Gen 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17 The Rev. Linda Spiers
Second Sunday in Lent – Year A – March 8, 2020 St. John’s Episcopal Church
Some Lenten practices become a part of who we are beyond Lent. That’s the hope for us—that our fast becomes part of the fabric of our lives, whether we take on a new discipline or give up something. Several years ago I received an email entitled “Experience Lent” with a list of seven fasting practices to consider embracing during Lent. Seven practices are just too many to consider, and yet one of them grabbed my heart then and has continued since that time. The practices were proposed by an Episcopal priest named the Rev. Laurie Brock, and the Lenten fast that has continued to stick with me is this, and I quote Brock’s suggested practice.
“Experience voices unlike yours. Too often, we are part of the choir to which people with whom we agree are preaching. What might happen to our interior assumptions and expectations if we listened to voices NOT like ours? If we’re white, spend the Lenten season reading books by people of color or watching movies that focus on their experience. I commend Thirteenth and I Am Not Your Negro for starters. If you’re straight, read and watch art and narratives by LGBTQ people. If you’re male, read works by women and listen to their experiences. Allow yourself to be bothered, to be challenged. Explore your own prejudices. What assumptions did you have before you listened, and how have they changed?”
I embraced this “experiencing voices unlike yours” then and continue the practice now. I try to listen with more intention as I wander through my week and encounter people I know and those new to me. I continue to learn from those voices that are unlike mine. This practice encourages me to do things like our Lenten series that focuses on Jesus’ teaching to Love Your Neighbor, no matter who your neighbor is. In our first session, we experienced an engaging panel of a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim. Through the questions from our gathered group, each of us had an opportunity to learn and experience a voice unlike our own voice. Rabbi Marci Bellows as the Jewish voice and will be back with us this coming Wednesday to help us understand how anti-Semitism continues to thrive in our wider world and in our nearer community. I hope that you’ll join us. Other voices teach us a new perspective. I invite you to allow yourself to be bothered, to be challenged. Who knows how you might be changed?
The reading from Genesis tells us that God calls Abram to go to a place where Abram has never been before—leave your country, leave your kindred, leave your father’s house, and go to a land that God will show him. It was a call to go with a promise that God would bless Abram, so that Abram would be a blessing. God said, “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:3). And Abram faithfully goes. He steps into new territory, into newness of life with the assurance of God’s promise. It’s not terribly unlike the new life that Jesus explains to Nicodemus who comes to Jesus in the night with his curiosity and openness. Jesus invites Nicodemus to let God work in his life in a new way. Just as Abram was about to discover new life, Nicodemus is invited to new life. You and I are invited to new life every day.
I wonder why Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night? Is it out of fear of his peers discovering he wants to know more about Jesus? Is it that he’s struggling with his faith and wants to learn more about what he doesn’t understand? Nicodemus asks Jesus, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). It’s almost as if his curiosity is driving him to this dialogue with Jesus and giving him the courage to question.
Nicodemus appears two other times in the Gospel of John. Later in chapter 7:50-52, he seems to defend Jesus when the religious authorities are conflicted about Jesus. Nicodemus is the one who comes with Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus. Nicodemus brings myrrh and aloes—about 100 pounds of it—for preparing Jesus’ body for burial. At the end, John’s Gospel writer reminds us that Nicodemus was the one who came to Jesus in the night. It was important to remember that Nicodemus came to Jesus in the dark of night.
Jesus opens Nicodemus to the Spirit and how one is born of the Spirit. This is where Nicodemus asks, “How can these things be?”
Theologian William Temple writes about the beckoning nature of the Spirit, and says the following. “Always the breath—the wind—of the Spirit is moving. We know it by its effect. We have no need to ask for its authentication. Is it Protestant? Is it Catholic? Where the fruit of the Spirit is apparent, there the Spirit is at work. We should place ourselves in its course that we may be carried by its impulse, even though this leads us to association with strange comrades….For whatever promotes…love and joy and peace has its source in that divine love which sent the Son into the world, not to judge the world, but that the world may be saved through him.”
Nicodemus was searching—searching in the dark of night. He reminds us that no matter what our education level or stature in life, we are all searching for meaning. He took the risk to go and talk directly with Jesus. Filled with the curiosity to learn and to question, Nicodemus showed his vulnerability and opened himself up to experience one-on-one a voice unlike his.
The voices of those unlike ours can indeed challenge and bother us. They call us to reflect on the assumptions we have before we listened, and to think about how they have changed after the encounter.
Abram was willing to set out on a journey to a place where he had never been before. As you read more about Abram, you discover that he learns and grows from the experiences he has—even from the mistakes and wrong turns he makes. He lives into the new life to which God calls him and experiences that God is with him every step. Abram still speaks to us these many years later and reveals to us the God who walks with us and blesses us, despite our missteps. That’s good news. Abram also instills courage in us to go to a place where we’ve never been before or to listen to a voice unlike yours that might challenge and bother you. I think Nicodemus exhibits similar courage in the darkness of night.
As you walk through this second week in Lent, consider listening to the differing voices around you. Where might that voice unlike yours challenge and bother you?