In the midst of a “stay at shelter” order, what has moved you this week?

New Testament Readings

John 11:32-44

32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep.36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

This has been another interesting week, hasn’t it?  There are things that I’ve read that have really moved me deeply.  Some things have been hard…obviously the pandemic, it’s affect on all of us, the harsh reality that this is going to be our new “normal” for a while.  Wars are still happening, our health care systems being overwhelmed, folks thinking only of themselves and not working towards the common good.  

Yet, I’ve also been moved by the compassion of good friends.  Kind words after a virtual meeting…a gathering of community leaders and church folks online and in our city that are staying connected.  Running, dinners at home, our “English daughter” and other family members being together…our church’s partnering with another neighborhood church and the local school district to provide food for families in Finneytown while on spring break during this pandemic.  

And, other things such as Yoga online this past week at home have been great source of release and movement.  It’s interesting to see how I am moved by so many things, yet hold so much in tension.  The interweaving of divine, other, and self awareness, along with the stretching and different postures have helped me to see where I hold my tension in my body.  My good friend, Marylin Seilkop and I talked about this very thing this past week.  I oftentimes feel things deeply, in the depths of my body, but I don’t know how to always release it.  

What have you felt or experienced this past week in your body?

Our gospel lesson this morning talks about how Jesus is moved, deeply.  He is on his way to visit Mary and Martha and their family.  He’s close to these folks.  On the way, Mary comes to him.  Mary is the one who paid close attention to Jesus’ words, her sister was the one who chastised her for not doing work.  Yet, she knew there was something about Jesus that moved her towards deep friendship, deep relationship with Jesus.  

So, Mary comes out to meet Jesus and tells him that her brother Lazarus has died.  At first she tells him that if he had come earlier, he could have healed Lazarus, she knew that Jesus had power.  Yet, she had accepted the reality of death, she had closed off possibilities. 

Jesus sees her weeping and the other folks weeping.  He’s deeply moved.  The Greek phrases in this passage don’t quite give an accurate picture of what Jesus was feeling.  He was moved, but he was also frustrated, even angry according to many commentators.  But, what was he angry about?  

I believe he was angry at a world where death reigned, where there was no hope, where folks were not willing to believe in the deeper possibilities, that folks simply didn’t get it but went about their lives without imaginative hope.

Yes, Jesus is also aching for his friend Lazarus and for Mary and her family.  Jesus even weeps himself.  He is affected by this loss personally, they shared life together, he was moved by the love that was present with these friends.  The language used in this passage denotes that Jesus was so moved physically, that it affected him deeply, in the depths of his very body, his very being.   Instead of holding it in, Jesus lets it out.  He weeps, he feels, he empathizes, but then he moves into action.

People around him remark on his emotion and how he loved Lazarus, but they don’t see the depth of his love and desire for folks to see that where this is no hope, where folks have accepted an outcome, that God may have different ideas, different possibilities.

So, he tells those standing around to take away the stone.  Mary protests, saying that this body will stink!  Jesus reminds her that if she believes, then she will experience God’s glory.  Jesus is asking her, did you listen to me?  Did you not see all of the things I have done?  Did you not love me as I have loved you?  My love is a love of possibility.

They rolled away the stone, Jesus looks to God…this prayer reminds those of us reading that Jesus and the Father, the creator of life, are one.  They are in deep community, deep relationship, they deeply hear each other…and that Jesus has been sent out of that relationship.  

Then Jesus cries out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  Come out of the grave, rise up, come out of the darkness into the light of day, MOVE, show yourself!  Don’t wallow in the grave, but get up!

Lazarus, the dead guy, comes out of the grave.  He’s bound still by the cloths, he can’t see, one cloth covers his eyes.  He may have stunk a bit as well, but Jesus says there is a new reality, a new possibility, take off his grave clothes and let him go!

Friends, Jesus not only heals, he resurrects.  This man is dead and decaying, yet, with words from Jesus mouth of hope and life, he is brought back to life, and not just any life, but life filled with possibility and imagination.  

We may be hearing this story and thinking, well, I’ve been to funerals and I haven’t seen anything like this before.   That’s probably true, but the point of this story is that where we see and experience death, God sees possibility and with God, all things are possible.  We may be dead on the inside, but Jesus is calling us to life and wants those around us to loosen the grave clothes and to have release!

