congregation? I doubt that there is anyone worshipping here this morning who would say “No, that doesn’t sound good to know that God is with us”.

When Nicodemus first met with Jesus he met with him at night, so no one would see him. He was afraid of what might happen if he spoke to Jesus in broad daylight, where people might report him. Then Nicodemus stood up for Jesus when the Pharisees were conspiring against him. After Jesus was crucified Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus’ body down from the cross and lay it in a tomb, at great risk to his safety and reputation. Nicodemus did not rest until he found the truth when he sensed that Jesus had the answer. After he became a follower, his life was changed forever. He never hid his faith in Jesus again.

May we do likewise everyday of our lives in our prayers, words and actions. AMEN.