Draft sermon for March 5th 2023
Readings: Genesis 12:1-4a and John 3:1-17
I begin with a blessing written by Jan Richardson. Jan has written a blessing for every Sunday based on the readings. You can find them on her website called The Painted Prayerbook.
This one is called “Beginning with Beloved – a blessing”
Before reading it I have to say that I never know how to pronounce “beloved”. How do you say it?
Is our confusion because we don’t use the word enough?
Is it one word or two? Beloved or be loved?
Here is the blessing:
Is there any other words
any other blessing
with this name,
Comes like a mercy
to the ear that has never
Comes like a river
to the body that has never
seen such grace.
to the heart
aching to be new.
to the soul
wanting to begin again.
Keep saying it
and though it may
sound strange at first
watch how it becomes
part of you,
how it becomes you,
as if you never
could have known yourself
as if you could ever
have been other
Today is the 2nd Sunday of Lent.
Lent gets its name from the Old English and refers to the lengthening of the days during the spring following our wintering, as in “our days are lentening”.
Ancient wisdom has carved out these gifts of time for us.
It is journeying time,
time for following the Way of Jesus,
for journeying through our difficult and dark age to the day of resurrection and a day without darkness when every tear will be wiped from our eyes, when death will be no more and when mourning and crying and pain will be no more. (Revelation 21 and 22).
Our readings feature Abram and Nicodemus. They are both setting out on journeys of faith.
God told Abram to leave his country, his kindred, his home.
He was 75 years old when he left everything behind for the sake of “becoming a great nation” and to be the blessing for all the families of the earth.
(As an aside, it is interesting to note that in our moment of history when there is unprecedented migration that those who count themselves as “children of Abraham” – Muslims, Jews and Christians – owe their identity to Abram who made his name Abraham by leaving his country, kindred and home and became a migrant.)
Abram left his old life behind. He left his old age. He left his identity and he even left his name to become Abraham.
The meaning of the name Abraham is “Father of a crowd” or “Father of multitudes”.
God is the making of him and he becomes his name.
Nicodemus’s journey is very different. Nicodemus is mentioned three times in John’s gospel. This is the first – here he comes to Jesus by night. He may be a teacher of Israel but he doesn’t understand what Jesus is really talking about. He is in the dark.
How can anyone be born again? How can someone who has lived so much life be born again? How can anyone who has travelled so far get back to the beginning?
These are the questions that spring to his mind when Jesus tells him that those who want to see the kingdom of God need to be born again.
In the second passage (John 7:45-51) he is part of the ruling council which wants to condemn Jesus – but Nicodemus emerges from their shadow to stand out against them to defend Jesus.
The third passage (John 19:38-42) shows Nicodemus taking responsibility with Joseph of Arimathea for laying Jesus in the garden tomb after his crucifixion.
He is the last person to touch Jesus’ body before his resurrection – and as such he is celebrated as one of the Myrrhbearers by Orthodox Christians on the 3rd Sunday of Easter.
Like Abraham, Nicodemus is on a journey of faith. But Nicodemus’s journey is measured in light. Here we see him coming to Jesus in the dark. By the end of the gospel we see him in the light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. His movement is from the darkness of not-knowing into the light of knowing. That is how he is born again.
What is true for Nicodemus must be true for us as well. Jesus said, noone can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. We have to be born again to see the kingdom of God. But how?
How are we born again, and how do we help others to be born from above?
I don’t know about you but I never made anything of the anniversary of my baptism – then I went to the trouble of finding the date and now have that in my diary. This week on March 11th I will have been baptised 72 years. I am sorry for what I have missed by not remembering it.
Baptism marks the beginning of a journey with God when the church welcomes the new Christian, promising support and prayer for the future. It’s a new life, walking in the light of Christ for the rest of our lives. It’s a new life born by water and Spirit. That’s the theory.
Maybe Lent is an opportunity to retrace our steps to that beginning,
retracing our steps to that time the church started lovingly calling us by name,
when we became precious sister or brother to all the other people of God,
when we were commissioned alongside them,
committing ourselves with all Abraham’s children to grow in friendship with God,
in love for his people,
listening to the word of God and receiving the gifts of God.
If Lent is a journey, maybe it’s time to go backwards in order to move forwards.
Maybe Lent is the time to recall the voice that set us on the path of a new life.
Maybe Lent is the time to retrace our steps to that beginning when we heard our name called in such a way as to save us, not condemn us – when we heard our name called in such a way as to save us from the old age.
Maybe Lent is the time of recalling ourselves in Christ who was sent into the world only ever to save the world, and never to condemn the world.
Maybe Lent is the time to listen to our name being called without a hint of a curse or judgement.
Henri Nouwen wrote in his book, The Life of the Beloved, “We are beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children and friends loved or wounded us….”
Maybe Lent is the time to search for our blessing.
Maybe Lent is the time to listen for the same voice that Jesus heard at his baptism, the voice from heaven which said: “You are my son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.”
“You are the one whom I love. With you I am well pleased.”
Maybe Lent is the time for us as church to be born again. It is hard for God’s word to be heard when the church is too guarded in blessing and too quick in judgements.
In Lent we return to the beginning, to what we have forgotten about the making of us. We begin with the inscription of dust on our foreheads to remind ourselves that God makes life out of dust.
We retrace our often mis-taken steps so that we can begin again the journey of our life time.
We read our scriptures to retrace our blessing.
We turn to Abram (who is the beginning of our faith journey) and Nicodemus
We return to the beginning to see ourselves and others as God intends – as “beloved”.
We are never too old for this journey back to the beginning and then onwards with Jesus.
Part of the blessing is never being written off as too old.
Remember, Abram was 75 when he was told to leave everything, when he said good bye to his old age with its curses and judgements.
It’s always time to start again.
And it’s always time to be there for others who want to start again,
to remind them by word and deed that Jesus’ mission is to save the world, not condemn it,
to reassure them that it is never too late for a fresh start
to bless them by re-calling them “beloved”.