Speaking to Seekers, March 8

Speaking to Seekers

Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

The Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist Church; March 8, 2020

 

Most of the time in the gospels, the Pharisees are not presented as friends of Jesus, or even sympathizers.  There are a few Pharisees who invite Jesus to dinner, but even then, they don’t treat him as an honored guest.  Which adds another layer of significance to this nocturnal visit of Nicodemus to Jesus the teacher in today’s gospel story.  Nicodemus is not a disciple.  He doesn’t travel with Jesus, and he doesn’t yet get what all the fuss is about.  But he’s interested, interested enough to come to see Jesus, under cover of darkness, to speak with him and hear what Jesus has to offer.  John tells us Nicodemus comes at night so he needn’t be public about his interest, because he doesn’t want his Pharisee friends to see him as comes to learn from this rabbi from Nazareth.  Nicodemus is mentioned two other times in John’s gospel.  Once, in chapter seven, he speaks up and reminds the gathered Pharisees that Jesus, like anyone, deserves a fair trial before condemnation, and after Jesus’ death on the cross, Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimathea bury the body in the tomb.  In today’s reading, he comes because he has heard of Jesus and wants to know more.  Jesus engages him and teaches him.  In fact, the words here in the third chapter of John are some of the most memorable of any in the gospel.  If you would enter the kingdom, you must be born again.  God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him should not die but should have eternal life.  These are significant pronouncements, and they are shared not with the disciples themselves, not with those whom Jesus called and groomed for leadership, but with an outsider, a Pharisee, no less, a colleague of those who regularly criticized much of what Jesus did.  Nicodemus is a seeker; he’s someone who doesn’t know much about Jesus, and his regular place in society doesn’t make it easy to spend time listening to the truth Jesus comes to offer.  Yet we’re offered truths in their conversation that we cherish, we who are followers, who are ready to cast aside society’s expectations and give our lives to the work and ministry of God’s love. 

 

There are people like Nicodemus in Catskill today, people who have heard of Jesus, but don’t know much about him.  People who are looking for meaning and purpose, for truth and hope, but who aren’t necessarily drawn to the church to find those things.  Most of us have lived in times when following Jesus Christ was the norm among the people we knew and shared time with.  When I was in third grade I had a friend ask me what church I went to.  She was surprised that I wasn’t a Catholic, but we both would have been surprised to have a classmate who didn’t claim a community of faith at all.  There were two Jewish families in the school, and everyone else was something recognizable – Catholic or Methodist or Presbyterian or Congregational.  Today, there’s probably a majority of kids in third grade who don’t have a church identity, or any sort of religious identity at all.  I did a memorial service in Washington state for my cousin’s husband; it wasn’t primarily a religious service.  It was held in a theater, and we sang Paradise, a John Prine song about Kentucky coal mining, and closed with Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf.  Such practices aren’t wrong, but we who have a faith to proclaim have excellent resources to share – we have beautiful music for services, and a cogent faith that speaks of hope and truth and a life that is more than living only for this day.  We have Jesus, the Savior of the world, who loves us dearly, whose Spirit leads us into truth and gathers us together in love.  We have a community of people where we belong and whom we can trust to care for us and about us.  Friends, I know you know this.  But there are people in this town, neighbors and even friends, who don’t know what we have.  There are Christians who make the news frequently for whom they exclude and what they won’t abide.  That’s what the world, by and large, thinks we’re about.  The love we share, the truth we embrace, the hope we have found, and the grace that sustains us are not well known.  If Nicodemus came here today, looking for something, maybe even something he didn’t know how to put a name to, would we offer to share what we have?  Jesus listened to Nicodemus; he engaged him on the topic Nic wanted to talk about.  This town is filled with good, caring people, who are suspicious if we want to talk about Jesus.  But they’re happy for us to listen to them talk about their lives, their fears, their kids and their grandkids, and the concerns they have about the future we are leaving for the next generation. 

 

Sometimes they talk about their own spirituality, their love for hiking and the outdoors, their ethics and how they make decisions about things that matter to them.  We have that vocabulary.  The psalm we read together today begins where so many of our neighbors begin, with the mountains.  We understand how the mountains speak to us of holiness, of the presence of an impressive and imposing being.  That’s God, creator of all things. We understand the feeling of the mountains, and we know, with the psalmist, that ultimately the mountains are but one of many beautiful creations of God.  We turn to the mountains looking for divine assistance, but our help doesn’t actually come from the mountains, but from the Lord who made heaven and all of earth. 

 

We can trust that God is working in the lives of others, even of those who have yet to connect with God in relationship and prayer.  We can be ready to offer the gospel story when we speak with those who don’t know it, but we can also begin by listening.  Listening for connections that lead to friendship and love.  That’s how Jesus calls us to be with one another, even those outside the church. Love one another.  Live the gospel; offer your heart to the world.  It’s easy to fall into living in the church as if it is a club, one more organization that asks us to belong and to bake cookies.  But we don’t exist for ourselves.  We are here primarily for those who haven’t come in the doors yet.  We exist to make disciples for the transformation of the world.    Open your hearts to seekers, to those looking for meaning and hope.  Let the joy you have found in the gospel of Jesus Christ shine through you, that others will be interested in finding that joy for themselves. That’s our job. 

Genesis 12:1-4a

12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

Psalm 121 (UMH 844)

I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

 

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

4What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

13For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,

17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

John 3:1-17

3Now 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. 16“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. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

 

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