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    Mar 08, 2020

    The Second Sunday in Lent

    Preacher: The Rev. Canon Patricia Grace

    Category: Lent

    Detail:

    On Wednesday afternoons,

                I’m surrounded by children…by kids of all ages.

    The usual silence of the undercroft is transformed

                as the young ones begin to gather for choir practice with Ben.

    Some arrive at a gallop,

                their voices ratcheting up as they greet their mates with excitement;

    others, enter quietly,

                walking done the hall, holding Mama’s or big sister’s hand…

    however they come,

                the place is filled with the sheer energy of that assembled throng…

    and it is absolutely exhilarating.

     

    This is one of my favorite times of the week…

                because, often, a young friend makes his or her way

                            into my office for a visit.

    One such fellow, about five years old,

                arrives with the same question each week:

    “Hey, Pat, whatcha doin?’

    And after some preliminary chit chat about his day and mine,

                we are freed up to get down to more serious business.

    I delight in these precious encounters –

                because the difference in perspective between a five year old

                            and a nearly sixty-five year old,

    is amazing.

    His world view, his outlook is fresh and new…

    he’s willing to ponder deeply,

    the simplest things in life:

    “why do some balloons stay up in the air while others fall to the ground?”

    “Or, will he have a beard when he grows up,

                or, in his words, will he shave, each and every day!”

    The topics we take on vary vastly,

                but always are approached by him with wonder, curiosity,

                            without any pre-conceived conclusions…

    and a rather mature willingness to suspend judgment

                until all that can be known or sensed –

    until the back story becomes evident.

    This fledgling Christian knows by child-like instinct

                what Jesus was trying to say to Nicodemus…

                and a message that is sent to us as well.

    And it’s all about becoming like little children…

    being willing to open up our blind spots so that the Light of Christ, himself,

                can illuminate our lives…

    that we might truly see, and see the truth more abundantly.

    Blind spots.

    We all have them.

    We all need help to see them.

    Jesus sends the Holy Spirit, who comes like a swirling breeze,

                to open our eyes,

                that we might see like little children…

    that we might become more and more willing to contemplate

                what could be,

    rather than what we are dead certain, surely must be.

     

    How fortunate for us that this story comes along in a time of transition!

    Transition – a time when,

    if we are willing,

    we might open ourselves to the question of what new thing

                God might be interested in doing through us.

    A time for us to consider

                what is possible, rather than just probably or doable.

    Like our brother, Nico,

                we are good and faithful members of a long, rich,

                            tried and true tradition.

    A tradition that is steeped in meaningful and well-developed ritual;

                purchased at a great price…

    by the blood of Jesus, himself,

                and that of countless prophets and martyrs.

    We know what we know – tight?

    Because we have lived this tradition,

                studied it, loved it – this way of being,

    this church of ours.

    But like Nicodemus,

                we can get hemmed in by our sure and certain opinions…

                which can get set s0metimes like concrete, and over time,

                            become a stumbling block

    rather than the life-giving pathway to God.

    Especially in times of change or challenge,

                we can hide out in our blind spots,

                seeking shelter there…

    and miss out, then,

                on the new thing that God might be inviting us into…

    just out of eyesight, just past our peripheral vision…

    blocked by the self-imposed limits of our blind spots.

    This is the dilemma of every thinking, committed person of faith…

    how to stay true to the essence of our tradition…

                of who we have been and who we are

    while allowing room for who we ight be….

    Allowing space for the breath of God’s innovations

                to inspire us, literally – to give us the breath we need

    to journey to a new place with God.

    Jesus asks us to become like people born again…

                like new borns,

    like persons given a blank slate, the opportunity to see things differently

    from the ground up;

    being able to see more broadly, more deeply…

    maybe more like God sees things – which is always through the lens of re-creating love.

    Jesus invites us to let his light

                brighten the corners of our blind spots,

    to, indeed, see more clearly what we do know,

                while taking in something new.

    A difficult endeavor –

    determining how to make needed change,

                            while not tossing the baby out with the bath waters.

    Jesus sends us his Holy Spirit

                to give us what we need to relinquish

    judgement in favor of wonder,

    to exchange hubris for openness to possibility.

    He sends his Spirit to breathe new life into us

                so that we might discern,

    by untangling the many different threads of our knowledge and experience,

    …to discern what God dreams could be.

     

    This is a not an easy pathway to take…

                it is like entering our mother’s bodies a second time and born again.

     

    It’s painful, messy, fraught with danger.

     

    But I believe that this is the invitation that God is extending

                to us all –

    an invitation to a very counter cultural way of looking and listening,

    with open-ended interest, curiosity and compassion

    versus stone cold certainty and old hard and fast rules.

