2nd Sunday in Lent
Texts: John 3:1-17;
Gen. 12:1-4a; Rom. 4:1-5, 13-17
BORN FROM ABOVE INTO GOD’S FAMILY
The next four weeks we are blessed by four wonderful stories from the Gospel of John, revolving around Jesus extended encounter with others: today, Nicodemus; next week, the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob; then, a man born blind; and finally, Mary and Martha, at the death of their brother Lazarus. We will have the opportunity in each of these encounters to lift up a big idea that highlights a core value of faith, a core value of our mission in this time and place.
Outline of sermon extemporized around the following:
Big idea today: God intends the world to live as one human family — a point we regularly miss because of our sin, despite its simplicity.
Jesus has a little bit of fun with Nicodemus, and us, in John 3:3 by using a word that has two meanings — as seen in the two most popular Protestant translations:
NIV: In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
NRSV: Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.1” 1Or born anew.
Because we regularly miss the point, God loves us by sending Jesus to be lifted up on the cross, like with Moses, the poisonous snakes, and the people of Israel in Numbers 21:4-9.
‘Shorthand’ for Genesis 12:2-3: Blessed to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. How? By helping us to see how we are all one human family. But so often we get fixated on the blessing part as something we deserve, and it goes no further than us. We treat the blessing as an end in itself, rather than as the means to the greater blessing: that we live as one human family.
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
What comes just before this passage is Rom. 3:19-28, the Scripture we read every Reformation Sunday to highlight “justification by grace through faith.” Paul seems to be helping us to understand once again that this blessing of grace comes so that we may be a blessing by calling others to live in Jesus’ fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and Sarah — namely, to live as one human family. Paul quotes not Gen. 12:2-3, but two of the other versions of the promise, Gen. 15:1-6 and Genesis 17:5, “No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.” — Paul’s “father of us all” in Rom. 4:16-17.
Again, our sin gets in the way and distorts the law, Rom. 4:15: “For the law brings wrath.” The law becomes just another blessing that divides us instead of unites us. Do you remember this past summer in Kalamazoo, the night of August 7 at Miller Auditorium? Bishop Desmond Tutu’s one rule for humankind: We are family; let us act like it. Jesus came to fulfill this law in love, in order that the world might be saved through him.
We live as instruments of God’s peace when we learn to see “God’s Kingdom” as one world-wide human family by being “born from above” to the heavenly Father of Jesus (John 3:1-17). In the cross, he breaks down the dividing walls between us (Eph. 2) and fulfills the law in love. Suggested goal: work to be an anti-racist institution with ERAC/CE.
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, February 17, 2008