Monday, March 21, 2011

"At the Right Time"

Message on March 20, 2011 (Lent 2)

Genesis 12:1-4a
Now God said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your parents’ house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I 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.”

John 3:1-17
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the realm of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the realm of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Human One. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Child, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send God’s Child into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Will you pray with me? God of our birthing and our dying, God of all our times and all our lives; open our hearts to awareness of your presence as we seek to understand your word; to know what it means to have a new beginning, a fresh start, to be born again, in this world in which we see so much pain, suffering, and dying. Give us grace to feel your love and mercy with us as we walk through the dark valleys and come to the other side. In all your names, amen.

I would like to thank the Board as well as all of you in the congregation, for your prayers, thoughts, cards, and support in the last couple of weeks.  Thanks also to John, Jason, and Rev. Kevin for preaching and leading worship for me on the Sundays. I was able to go to Boston and be with my sister Faye, to be part of the circle of love around her as she passed on. This is a difficult time for my family, but all of us are mourning Faye’s life, cut short too soon. With our love for each other and faith in a loving God, we will be better—but as my sister Sandra said, there is a hole in our hearts with Faye’s loss. Again, thank you for your care and concern, and I would ask for continued prayers as we continue to heal.

So…here we are in the second week of Lent. We are still in the early stages of this journey towards Easter, and already we read of new life, new beginnings, of taking a leap of faith and gong where and how God calls us.

Abram and Serai—later known as Abraham and Sarah—left their home, ventured out into unknown territory, on the word of God, whom they did not know until then. Like so many of the Biblical narratives, we take this one without thinking of that that must have meant, and without wondering why they might have been willing to do such a thing.
They lived in a city—Haran—and were not, until then, nomads. Their families were in Haran—their property and animals and connections. They left it all because God commanded them to go. Why? What in the world would induce them to do that?

Think about it. If you were settled in a home, with your extended family nearby, employment and belongings…and then an unknown God speaks to you, says, “leave all this, pack up your stuff on camels and donkeys and go out to a place you don’t know…” well, would you do it? Could you do it? What would lead you, enable you, to drop everything in favour of a mysterious command from a God you had never heard of before?

I wonder if maybe they were unhappy in Haran, if they had felt an urging, a pull to go elsewhere, to do something elsewhere—that there was nothing more for them to do there. Had they been wondering what they should do next in their lives? Were they maybe in a time of transition?

We don’t know. But clearly they were ready to answer that call from God.

Another question. Why did Nicodemus go to meet with Jesus? He was learned, a scholar—he knew the law of Moses and used it to guide his life. He didn’t need instruction in the law—but maybe he wanted to discuss it. It was actually common for teachers of the law to meet together and discuss the finer points of what was meant by this or that word or phrase. And they often met at night—nothing sinister there, in reality—it was the only time they had to meet, because they made their living in other ways during the day—as farmers or schoolteachers or merchants or artisans. Most Jewish scholars of that time could not afford to be full-time scholars. I think Nicodemus went to see Jesus because he thought of Jesus as a new voice, an interesting voice, who had something different to say, and Nicodemus wanted to hear more. He was ready, too, to hear that word Jesus spoke of new life.

I wonder what it takes to get us into that space, that place where we can hear God’s voice and have the faith to follow? Sometimes it’s a place of joy—we complete a training course, or graduate school, or have a baby. Sometimes it’s a place of sorrow and pain—we’re fired from a job, or a relationship ends, or our home is destroyed. Whether in joy or pain, God opens up a space for us—a place for us to move, a time for us to lift our heads and see beyond the everyday ruts we are in. It’s hard to know sometimes which comes first—the opportunity or the emotion.

But if we allow ourselves to trust, to have faith in the direction in which God is leading us, then we can step into that new life, that new beginning. We can take that journey of faith, as Abram and Sarai did; like Nicodemus,  we can venture out to meet Jesus and study with him.

It’s not always easy, and it’s not always possible for us to take that step of faith though. Perhaps we aren’t ready when others think we should be, or we are afraid.

It’s way too early for the people of Japan to begin a new life—their struggle isn’t over yet. They are still sorting through rubble, burying loved ones, desperately attempting to stop radiation leakage.The struggle is continuing.

As a nation, we are reaching out to help them with the immediate crisis. Both the US and Canada are sending help to our sisters and brothers in Japan, with food, rescue workers, and equipment. But the need for help will continue, in a different form, in a different way. Hope will be needed. A way to see a path to new life, a new beginning is needed. Remember how long it took life in New Orleans to get back to some approximation of normal after Hurrican Katrina—reconstruction is still going on. It will take even longer and more assistance for Japan.

It’s too early for me, too. Faye died just about two weeks ago. How can I assimilate the loss of someone with whom I was intimate for many years, and always close to, in so short a time? How do I even accept that she really is gone, even though I know, intellectually, that she is? How can I grasp that we’ll never have tea together again, never discuss books and language, never talk about Ben and Lily, our children of the same age, again? Even though I know we will meet again in God’s time and God’s place, our relationship then will be unimaginably different. We will not have the relationship we did here and now—and that is what I mourn.

So I’m not ready for that new life yet. I’m not ready to say, “I will always miss Faye but I’ll move on with my life now.”  Japan isn’t ready either—they are still seeking their lost, trying to repair their buildings and roads and nuclear plants.
If we take a closer look at Nicodemus and Abram and Sarai, I wonder if we might not see that they weren’t actually ready yet either. They had taken the first step, but they weren’t really committed to everything God was asking of them. They were still, in religious terms, “discerning” where God was calling them.

Abram and Sarai left Haran; but they wandered for a long time before God settled them. They weren’t ready yet. Nicodemus spoke with and learned from Jesus, but he didn’t commit himself to be a follower yet. He wasn’t ready.

And it was OK. God took them where they were, and led them until they did have faith, until they were ready. When the time was right, Abram and Sarai settled in what would become Israel. When the time was right, Nicodemus believed in Jesus—he helped bury Jesus after the Crucifixion.

When the time is right, I will lift my head and remember the joys of my relationship with my sister Faye, and her memory will not bring sorrow. When the time is right, Japan will step forward into new life, a renewal of life.

Jesus did not rise on the same day he was crucified; nor on the day after. But when the time was right, on the third day, he rose from the grave into new life.

When the time is right.

In the name of God, creator, redeemer and sustainer, amen.

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