So often, we feel like we want to bind others and oursleves, we want to limit possibilities or we fail to see that the impossible can happen.  We are quick to say this can’t happen in my life, in others lives, or in our lives together.  Or, we, like Mary, limit ourselves by not going far enough in what could happen.  We do not see the possibility of new life.  Yet, God is moving, and God is deeply moved with our pain and wants us to believe that with God, anything is possible.

Friends, this is true in our lives and in our church.  We may think we’re almost dead, that we need to do or be something else before we die, yet God is saying that there are deeper possibilities at work.  God is saying to us death is not the final answer.  God is calling us out of the grave, to be loosened of whatever binds us, to believe that we can have a new story written that gives life to us and to those around us.  

This is a story of resurrection and as the body of Christ, as the church, we bear witness to this new life, this new story, by remembering what Jesus has done for us, and to believe and be moved.

Friends, here the good news, no matter what this pandemic brings us, we have possibilities to explore, and we have the promise that new life comes after death, disruption, lostness…wherever we find ourselves, have faith that love is here…and love leads to life!


What do we see during this time of disruption?

John 9:1-41

A Man Born Blind Receives Sight

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We[a]must work the works of him who sent me[b] while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ 10 But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ 11 He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ 12 They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ 16 Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ 20 His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus[c] to be the Messiah[d] would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ 25 He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ 26 They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ 27 He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ 28 Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ 30 The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ 34 They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.

Spiritual Blindness

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’[e]36 He answered, ‘And who is he, sir?[f] Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ 37 Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ 38 He said, ‘Lord,[g] I believe.’ And he worshipped him. 39 Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ 41 Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

Last week we talked about “God Encounters”…I had a question for this week:  Are God encounters always notice?  Do we recognize them while they are unfolding?  

What do you think?

This week, we see a man born blind in front of Jesus on the Sabbath…He didn’t ask to be put in that situation…actually, the disciples presented him with a  question to Jesus on sin.  Folks at that time often believed that sin caused physical ailments.  If you were blind, or crippled somehow, it was because you or your family had somehow sinned.  Jesus responds that this man, nor his parents had sinned, but Jesus also saw him in his blindness and saw an opportunity for God’s power to be at work.

What was that blind man thinking though?  I wonder…he’s only known darkness in his life.  Yet, here he is, in front of Jesus and he’s hearing these words that it’s not his fault that he’s blind.  He’s probably heard all of his life that somehow God caused his blindness because of something he had done or his parents had done…his view of himself and of God was probably complicated at best, more likely bitter or disillusioned.  

And, yet, Jesus healed him.  It was a strange healing, wasn’t it.  Jesus put mud in his hands, then told the blind man to go to a pool and wash his eyes out…the man did, and he was healed!  No one asked Jesus, he just did it.  Why saliva?  That sounds gross, but given that some folks back in the day thought saliva had healing powers. 

Now, today, we know that’s not true!  So, don’t go around spitting on people to ward of the coronavirus!  That will give us a different outcome I believe!

The man goes and tell his neighbors and friends, and they were astonished and wanted to meet this Jesus.  

Of course, the pharisees and religious leaders had questions of their own…they were threatened by pride and wanted to keep the status quo.  So, they formed an inquisition…they did not want the status quo to be shaken.  

Yet, this man’s disruption of being healed did just that!  They were mad, they drove him out, brought in his parents, questioned them as well.  But, the parents did not try to rescue their son, they allowed him to have agency and put it back on the Pharisees!  Brilliant!  

The formerly blind man was brought back in, he gave witness to being blind and now being able to see, a second time!  He was kind of snarky…I liked his response…ultimately telling the pharisees that the they don’t see God when God is right in front of them…confronting them of their blindness!  

So, they excommunicate him.  At that point, I don’t think the guy cared.  Jesus found him after Jesus heard what had happened…and he found a true friend in Jesus.  He believed out of Jesus’ belief in him.  

