Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Message Based on John 3:1-17 and Romans 8:12-17; “B”–Pentecost 1

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2012 – CEB // NRSV

Liturgical Color: WHITE

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{Illustration} A few weeks ago an elderly gentleman walked into my office and said, “Pastor, you and your church worship on the wrong day! Jesus observed his Sabbath on Saturday, why does your church worship on Sunday?” After some time and discussion he asked me the question that was REALLY bothering him (the reason he took the time to come to see me in the first place), “All my life I worshiped God on Sunday. Will I burn in hell for all eternity because I worshiped God on the wrong day all these years?”

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{Illustration} While on an overnight shift in Christiana Care, someone paged me to minister to the family of a dying man; he had less than an hour to live. From what I recall it was around two o’clock in the morning. His daughter, a Born Again Christian, was really concerned because to the best of her knowledge her dying father, a life-long Episcopalian, never prayed the sinner’s prayer and she was scared that she would not see him in Heaven when she got there.

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{Illustration} As a newly appointed pastor in 2003, I was asked to officiate a funeral of a woman who died at a ripe old age. If there is such a thing as a “joyous funeral,” hers was it. Two weeks later her daughter asked me to meet with her at lunch, and she told me that she had not been to church since a pastor asked her to sing a solo during worship. I wanted to ask her why she did not just say “no,” but I continued listening to her story. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the pastor asked her to sing a solo when she was ten or eleven years old and it happened some fifty years ago. She has not been in church since that day and started attending a church sporadically after we talked.

These are just a few of “Nicodemuses” that I encountered in my ministry. Every Christian pastor, Jewish rabbi, or Muslim imam, encounters multiple “Nicodemuses” in their life and ministry.

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John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (NIV2010).

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This verse has become idiomatic in our pop-culture. We say it without giving it much thought. These words found in John 3:16 have acquired their own life and meaning that is independent of their biblical context.

Very few Christians recognize the connection between John 3:16 and the story of Nicodemus; even fewer Christians know what verses John 3:15 and 3:17 say.

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When we take the time to reflect on the story of Nicodemus, the words of Jesus found in John 3:15 – 17 are the response to those of us who believe that we know who God is. These words challenge us when we come to Jesus looking for affirmation and reassurance that we are holier than our neighbours. On the other hand, these words affirm and reassure us when we come to Jesus looking to be renewed and challenged by the Holy Spirit. The story of Nicodemus, when it is read in its entirety, is about realizing that our faith rests on God’s love towards God’s Creation; God’s love that is beyond our limited knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Our faith does not rest on creeds, capital campaigns, building, and stained glass windows.

Nicodemus’ life demonstrates that when we base our faith solely on the “how” of religion, we miss the hope and the invisible mystery of God’s Holy Spirit that make us into something new every day. Nicodemus’ life is a journey of realization of how limited our understanding of who God is when compared to what our lives can be in God. Nicodemus’ life is a journey that demonstrates that we encounter God among our Christian sisters and brothers not sitting in a prayer nook by ourselves.  {Nicodemus’ life is told in John 3:1-21; 7:50-52; 19:39-40}

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Today’s Scriptures are about what it means to “be born again.” I am a Born Again Christian and I know that being Born Again is not a static state, reducible to an experience that happened on a certain date (I remember my date with trepidation and fondness because that is the day when I understood for the first time my smallness and God’s all-encompassing love and acceptance). Experiences like that get us started on an on-going process of growing in wisdom and stature in partnership with God. When someone asks me whether I’ve been Born Again, my answer is “every day.”

Let’s unpack all that.

It is our human experience to accumulate habits and memories; some of those evoke feelings of regret or guilt.

{Illustration} Will I burn in Hell because all of my life I worshipped God on Sunday instead of Saturday? If I only tried harder my dad would pray a sinner’s prayer and he would be assured a sit in Heaven. I refused to sing a song when I was ten and as a result I removed myself from something that I cannot recover.

We carry these habits and memories from one moment to the next. We allow these habits and memories to block God’s love and grace from renewing us because we don’t feel worthy. These habits and memories make it hard to imagine that our lives could be different. That is one of the mechanisms that the Devil uses to get foothold in our lives and to separate us from God. It is almost as if we are addicted to our regrets, to the past, and to what was. Wake up church, addictions (whether to a substance or to a habit or to a memory) inhibit us from the future.

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God is always calling us forward into well-being, accepting us where we are and offering one suggestion after another that will transform us into something different. God meets us where we are, where our choices have landed us, and God’s Holy Spirit leads and transforms us to what we can become. There is only one proviso: WE HAVE TO INVITE GOD TO LEAD AND TO TRANSFORM US and be willing to recognize that past has past and that often the past blocks the future from happening.

Let us bow our heads in prayer

Loving and Gracious God!

We know that we have done and said things in the past that we are not proud of. We have memories and habits that block your Holy Spirit from reaching our hearts and using us as tools in your hands for the renewal of your Creation. We pray for ourselves, we pray for our families, we pray for our neighbors and we pray for our church – Christ United Methodist Church. Help us to love you more, see you better and follow you closer with every breath that we take.
In Jesus name we pray.
AMEN.

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