2nd Sunday in Lent, year A, 2014 (preached March 16, 2014)
first reading: Genesis 12:1-4a
second reading: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
gospel reading: John 3:1-17
In the season of Lent we take special time to reflect on our faith – and not just on our “individual” faith, but on the faith of the Church.
It’s a time for us to review what WE believe about the Church, about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and about our place in the whole big scheme of things.
As we approach the cross, it’s a time for solemn remembrance of all the events which brought our salvation.
At the beginning of the Nicene Creed we profess, “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth – of all that is, seen and unseen.” Today we are given examples of the “unseen.”
In the Genesis reading we’re given blessings, in the Psalm “help,” in Romans “justification” and in the gospel, multiple things.
Jesus boils it down to this when dealing with poor Nicodemus’ inability to grasp his lesson,
“…We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”
Jesus is teaching about the things that are “unseen” – and Nicodemus is stuck on the things that are only “seen.”
It’s quite appropriate that Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night – for this represents not only his fear at being discovered with the rebel rabbi, but also his complete “non-understanding” of Jesus’ message. Nicodemus is truly “in the dark” about a lot of things.
He was impressed by the signs – the tangible, visible things Jesus was doing. But when Jesus told him the visible was only the beginning, Nicodemus didn’t understand.
What is most important are the things that CANNOT be seen. We cannot see the kingdom unless we are born from above. Jesus tells Nicodemus that without being born from above we are both literally and figuratively lost in the dark.
Again poor Nicodemus is stuck in what is SEEN. Perhaps we could blame part of that on his being a Pharisee. They were all about logic and law, what could be seen and recorded, both sin and virtue.
But then again, so are we. We live in a society where what we see is what we get – show me the money – seeing is believing. We are suspicious when things “don’t add up.” We want everything to be proven, tangible, sensible, logical. A + B = C
The problem is, many times, faith just doesn’t work that way.
I looked up the non-religious definition of faith, and it is this: Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing, or – belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
By its very definition, faith CANNOT be tangible or proven. This is why, for many, faith is not logical or sensible. So you and I can understand where Nicodemus is coming from.
God has created both the things we can see, and the things that are beyond our sight. But it is much easier to believe in that which we CAN see, that which can be proven.
It IS very difficult indeed to put our faith in something we CANNOT see. But in the end, that’s what faith is.
Again, back to its definition: belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
Our faith in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is a mysterious thing, filled with the unseen.
It’s faith that simple water, paired with God’s Word and the Holy Spirit becomes something miraculous- a Holy Baptism that brings us redemption from death and the devil, forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation.
It’s faith that when Jesus said, “This is my body, this is my blood,” he really meant it, and becomes truly present for US every time we gather around the altar.
It’s faith that love, sacrifice and a cross defeats the power of hate, sin and death – that “everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”
In reality, there are many things in the world that are UNSEEN that we believe in, we just don’t think about it very much.
We can’t see heat, air, electricity – we can’t see love, hate, fear – and yet we know they exist. We know, because we CAN see their effects.
We breathe air in and so we live, electricity brings light and power, heat gives warmth.
We ACT on our emotions: we demonstrate love with a hug, hate with condemnation, fear with “fight or flight.”
Jesus tells us today that there are indeed two parts of creation – the seen and unseen.
The “seen” is the easy part, even for Nicodemus – he saw the signs. But there is also the “unseen” – being born from above, born of the Spirit, what Jesus calls the “heavenly things” – and there is LOVE.
The gospel today ends with the first and greatest of all the unseen creations of God: LOVE.
“For God so loved the world…” Everything flows from there.
The world deserves condemnation. All too often we do a lousy job at taking care of God’s creation, and each other.
Yet Jesus says, (and I wish the Christians who are quick to judge and openly hate others would read THIS once in a while), “…God did NOT send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
God acted on this unseen love so that we COULD see it – through Jesus sacrificing himself, loving us to his death, so that we might live with him forever.
Praise be to God for ALL these things – seen and unseen.