     

    And I believe this is the invitation

    that God is extending to the church as a whole…

    not just this congregation

    as we work through our personal time of transition.

    Like Nicodemus,

                we are all bound by our world view…

    shaped and formed by the things and people and times

                of our lives.

    Like Nicodemus, we’re being asked by Jesus

    to unlatch the locks that hold that world view in a static space...

    which maintain the restrictive borders of our blind spots.

    We notice that in our Gospel story,

                That Nicodemus could not get there

    until he stopped objecting and began to a question.

    Something moved Nicodemus to venture beyond

    what he had always known, or had always been told.

    Something nudged him into just the smallest of openings

    with that hugely important question:

    “How can these things be?”

    Reaction formation gave way to curiosity…

                to the possibility that there just might be something more here

                            than meets the lens of his traditional eyes.

    We sometimes hear judgement in the words

    Jesus says in response to Nicodemus’ hesitance,

    “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

     

    But I wonder if - no, I’ll bet, that

    Jesus’ tone was a bit more gentle,

    because Jesus so loved the world,

    and Jesus so loved Nicodemus,

    and Jesus so loves us.

    I think his words were offered more as persuasion or encouragement

    to think outside the usual box:

    “Nico – you’re a great teacher of Israel and you can’t get this?”

                “No way” he was telling Nicodemus.

    “You can do this…go deeper,”

    inviting his friend to open his imagination to the notion of

                            what could happen if he had the chance to be born again…

    born again with new eyes,

    fresh ideas, new directions, his perspective, changed.

     

    That encouragement helped Nicodemus move

    from a position of truculent resistance,

    just a smidge –

    to the place where something opened up in him.

    Just a crack of light broke into his blind spot…

                and things began to change.

    We know this

    because of what we learn the next time we hear about Nicodemus

    in the Scriptures.

    In chapter seven of the Gospel of John

    we see that the scared rabbit who came to Jesus in the night…

                under cover of darkness,

    for fear of the response of his fellow Jewish leaders,

                has become a great lion of God.

    There he is standing up to the Sanhedrin –

    the supreme council of the Jews,

    arguing for Jesus,    

    who stands cuffed and bound in the witness box.

    He reminds them of the best of their own ancient tradition,

    reciting the portion of the Law

    that requires that a person must be heard before being judged.

    Nicodemus is now willing to stand up in the light of day…

    to expose the willful blindness of the Jewish leaders...

    to risk their anger, social ostracism, even physical danger and death

    in the name of mercy and justice and love.

    It is Nicodemus who is now God’s new creation.

    Our final picture of Nicodemus

                is on the evening of the crucifixion…

    when he and another well placed leader of Israel,

    Joseph of Arimathea,

    risks the wrath of the Roman authorities to gain their consent

                            to bury the body of Jesus.

    Beginning with that midnight confession,

                the Spirit moved within Nicodemus,

    blowing the dust from his blind spots,

    enabling him to see and to do God’s new thing

                in ways that take our breath away.

    Because anything is possible for God…

    who so loves us into become greater than we could ever ask for or imagine.

    Our Gospel today asks us to be and do something new as well.

    Our Gospels asks us to consider what might God be inviting you and me

                into as the Spirit blows freely

    in this time of transition at Holy Trinity?

    The Gospel urges us to ask ourselves

    where have we become complacent,

                content with relying on treasured,

    yet maybe unexamined ideas that may no longer

                            be serving God and God’s world?

    The Gospel compels us to wonder

    what back story do we need to learn more about,

                to open our hearts and minds to

    wwaht may be being blocked by our blind spots?

     

    What is there in the midst of us that needs

    to be revealed, explored, understood with compassion,

                and embraced?

    And what might change for us,

    if we give up the “compass of only the whither and the why”

    in the words of poet, Jessica Powers,[1]

    In these days of transition,

    We’re invited to ponder what we need to receive from one another,

    what do we need to give to one another

    to be encouraged and empowered

    to move from the comfort of what we have always known,

    toward the waylessnesss of following where the Spirit might lead –

    and the willingness to ask, why not?

    We’re being called to wonder how might things change for us personally,

    collectively, and as the whole body of Christ,

    if we allow ourselves to ask –

    with the open hearts and eyes of newborn children,

    or at least, with the spirit of a five year old

    ‘Whatcha’ doin, Lord?”

    And then waiting patiently for the answer.

    How might we become more willing to cast off

                the resistance that grows out of our closely held world view

                            and learn to ask, first,

    with absolute trust that God will provide the answer…

    “Lord, how can these things be?”

     

     

    [1] Power, Jessica. 1905-1988. Selected poems of Jessica Power, ed. Regina Siegfried and Robert Moreau.