Now, friends, we may be walking around blind these days.  With all that’s going on, a common theme with this pandemic, is that we know that we don’t know.  With this pandemic, and so much in life, we are blind.  Maybe even a bit lost (or a lot) lost in our blindness.  If you feel that you are, I would encourage you…being lost means you are getting closer to finding God or God finding you.  It’s part of the process really, the process of growth, illumination, conversion, transformation. 

This season that we find ourselves can be a time of tremendous possibility for growth and becoming the people that we went to be!  

We are not alone, even as we stumble about.  

A good friend of mine, Rev. Nancy Ross-Zimmerman read this poem called “I Stand by the Door.” at the church we both served a few years ago.  The poem reminds me a lot of what we’re talking about today, so I wanted to share the first stanza:

I stand by the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
The door is the most important door in the world-
It is the door through which people walk when they find God.
There’s no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind people,
With outstretched, groping hands.
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it …
So I stand by the door.

Friends, no matter where we find ourselves today, may we know that God is with us…that we stand by the door.  We may be lost, we may be blind, but God’s divine flow is at work. May we crave to know where the door is, may we not be satisfied with our blindness, or lostness, but may we also know that we are connected to a God who loves, a Jesus who shows us how to live, and the Spirit of God that guides us when we listen and connects us to God, to one another, and to ourselves.  


John 4:5-30 (31-42)

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)[a]10 Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ 11 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13 Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 15 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17 The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you[b] say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25 The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26 Jesus said to her, ‘I am he,[c] the one who is speaking to you.’

27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ 28 Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,[d]can he?’ 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

Encounters…are we open to them in conversations ?

So, with that in mind, does anyone have a conversation that they had with someone that led to a sense of God’s presence?

Now, this can be at seeing a sunrise, talking to someone at Kroger’s, having coffee or a beer with someone, walking down the street, a run, or even at a church event!

Anyone like to share?

God encounters are everywhere around us, the key is being able to be open to those encounters in the everyday…that takes a lot of curiosity and really, a sense of moving beyond ourselves.

Our gospel story this morning was a God encounter that surprised the Samaritan woman at the well, a good surprise that she was open to and changed her world.  It didn’t happen in a temple, a church, or even on top of a mountain…it happened at a common daily experience for this woman, getting water from a well.  

It caught her by surprise in so many ways…first of all, it’s the 1st century and she’s a woman.  Men didn’t approach women randomly like that, much less a Jewish rabbi initiating a conversation with a woman from a marginalized community with a potentially sketchy personal history.  But, didn’t matter to Jesus…Jesus saw humanity, all of humanity, in a different way.

I say “potentially sketchy personal history”, because the context of this text may yield a different story other than the one passed down through oral history.  Friend and author, Alexander Shaia says this about the well and the woman at the well”

…(Jacob’s)Well appears to be of like importance to the Samaritans as is the Jerusalem Temple to the Hebrews. And it appears that in the First Century, Jacob’s Well was connected to the worship of Baal and a select group of Samaritan women priestesses ministered The Well.

Yes – most likely – in the text Jesus the Christ is speaking with a Woman priest – her village’s spiritual elder. Also consider that a Samaritan priestess was considered the bride of Baal (their primary god – and a powerful fertility god.) Further, Baal was believed to have five faces – or five aspects.

If Alexander is correct, and I believe that he is, then this woman had a pretty good voice and understanding of her people and especially with women.  This story also comes after Jesus’ late night discussion with Nicodemus that we talked about last week.  Just like last week’s chat, where Nicodemus comes at unusual time and meets Jesus away from the temple, Jesus meets this woman in a common area away from the places where we may normally associate where one would have God encounters.  The writer of John seems to be sharing these stories to remind us that God surprises us with chance meetings, conversations, in the most ordinary of places.

Again, Alexander Shaia says this about the context of this text coming right after Jesus’ encounter with the woman:

In my mind, we should be outraged that many today will continue to portray this great and powerful woman in demeaning terms. In the Gospel, she is contrasted with Nicodemus who exhibits no growth by his meeting with The Christ. While she – an equal spiritual teacher and priestess – shows humility and transformation in receiving Jesus the Christ and his teaching about oneness.

This woman was going to get water, it was a task, she needed water.  She probably came here regularly.  Now, this was also an unusual part of the day more than likely, Jesus was hanging out there, and this woman maybe didn’t want to come into contact with folks…not only because Jesus was male, Jewish and a rabbi, and she was a woman, Samaritan, and possibly had a history she wasn’t too proud of…or she simply wanted to get her task done and get on with say…either way she wasn’t used to folks simply striking up conversations, much less men like Jesus.  Regardless of her being a priestess or even an outcast, the different genders had different ways of interacting and it was unusual for such a conversation to take place.  

Yet, Jesus asks her for a favor…a drink of water…he was thirsty and he was showing to her a humility of being able to ask for help.

The woman gives a response of why ask me, Jesus responds with this “if only you knew this gift…” and to talk about living water.  Now, living water was a common term back then…it meant flowing water…and they were probably at a spring.  But, Jesus gave this living water a deeper meaning…this water flowed from the very heart of God…and she would never be thirsty again.

Jesus was probably picking up that this woman seemed a bit lonely, or maybe just curious.  She was hungry for a deeper sense of connection…Jesus is saying that he was there to offer her friendship with himself, friendship with God, connection to others through God’s Spirit and the living water of God’s flowing relational love.  

She wasn’t understanding the theology of the moment, she may not have clued in to all that Jesus was saying, but she knew that she wanted this living water, that there was something there.

But, then Jesus has to make it a bit uncomfortable…go get your husband…come back.  She says she doesn’t have one and Jesus affirms that, but says she’s had 5 husbands…she doesn’t deny it.

Alexander Shaia says this about the “five husbands” as well:  

“(It)…is more likely a reference to her being a bride to the five aspects of Baal than to any form of a physical marriage.

Either way, I believe that she is sensing that this Jesus isn’t judging her, she’s a bit uneven, that’s not what she’s used to. It seems as if she try’s to change the subject, saying he must be a prophet…and tries to throw out some theology herself and making statements about where Jews and Samaritans worship. Yet, Jesus doesn’t jump into her argument, doesn’t own her anxiety or her invitation to debate. I believe that he knows who he is. Then comes this has a huge statement when she says that they are all waiting for the Messiah….Jesus says, well, the wait is over, the Messiah is here, in front of her.

I don’t know where you’d identify with this story, or what you think about the context, but this is rich with application.  Friends, know that God encounters happen all of the time, in the most ordinary of circumstances.  God wants you to have living water flowing from God, through Jesus and by the power of God’s Spirit into you…giving you life, life that is abundant and without end.  And, life that starts NOW!  It may make you uncomfortable, it may be risky, but the example of the Samaritan woman is good for us today.  We may feel like we have things to hide, or there may be things we don’t understand and we don’t want to risk being vulnerable in conversations, we may try to avoid God encounters as they can make us uncomfortable, we may argue with God or with others or have others argue with us, but when one takes risks, engages in active listening and conversations with a God who simply loves us…then we are transformed.

The Samaritan woman bears witness to this growth.  She goes and tell her friends and crowds came to meet Jesus.  The power of transformed life brings transformation to others.

When the disciples show up, they were surprised to see Jesus speaking to a woman, and a woman with a crazy history…yet, Jesus breaks down walls that keep folks from being in relationship…that’s what God does…God came to save, not condemn, and God came to make sure all were included and loved.  

And, we, the body of Christ, are called to be open to God encounters with others and to even be looking for those God encounters.  You never know what may happen by simply walking down to the UDF, through the neighborhood, or right around the corner, or anywhere and being open to listening to others and engaging in authentic conversation.

My bet is that those God encounters with others will have a profound impact on you, they do on me when I’m open to them.  Now, we don’t go into those conversations thinking, hey I’ve got to meet x amount of people and get them into the church…no, do what Jesus does, simply engage folks in a loving way and let living water flow…and, when our lives are being transformed, we want to share it with others…and, others may also be looking for living water and want us to take them to this Jesus, this Immanuel, God with us, to hear about someone who knows all about us but doesn’t judge us, but loves us and gives us life brimming with living, cleansing, loving, water without end.  

