Genesis 12:1-4 John 3:1-17
One of the most memorable weddings celebrations I’ve known was that of my friend’s grandmother, who got married when she was in her late seventies. She wasn’t looking to get married. She had been widowed for over 15 years and was living alone happily, with no desire to change. But then a good friend’s wife died, and the widower proposed to her … several times. She agonized over what to do. It would mean a big change for her. Besides adjusting to a new person who had his own ideas and tastes, he had a winter home in Arizona, and she would have to give up her cozy home and community in Vermont for half the year. But in the end, she said yes. She decided she wasn’t too old to change and took a risk. And they had four or five good years together before he died.
Age didn’t hold back Abram, who was 75 years old when God told him to pack up and leave; leave his father’s house, his country, and all his relatives, and go to a new land that God would show him. This was a permanent migration to new territory, where Abram would start from the beginning, with only his wife Sarai, no children, his nephew Lot, and some servants. Abraham would probably never see his father and mother, brother, other relatives and his homeland again.
What makes it most intriguing is that there was no precise destination. God simply said, “Go to the land that I will show you.” There was no travel agenda, no map pointing out rest stops, no description of the accommodations waiting for him when he arrived. Abram would have to find his own food and water, find his own place to set up a tent as he went, and face possible danger from the people he passed on the way. Still, God reassured him that he would blessed there, and others would be blessed through his faith. At an age when he should be settling down and enjoying his retirement, God challenged him to get up and change. Abram started this new life just by trusting in God.
In our New Testament lesson, we have another lesson of someone starting life anew, in the story of Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus was also probably an old man. He was a respected leader in the Jewish community, and a Pharisee who treasured the law and the tradition of the elders. The Pharisees didn’t know what to think of Jesus, but they must have heard the stories of miracles and healings and his confrontations of Jewish leaders. What was Jesus trying to do? Was Jesus starting a new movement?
Nicodemus went to Jesus to hear what he had to say about himself. He said, “Rabbi (or teacher), we know that you … (have) come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” When Jesus replied, he didn’t talk about himself and what Nicodemus should think about him. Instead he turned the conversation back to Nicodemus and what he should seek out of life. He told Nicodemus, if you want to see the Kingdom of God, you have to be born from above, born again. How do you experience God’s spirit and what does it mean to you?
Spiritual life is not something we achieve. It’s something we accept or receive. When a baby is born it has little control over what’s going on. It’s all the parents’ work. And likewise, being born of the spirit is an act of God. It’s a gift. And like the wind, we can’t make it come or go. All we can do is have our hearts open. And now that it is God’s desire for us to receive in the way we are able – although this challenge may come to each of us in different ways.
When Nicodemus heard these words, he took them literally and became defensive “Listen Jesus, I’m an old man. I have already chosen a path for my life. I can’t start over.”
Like many other Pharisees, Nicodemus was attached to his traditions and laws and he believed that he was on the right path. After all, the Pharisees had the highest moral standards of anyone at that time. They were concerned with how to live a godly life on earth; what is proper to eat, when we should rest, how we should treat servants and neighbors, how we should deal with disease, what obligation we have to share our possessions. These are all important things to work out. How we behave on this earth matters. According to Jesus, this is not about what real salvation is about.
If we want to see and be part of God’s reign, and be transformed, we must be born from above. We are born again by asking Jesus into our hearts and to be our Lord and Savior. This is the free gift of God received with faith, because God loves the world and wants everyone to be saved.
Sometimes church people think too much like the Pharisees. I read a post by pastor who engaged in an experiment. He visited some Sunday worship services in his city, wearing earrings, baggy pants, with his hat on backwards and pretending he didn’t know much about how church worked. He did this because he had talked with some people outside of church who told him they were sure they would not be welcome inside a church. These were people from rough backgrounds, and they looked the part. So, the pastor decided to dress like one of them and see what would happen if he walked into a church service like that.
Sure, enough it was true. In almost every church he visited, no one greeted him. Instead they stared at him, and in one church someone tapped him on the shoulder and told him to take his hat off. He didn’t get the idea that anyone cared about who he was inside. What he got was suspicion and judgment. I pray we would be among those welcoming anyone, smelly, disheveled or not!
God does not just love the people who follow the rules and fit in, who know what to say and how to dress for church. God loves those who dress shabby, are smelly, with disheveled hair, and speak in a salty fashion. God so loves the world. Anyone who comes to God with an open heart, anyone who is willing to say yes to God and start on a new life adventure, is welcome. No matter how young or old we are. We are all called by the spirit to a journey of love and openness to the Spirit.
John 3:16 is one of the most famous verses in the gospels. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
In many ways this one verse summarizes the whole message of the gospel. God is love. Jesus is an expression of God’s love. And in Jesus is the path to eternal life – to the entire earth.
Jesus offers his life to us and calls us to offer our lives to God, by serving others. Just like he called Abram and Sarai. Like he called Nicodemus. Like he led a 75-year-old woman to marriage again. Like he calls each one of us on a spiritual journey to the unknown. God is calling us to a good place, full of life. What journey is God calling you on? Who are you being called to open your heart to? We are never too old or too young to be born from above; to be invited by God to a new holy adventure of blessing. Say yes to God’s life-giving spirit, be born again, and be blessed. .Be a blessing to others in turn. Amen.