St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Collect: Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
One of the great rubs of the faith is that balancing act, or juxtaposition even, of the spiritual and the physical. The Outward and the Inward. The metaphorical/spiritual and the literal/biological. Our Sacraments are just that, physical metaphors. Baptism. Eucharist. Weddings. Orders. Confession. Unction.
Often when people dismiss the faith we have it is over taking the spiritual or metaphorical literally (and hence physically), and what is is literal metaphorically. I heard a story this week of someone who is openly racist and hate-filled and attends church weekly, where such attitudes and actions are condemned, not condoned. But still they come. They openly and unabashedly express these non-Christlike views far too often. At what point I wonder will they decide that these notorious sins will cross and line, and like the prayer book says, ask them not to come? I cannot imagine ever doing that to anyone, but at the same time I do not have someone spewing hate at visitors and members alike.
The opposite can also be true. I have seen deeply spiritual and loving people who would never set foot in a church, or synagogue, or mosque.
When Nicodemus came to talk with Jesus, Jesus was surprised that a spiritual leader did not have the simplest grasp on how God works.
What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.We give words to the ephemeral, and for some this is a problem. We need handles for the uncontainable, and that is where people have problems. Jesus said, “born from above.” Nicodemus talked about re-entering the womb. I hope he was trying to be funny. Obviously, Jesus did not think this was a joking manner, and did not trivialize it by going literal or funny.
We gather together regularly to be reminded. We join with the story. Last night in my Lenten class I used the word ANAMNESIS for the section of the Eucharistic prayer. Today in Prayer A (for Lent) you will hear these words:
Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself, and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death…After class Beth reminded me that ANAMNESIS which I translated as Remembrance has a more beautiful meaning. Literally it means the Un-Forgetting. Jesus helped Nicodemus “unforget” what this is all about, the hazards of metaphor, and invited him to something better. “whoever believes in the [Son of Man] may have eternal life.” Amen