A Sermon for 2nd Sunday in Lent 2017 “Life-changing”

 

Old Testament Lesson  Genesis 12:1-9

Second Lesson  Romans 4:1-8, 13-17

Gospel Lesson  John 3:1-17 

Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read.  [John 3:1-17]

I was listening to an interview with a New England Patriots fan in Boston.  She was waiting for the Patriots homecoming parade to start after the Super Bowl; and when she was asked what this day meant to her, she responded, “It’s life changing.”  Somehow I don’t see a post-Super Bowl parade as being a life-changing event.  Exciting, maybe; once in a life time, sure; but life-changing?  I doubt it.

What happened to Nicodemus though … wow … now that’s life-changing, and it showed.      Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

He came by night.  He was sure that Jesus came from God, but he was afraid of being seen with him.  Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin!  What would people think if they saw him talking with the enemy?  And, everyone in the Sanhedrin knew that Jesus was the enemy.  He regularly matched wits with noted Pharisees and made them look like fools.  He was gaining popularity with the common people and that was making him look suspect to the Romans.

Some people claimed he was a great leader.  Some people even claimed he was a prophet; but when it came to the church establishment, he was an outsider; and that made him their enemy.  No, it wouldn’t do to be associated with Jesus; not even to be seen talking to him.  The pressure was on and Nicodemus could feel it.

Peer pressure, the desire to get along, to be part of the conversation, to be in; it’s powerful stuff.  And although this power is definitely real, a whole lot of it is wrapped up in perception.  Just ask Nicodemus.  If Nicodemus had been seen talking with Jesus, you can bet the rumor mill would have been on fire.  The whole Sanhedrin would’ve been against him, even those others Nicodemus told Jesus thought like him and believed that Jesus was from God.

He would’ve been out; and not just out of the Sanhedrin.  He would’ve been out of the community.  He would’ve been shunned and no one would’ve had anything to do with him.  No job, no friends, maybe even no family.  Now that’s life-changing.

And the fear of such life-changing events is with us today.  We don’t want to be shunned because of what others think they know about us.  We want to have friends, to be popular, to be looked up to in our community; so if it looks like our beliefs are getting in the way, well, who needs those anyway.  I mean really; would God want to make our lives miserable?  If our beliefs are getting in the way, maybe it’s because those who taught us our beliefs were wrong.

The pressure to look for a place where our peers, our soon-to-be friends hang out; a place where we might be able to fit in without our beliefs being questioned or challenged; maybe even a place where beliefs aren’t emphasized at all, a place where what counts is being friendly and non-confrontational; maybe in a place like that this ‘belief thing’ won’t threaten to be life-changing.  The pressure is on, to find a place where post Super Bowl parades are the life-changing events that everyone dreams about.

But, what kind of life is it that allows us to see a parade as life-changing?  It’s hard to imagine that being desirable.  And yet, how often do we find ourselves desperately trying to fit in; even if that means fitting in with those who value complete submission to the values and beliefs of the world around us?  How often does our sinful nature point us toward the truly common, truly base desires that lie within our flesh, telling us that there, in grabbing hold of what we desire, we’ll experience the life-changing, emotion filling, happiness we’re looking for?

We’re told that fitting in, we’ll get the respect we don’t feel like we get from others, or the love we expect but don’t think we receive, or the wealth we work so hard to acquire, that never seems to materialize.  All that we desire, the prince of this world promises us; life-changing event after life-changing event he promises us.  It’s so vivid we can picture it in our minds, and sometimes even see it set before us; like a carrot dangling on a stick held in front of the donkey’s nose to make him keep going that extra mile.

But these life-changing events never satisfy.  They aren’t really life-changing at all.  What we need is a truly life-changing event. A life-changing event that lasts forever.  But try as we might, we just can’t seem to see one.  And perhaps that’s because we’re so used to life-changing events being reduced to post-Super Bowl parade level that when the real life-changing event happens we don’t recognize it for what it is.

Jesus tells Nicodemus, and us, what’s truly life-changing and he lets us know what it takes to see that truly life-changing event.  Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

We must be born again of water and the Spirit.  In our Baptism we receive the Holy Spirit.  Through him we receive the special sight our eyes need to see what’s truly life-changing.  Through water and the Spirit we see, we understand, and we believe.  We believe that on the cross Christ Jesus our Savior changed our lives by taking the punishment for our sins into himself.

The sinless One, the One who is life itself, performing a life-changing act, for us; becoming sin itself, for us, and suffering the consequences of our sin.  Life himself died so that we might never die.  And three days later, Life came rising out of death, changing his life again and changing our lives as he justified us to his heavenly Father.

Through water and the Spirit, we believe in this life-changing Savior and we believe that in his sacrificial act, all our sins are forgiven.  Through water and the Spirit we are able to see this truly life-changing event, the only truly life-changing event we’ll ever need.

Now we see why God sent his Son.  Now we see who we’ve become.  Through God’s gracious gift, our lives have been changed completely so that we’re no longer slaves to sin, but children of God.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

For Nicodemus, this visit with Jesus was an eye opener.  We see how life-changing it was when we see him at the foot of the cross.  Here we see a totally different Nicodemus.  The man who once lived in fear, visiting Jesus by night, had become a man unafraid of what his peers might think; unafraid of the persecution he would surely experience.  After Jesus suffered and died, it was Nicodemus who aided Joseph of Arimathea as he took our Lord down from the cross and laid him in a tomb; right in front of everyone!  His life had been changed.

And for us … imagine, just water and the Spirit.  Just Baptism; a gift of God so simple you’d never suspect how truly amazing it is, but it’s definitely life-changing; now, and forever more.  Amen.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle