Sermon for March 8, 2020
I found this short story from a book written by Anthony de Mello several years ago. “A man who took great pride in his lawn found himself with a large crop of dandelions. He tried every method he knew to get rid of them. Still they plagued him. Finally, he wrote to the department of agriculture. He enumerated all of the things he had tried and closed his letter with the question, “What shall I do now?” In due course the reply came: “We suggest you learn to love them””.
I share this story because one of the themes in our lessons for today is about God’s free gift to us. Got loves us and cares for us even though we have done nothing to deserve such love. It isn’t just a little stretch to imagine that God loves us just as we might love our dandelions which have done nothing to deserve our love.
There is another theme found in our lessons for today. It is about our lifetime journey with God. It is a journey where we seek to trust in God’s will and not our own. The idea that we are on a spiritual journey with God is something I think about often. We take many different paths as we go. Sometimes we take a break from our hectic life to contemplate our relationship with God and try to get a little closer. Sometimes we go off on a side trip that takes us away from the important things in our lives. I think we are always on a path in our spiritual life and I encourage you to take that spiritual path with Jesus by your side. I don’t think our spiritual journey is a straight path. It is not like getting on a four lane divided highway which goes straight from one place to another. Rather, I think our spiritual journey meanders along a trail that we might take us through the woods and meadows and past streams. I have been on paths that are clearly marked and I have been on trails that make me wonder where I should go next. I have taken walks that were more difficult than I wished they would be. Sometimes I see something that teaches me a great deal and other times it seems to be monotonous. On our spiritual journey, we hope that we are following the path that God has given us.
The lessons from Hebrew Scripture speak about journeys and also about having faith in God. Abram was called by God to leave his homeland and go to the land of Canaan. It was a long journey, about six hundred miles. He took a large caravan, his wife Sarai and Lot and probably herds and flocks of animals. It was an indication of the trust, the faith, that Abram had in God. His trip was long and dangerous. I compare it to my recent trip to Florida. It took me about 10 hours in total to get there and yet I complained about the length of my journey. Abram did so much more than I. Abram was obedient to God throughout his life. But that does not mean that Abram ’s journey was always a smooth one. There were times when Abram’s life was endangered as he visited various kingdoms during his travels and at least once Abram had his wife pose as his sister so that he would be safe.
Abraham took that journey and did many other things in his life because he trusted that God would take care of him. Abraham was willing to go where God would lead him certain that the promise God had made would never fail. Despite his advanced age, Abraham was made the father of nations. It would be easy to say that Abraham was rewarded for his faith, his trust and his obedience. But our passage today indicates that God chose Abraham before he had done anything. God’s blessing to Abraham was a gift. Later in Genesis we read that Abraham believed in the word and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. Abraham’s faith, not his actions, brought him to God. Abraham was also called to be a blessing to all peoples. God created a new relationship with humans through Abraham.
Psalm 121 is also about a journey. Pilgrims would sing this psalm as they climbed up to Jerusalem for the Passover or some other celebration. Climbing mountains was an arduous and dangerous adventure in that time. I read this week that climbing mountains did not become a sought-after pastime until a couple of centuries ago. Now we consider mountains beautiful places to go for a chance to experience nature and God. John Muir expressed the charm of the mountains this way, ““Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” The pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem may not have noticed the beauty of nature but they certainly received the Peace of God and felt God’s presence in their lives. Their Psalm described the continued presence of God, “Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep”. They also were thankful for God’s overwhelming grace, a grace that showered them with gifts as they sang, “The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; it is he who shall keep you safe.” May we feel God’s blessings always with us as well.
Our journeys may have times of wonderful peace and times when we feel estranged from God. Of course, it is not God who moves from us but we who move from God. These lessons connect with Lenten journey. Our Lenten activities are somewhat like a climb up the mountain, preparing us for the beauty of Easter. If we have challenges in our Lenten discipline, I encourage all of us to remember that God is present every day of every hour. Let us never forget that God is watching over us every minute of every hour of every day during this Lenten season.
Today’s lessons continue with themes that speak of our faith in God and the overwhelming gift of God’s love for us. In the letter to the Romans, we hear that faith in God is more important than the law. When we have faith in our hearts and as part of our faith we truly want to follow God, then we don’t really need the law to know what we need to do. We might say, let our conscience be our guide.
Paul said something more. Abraham’s gift was passed down to everyone. People do not have to be direct descendants of Abraham to participate in God’s gifts. They only have to believe in God as Abraham did and to act out that faith through obedience. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, wanted the gentiles to know that God’s gifts were for them as well. They just needed to have faith in God and faith in Jesus.
Before I speak of the free gift God has given us in John’s gospel, I want to deal with some controversy. What exactly did Jesus mean when he told Nicodemus that he had to be born again? Some would say that we need to make a personal commitment to Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Others would say that just as we had no decision to make when we were brought into this life, it is God’s actions, God’s mercy that saves us. I prefer to think that when Jesus spoke of being born in the water and the spirit, he was talking about our baptism. It still leaves room for various opinions.
I think Jesus was leading Nicodemus to understand that we are born again through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus said, “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.” It is a statement of God’s overwhelming love and grace. We didn’t do anything to deserve this gift from God. It wasn’t our faith that caused God to do this for us. It was God watching out for us every day. It was God knowing what we needed for us to be faithful to him. So, God gave it to us.
God showered blessings upon Abraham. As children of Abraham, we are blessed by the gifts that God has given us as well. We don’t earn God’s love by following the law. It is all the free gift that God has given to each of us. Our response to that gift is to have faith, to trust in God and to be obedient to his will.
As you continue on your Lenten journey, may you feel the presence of God in you journey, may it give you strength and may your faith be your way to respond to the glory of God’s gifts. Amen.
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