Friends, I wrote this sermon before the Coronavirus pandemic forced churches, and many other activities, stores, restaurants, bars, schools, etc. to suspend all gatherings and services. But, the message is still clear, even in our “social distancing” we can look for encounters with the Divine in unique ways. Take walks in your neighborhood (maintaining six feet of separation!), greet one another, find ways to connect, engage, hike in the woods, run, exercise, paint, read…use this time as “reset” and a moment to encounter yourself, the Divine, others…know that Jesus does love and gave us an example of how to love…even in extreme situations!

And, be safe. Wash hands! 🙂

Last thing: we’ll be doing a series of Facebook Live and Zoom conversations throughout the week, as well as giving the sermon via these two formats each Sunday at 10:30 AM! PLEASE LET US KNOW HOW WE CAN PRAY AND CONNECT! We are here for you!


John 3:1-17

Nicodemus Visits Jesus

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus[a] 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.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”[b]Nicodemus 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?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c]Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born from above.’[e]The wind[f] 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.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus 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[g] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[h]14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.[i]

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.

What does it mean to be born again?  

One of my favorite songs is by the band “Over the Rhine” called “Born”.  Check out these lyrics:

Image result for over the rhine band

I was born to laugh

I learned to laugh though my tears

I was born to love

I’m gonna learn to love without fear

Pour me a glass of wine

Talk deep into the night 

Who knows what we’ll find

Intuition, deja-vu

The Holy Ghost haunting you

Whatever you got

I don’t mind

Put your elbows on the table

I’ll listen long as I am able

There’s nowhere I’d rather be

Secret fears, the supernatural

Thank God for this new laughter

Thank God the joke’s on me

We’ve seen the landfill rainbow

We’ve seen the junkyard of love

Baby it’s no place for you and me

I was born to laugh

I learned to laugh through my tears

I was born to love

I’m gonna learn to love without fear

In our gospel text this morning, the writer is telling us about a certain man. I believe he’s actually look for a conversation like the one in the song lyrics above…he wants to connect, to grow, and to understand this love that Jesus is always talking about. In essence, he was born to love and Jesus has come to remind him of his true identity. He was a Pharisee, or a teacher of the law and a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, coming to Jesus in the night with questions.  This question about being born again is a good one…we have all sorts of notions of what that may mean, but I do think it starts with asking questions and being in conversations like this one…

Now, we don’t know if it was actually nighttime, but the author could be saying that this man is a bit in the dark and he’s looking for some light in Jesus.  Or, it could be a night and this man is somewhat timid, coming at the end of the day when folks are relaxing.

It’s also interesting to note that this probably isn’t a private conversation, Nicodemus probably had some other Pharisees with him and the disciples were probably around as well.  But, it’s certainly not a formal teaching time for Jesus, and it’s a personal conversation.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus, giving him an address as teacher, Rabbi.  It’s a note of respect, but it’s probably interesting in that Nicodemus probably had formal training, had done all of the right things to achieve his position in society, as opposed to Jesus who had no formal training and wasn’t interested in achieving through the system or the world that he lived in, but was interested in how folks lived in community and in a sense of abundance and love in their lives.

Nicodemus points out that Jesus has done miraculous signs and wonders.  He had performed miracles, people were getting excited as they saw Jesus as a change agent.  Nicodemus even states that God must be with Jesus.  He didn’t quite grasp, yet, who Jesus was or who Jesus truly represented.

Jesus then goes on to say that in order to truly understand what Jesus was talking about, what the miraculous signs were pointing towards, one must be “born again”.  That phrase has certainly caused a lot of interpretation over the years, and many folks get confused about what it actually means and if this is an action that we can take, invoke, or is it something that God must do in our lives.  

The phrase “born again” literally translates into being “born from above”.  And Jesus goes on to say that this isn’t an action that humans can evoke, but that it’s a movement of God’s Spirit and Water.  Water in this case would be symbolic or a metaphor of a flow of love over us and through us, a cleansing, a making things new.  The Spirit is God’s action in our lives that gives us life and moves us towards a sense of God’s expansive love.  Nicodemus gets hung up on the idea of someone literally being born again, going back into the mother’s womb….but Jesus is using this phrase to literally say that there is a birthing, we have to go through a birth canal out of a protective mode of being and into the realities of life…and that God goes through the pains of childbirth along with humanity.

