When we think about going on a journey somewhere, most of us will probably look at a map, consult the ultimate oracle of today – Google – check sites such as “ trip advisor”. Well being the arch type rebel, I didn’t do that bit before a trip to Grenoble in South- east France. I’ll let Carol fill you in with the details. Sufficient to say. I am most definitely NOT allowed to book hotels on the continent any more. It was a slightly odd experience. I wouldn’t want to go there again, that’s for sure; however I am glad that we did as it opened our eyes to the fact that people actually have to live in those conditions
We tend to try and be prepared don’t we. We pack suitcases, hopefully check Passports, even learn some simple phrases. If all else fails, speak slowly and wave your arms – it seems to work.
But somehow, scripture and this period of Lent seems to call us on a journey that we just can’t plan for. In face, we are specifically called not to rely on our own devices – simply because they are not sufficient, they are just not up to the task. If we risk doing so we will end up losing our way
The Psalm we heard from at the beginning of the service told us that only God can protect and sustain us. It really won’t do to rely on any sense of power or present circumstance. This at first glance seems a bit topsy-turvy, don’t we teach our children to become more independent? Don’t we value responsibility? At work I value the idea of self-management. A lot a research papers suggest that the more control we have over our lives, there is a better chance that we will live happier more fulfilled lives. But consider for a moment how fragile our tailor made existence is. If we look at the damage wrought by the recent floods, or the whims of the stock market, unscrupulous bankers or even dare I say Governments. It seems to me that if we trust in worldly things we risk building our house on unreliable foundations seeing our Faith disappear down a sink hole. If we take what Jesus said in Matthew 7 vv 24-26 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” What is really interesting here is that this is clearly not a promise of uneventful success but a promise of strength to withstand all that life can throw at us. It is quite simply, a measure of who we are called to rely on, God or Man.
Abraham is called by God to go on a journey with God as his guide. Some of God’s promises to Abraham must have seemed a bit outlandish from Abraham’s perspective. (He was 75 years old according to the writer of Genesis and first of all he was going to father a son!) Abraham was also settled in Haran. This meant he had roots there, status and had become wealthy. Genesis 12.5 tells us that they left Haran with people that they had acquired. In other words - they had Staff! And yet, for all that, for all the reasons of comfort and stability to stay put, he risked leaving Haran choosing instead, in his own words to risk becoming a stranger and an alien in a foreign land.
Finally we come to this intriguing meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus is given a bit of a hard time by Jesus, but since Nicodemus is eventually seen to become a disciple of Jesus, it seems likely that there was a healthy respect. Especially as Jesus doesn’t hold back here – he effectively gives Nicodemus the whole unexpurgated truth of who he is. Not a parable in sight! Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, sharing with him that it is foolish if we only rely on our own resources and understanding. He highlights this by contrasting Nicodemus’ viewpoint with his own which is effectively eternally wider. Jesus has seen the Father and is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Three things are clarified; if we become rigid in our thinking, we will miss, and won’t be able to appreciate, the free flowing nature of the Holy Spirit. If we only see status and Power, we will miss the gift of Jesus – who came as an itinerant travelling teacher, outside of the temple hierarchy and pretty intolerant of the ideas of patronage that were so commonplace within the Roman Empire of the 1st Century. If we focus on God solely as a Father figure, wrongly affording God a sexual identity, and exclude the feminine nature within God, we run the danger of seeing God as a disciplinarian, a rule maker, a target setter. We miss the vision of God who is a source of love, of forgiveness and of outrageous Grace.
Jesus invites Nicodemus to change his perspective from the purely human viewpoint to one that is shared with God. For in Jesus’ death on the cross, we are invited into a relationship with God such that we can be one with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Which brings us to the here and now. Here we are in the 21st Century, on the 2nd Sunday in Lent, all in our different ways on some sort of Lenten journey. Where is Jesus asking you to go to? What are you being asked to leave behind? What sort of habits, what sort of behaviours that perhaps you have been tied to, maybe for years? It may seem risky and even frightening to turn our backs on what makes our lives comfortable. But in case we forget, Jesus shared the perspectives of the Father and the Holy Spirit. In the journeys that he calls us on, he is already waiting for us at the finish line, and he walks with us along the way, even though we might not always think he is there. This is the miracle of the resurrection.
Where are you heading this Easter? Are you heading for the temple in Jerusalem – destined for destruction; or are you heading instead for a small garden with an empty tomb. A Birthplace of new life and new experiences. The priceless gift of walking your life accompanied by none other than Jesus himself.
May the Lord lift your hearts and minds towards Heaven this morning, and may the Holy Spirit fill this place and full us all so that we overfill with the love and joy enjoyed by the Trinity.
In Jesus Name