Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lent 2, 2014: Eternal life: our reality

Lectionary: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul says over and over that Abraham was made righteous (in right relationship with God) by his belief. It was not his obedience to the rules, or the rules that cae out of the law, although he was obedient to the rules of the law. But it was not this that made him righteous. It was his belief.

By saying this, Paul is shooting an arrow at the heart of the “rabbinical teaching––that [we] are made right with God by keeping the law" (MacArthur, Source:” It’s an arrow in the heart of much Christian teaching today as well.

I was having some discussions recently with some Christians, some very faithful Christians, Among them were very faithful, devoted Christian leaders. We were talking about the difference between a good life and a godly life; being a good parent or a godly parent; a good person or a godly person.

And as I listened, what I heard over and over again, was that for most of them, to be godly meant to follow the rules – but the rules are what they have determined exist today – they are not necessarily the historic rules. So they would judge a person godly if that person kept the rules – as they understand them.

But that’s a false notion. For example, one of the rules of our culture is to be polite. In fact, it’s one of the things I love best about southern culture: people here still say, “Yes, sir” or “No ma’am.” It’s polite, and it’s a part of the cultural rule where we live. And so a person who does that might appear to be a good person, and the fact that they’re following the rules gives us a sense of comfort about them. But that same person may be saying “Yes, sir” and “No ma’am” while they steal the identity of the elderly person they’re with and empty their bank account.

This is the point Jesus is trying to make to Nicodemus: it isn’t about doing life right so you win the prize of eternal life later, it’s about living in eternal life right now. Then God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Eternal life isn’t our reward, it’s our reality.

As one commentator says, “Nicodemus would think of the kingdom of God as a heavenly reward for a life well lived, but the [Gospels] make it clear that the kingdom ‘is at hand’ (Mark 1:15). In John's Gospel, eternal life has that same kind of immediacy. The person who believes in Jesus ‘has eternal life’ (5:24; 6:47, Source:… right now.

Yet, in his discussion Nicodemus’ expresses confusion. It seems he’s confused because, as an obedient Jew, a good rule follower, why should he need to be reborn in his spiritual life? Surely Jesus must be talking about some other kind of rebirth. So he asks, how can you be born again from your mother’s womb?

But Jesus isn’t talking about another kind of rebirth. Jesus is asking Nicodemus to let go what he thinks he knows about God, life, and religion, and let God lead him into eternal life.

For us, this means letting go what we know about God, life, and religion and being “reborn” into an adult, mature, Christian faith. It’s a scary thing. We have security in what we learned. It’s been a reliable place from which to operate, and it seems foolhardy to let it go. The same could be said of God’s command to Abram: “Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.”
Last week, we saw the first humans in the Garden of Eden begin their journey into relationship with God. This week, we see Abram, a father in our faith, demonstrating the obedience God actually seeks – not to the law, but to the word of God.

Don’t worry, I am not advocating lawlessness. If one lives in the word of God, one will be in step with the laws God gave to guide us.

Abram’s journey was about obedience to God’s word, even when the outcome (reward) is not in sight; when the direction we are going is unclear; when the length of time for the journey is unknown; and when the provisions for the journey are beyond our control. In fact, participation in this journey means giving up our control entirely. It means giving up our comfort, and certainty. No GPS. Destination is unknown – because the end isn’t relevant (yet). It’s the going that matters right now.

Abram’s journey takes time – 40 years our Scripture tells us - which like 40 days (means enough time) only there’s an expectation that it’s a longer time – years instead of days. If we God where God leads like Abram did, if we follow the word of God, God bless us with new life. Life in the eternal presence of God. Flesh and sprit living as one. Earth and heaven present as one. Just like Abram experienced.

And all it takes is that we believe. Jesus said, “…everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.” The Greek word ‘have’ here is the present tense, not the future tense, the present tense: Everyone who believes will have eternal life - now. A little later in the gospel of John, Jesus will define eternal life like this: "This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ" (17:3).

Theologian Leon Morris says it like this: "The word rendered 'eternal'... basically means 'pertaining to an age.' The Jews divided time into the present age and the age to come… 'Eternal life' thus means 'the life proper to the age to come.' It is an eschatological concept.... (you know, the end times) But as the age to come is thought of as never coming to an end the adjective came to mean 'everlasting,' [We can see that even in our Prayer Book – they’re used almost interchangeably]. The notion of time is there. Eternal life will never cease. But there is something else there, too, and something more significant. The important thing about eternal life is not its quantity but its quality.... Eternal life is life in Christ, that life which removed a person from the merely earthly." (Morris, 201 Source:

In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus says "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” Water… of the earth, spirit… of heaven.

And he follows that with, “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Jesus is saying, it is he, Jesus, he himself, the one who came to reconcile what had been torn asunder – earth and heaven, flesh and spirit, back into God.

A friend of mine from the diocese of WMI (Rev Chris Yaw) wrote a book called,” Jesus Was an Episcopalian, (And You Can Be One Too).” This is one of those times Jesus demonstrates he was an Episcopalian. (…you know this is a joke, right?)

Here’s why I say that: Jesus is focused on the AND. Flesh AND spirit. Water AND spirit. Catholic AND Protestant. Paul talks God being the father of us ALL - Jew AND Gentile (which means non-Jew). See what I mean? Everybody is an Episcopalian.

The Baptismal references in Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus remind us that we use an earthly gift, water, in our Baptismal rite to demonstrate the reunion of ourselves, our bodies and our spirits, with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.

We are no longer “merely earthly,” because we are now in possession of the living water, who is Jesus Christ. We are not just bodies living through our time on this earth so that we can leave here and go to another place called heaven.

Earth and heaven, water and spirit, flesh and spirit – right here, right now. This is eternal life.

In our Lenten journeying, we have an opportunity to let ourselves wander as Abram did, away from all that we know about God, about life, even about religion, and follow only the word of God, until God leaves us in a new place, with a new life – eternal life.

It’s a challenge, and yes, it’s scary, but we journey together and we journey in the company of the saints who have gone before us and walk with us now on our way, and we go held in the eternal, overwhelming, indescribable love of God.

Let us pray:

“Oh God of new beginnings who bring light out of night’s darkness and fresh green out of the hard winter earth, there is barren land between us as people and as nations this day, there are empty stretches of soul within us; give us eyes to see new dawnings of promise, give us hears to hear fresh soundings of birth” (Adapted from - Source: Celtic Tradition, full reference posted later) …and give us courage to love you as you are loving us, so that we may enter into you, fully, completely, that your kingdom may come through us – right here, right now. Amen.

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