You know though, that’s a hard concept for us.  Birth is beautiful and filled with expectation and possibility.  But, we don’t want to leave the friendly confines of the womb.  We want to stay comfortable and in control, yet God moves us towards birth, towards maturity, towards a new way of living…and that takes risk and moving out of something familiar and comfortable.

Jesus doesn’t mess around with Nicodemus, doesn’t play games, he goes straight to a hard saying…and then says that God’s Spirit is also like the wind.  The Hebrew word for spirit is the same for wind, Ruach…it’s also Pneuma in Greek.  It blows where it pleases.  The question for the readers of this passage, do we have our hearts, our bodies, our lives towards God’s Spirit?  Do we try to bundle ourselves up in scarves or jackets of anxiety, control, identity in something, even church to shield us from the wind, or are willing to turn into the wind and let it carry us where God’s Spirit intends?

Friends, there is a message for us this morning in this text.  Being born from above, experiencing a new of being in our lives and even in our church, starts with us recognizing that God is giving us all sorts of signs that can lead us towards a new way of living and finding our being.  We can settle for doing and being as we always have, or we can listen to Jesus’ words and experience rebirth.  It’s given to us, it’s out there, and it’s in here…moving and shaping, but we have to pray for ears to listen to the wind blowing and eyes to see the signs.  I believe that as we become more community engaged as a church, that is also about looking for signs of God’s activity that we can join in on…in the neighborhood that will lead to change within us and within others.  

We may be timid at first like Nicodemus was, but Nicodemus changed…grew, sought out Jesus and asked deep questions.  And, Nicodemus was there for Jesus when Jesus was crucified and risked his reputation along with Joseph and helped to bury Jesus even when all of Jesus’ disciples deserted him.

In this discourse with Nicodemus, Jesus says that his life is the sign that the world is looking for, that he will be lifted up like the sign of the serpent that was lifted up by Moses in the desert for all to see…that we cannot avoid Jesus.  Really, to try to avoid Jesus is simply to try and avoid who we are…Jesus represents all of humanity and to try to live our lives without seeing the signs of God’s faithfulness to us, God’s movement, is to live without seeing ourselves as we created to be.

But, seeing ourselves and others with new eyes, to have the eyes of seeing that comes from being born from above requires some courage and a realization that being born from above is what we desire deep down, but it comes at a cost, we will live and love differently, we will strive for authenticity that will shine light into the dark places of our lives.  Nicodemus showed some vulnerability and we must do the same in order to have the new life that God gives.

In this process, we begin to realize again and again, that we were born to love…remember these words:

I was born to laugh

I learned to laugh though my tears

I was born to love

I’m gonna learn to love without fear

Jesus goes on to say that he has come to give life and to not condemn the world, but to save the world.  The world is a system that we live in…it’s different from creation or humanity in general.  We all live in a system that can be impersonal, yet the calling of Jesus is to live with purpose and with deep love and respect for others within that system…which is a seed planted that will eventually change that system….but, it starts with a seed being planted, growing, giving birth in our lives and knowing that God’s Spirit, God’s wind will carry us even as it saves us.  


Matthew 4:1-11

The Temptation of Jesus

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
    and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

What do you think of when you hear the word “temptation?”

What do you think are some temptations that our culture struggles with?

What are some of the temptations of the church?

What about us personally?

I know that we all struggle with some temptations.  There are certainly temptations such as eating too much chocolate or going into excess on something.  But, what’s the root of temptation?

Our gospel passage this morning presents us with three temptations that Jesus faced.  

  1. Turning stones to bread
  2. Protection from being thrown off the temple roof
  3. Being given the world

Now, on the surface, there are some appealing things to these temptations I’d imagine for Jesus.  Honestly, they all sound good to me!  There are lots of stones in the world, and lots of starving people.  Wouldn’t it be great to solve the world’s hunger issues by turning stone into bread?  And, with Jesus, you know it would be good bread!

Being able to be protected physically from falling off the temple roof!  Well, we all want to be safe don’t we?  Wouldn’t we like to know that if we jumped off the roof of this building that we’d land safely?  That a bunch of angels would come to our rescue if we are being physically threatened?

How about being given dominion over the world?  Wouldn’t that be great!   We could make everything great and good!  People seem to like to remind us that this world is a mess, that no one is in control.  Well, we are good people, if we had control, then we could make the world safe, we could put our vision into play and make the world a better place…because we know better. 

I shared this a while ago, but I thought it would be appropriate to share again…noted author, speaker, theologian and philosopher, Henri Nouwen talks about the temptations of Jesus in his book on Christian Leadership, In the Name of Jesus.  He says that Jesus, like all leaders are tempted in three ways and that we can practice certain disciplines that will help us move towards a better sense of wholeness and health:

  1. The first temptation of turning stones to bread is the temptation to be relevant.  We want to do something that is related to our experiences or others.  Yet, that’s a trap, it’s like me winning the lottery so I can fund the world’s great projects…you can spend so much time on that, that you lose sight of yourself.  Yet, Jesus wants us to know that we are loved and that we can return that love…as we grow in our understanding of God’s love for us, we don’t have to be relevant, yet, we can become confident.  Nouwen goes on to say that the key work or practice for us to move towards a deeper sense of awareness and confidence, is contemplative prayer.  Spending time listening to God’s love for us.  
  1. The second temptation of jumping of the roof only to be caught is the temptation to be spectacular.  Can we impress others with something.  Yet, God calls us to practice the simple work of serving others, of being with people, listening to their stories, encouraging one another, and living authentically.  Our discipline that leads us away from the temptation of wanting to do something spectacular is to be able to confess to others and ask forgiveness.  That’s hard to do, to yield to others, yet that gives us the humility to grow and to mature.
  1. The third temptation of being given the world is the desire to be powerful, to get others to do what we tell them!  To get at others before they get you…really, to have others bow before your wishes, to get your way.  Yet, Jesus tells us that, in order to lead, one has to follow.  And you have to trust others to take you where you may not want to go.  We aren’t given the world, but we are given each other.  Our discipline or practice is to think about God’s actions, God’s word to us, to look at Jesus, to have theological reflection.  That allows us to look at our motives and to be shaped inwardly which moves towards outward actions. 

Temptations lure us in to something innocently enough and with seemingly good intentions.  This season of Lent is meant to be a time of recognizing and resisting temptations, and to take on practices or disciplines to help us to have perspective and grow.  The idea is to befriend temptations, know they are there and recognize them when they come around…and when temptations come around, find ways to go deeper, and to use those times as a reminder that God is with you and calling you towards deeper places in life.  I believe we all recognize that when we give into temptations, they become habits of thinking or acting, then they reform us in destructive ways or can reinforce bad habits.  

Author and speaker, Dr. Brene Brown, in her book Rising Strong, says that our brains get stuck in particular patterns that are hard to break.  The only way to move out of those patterns is by creating a new practice, a healthier practice.   Oftentimes those new practices require courage.  It’s easy to give into the temptations around us, but moving towards a new practice can lead to our thinking patterns being changed and a new way of being as we move towards a deeper understanding of those temptations.

The early church understood this.  They didn’t have a lot of the dogma that we have today.  For a few hundred years before Christianity became sanctioned by the Roman government, practice was more important than doctrine.  Folks knew that they needed community and that they wanted meaning in life and a new way of being.  Christians practiced welcome, grace, hospitality, a sense of equality was practiced between ethnicities and gender, all were one, and there was deep commitment.  When someone joined the church, it was a huge commitment; it could cost you your life.  Yet, the rule of love was so compelling that folks were drawn in…the early church folks didn’t ask new members of the faith a lot of questions about belief, but they took time to be in the practice of loving one another.  It created new patterns of being and doing.  

They also understood that God was committed to them and that Jesus’ actions on their behalf gave them the grace to start over, daily.  They had an understanding of God’s relational nature, which gave birth to the concept of God as trinity, and that Jesus entered into this world, and absorbed sin for us, for all of humanity.  Know that Jesus’ response to temptation is our response, we may fail and lose often, often, but ultimately, we win because of Jesus’ work for us and in us….actually, it’s deeper than just winning, it’s growing and maturing…and as we practice loving in the way of Jesus, we begin to fall deeper in love with God, even as our overwhelmed with God’s love for and of us.