March 5, 2023, Sanctuary Worship, Sermon, "At the Crossroads with the Spirit"
Mar 5th | The Reverend Anna von Winckler | John 3:1-7
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This a tale of two men and what each of them have to teach us about trust. Abram, as we know, was a man of faith, but other than that he lived his life without any fanfare, tending to his wife and whatever needed to be done to live. But one day he God told him to leave. “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” God promises Abram blessings if he does so. And Abram goes. Just like that. He gathers up all his possessions, the servants, the livestock, and he leaves to a place unknown. All because God told him to do so.
Now Abram wasn’t a young man. We are told he was 75 at this point. But he obeys God and goes. It’s interesting that the place Abram was living in was called Haran, which has been translated as meaning crossroads, road, or highway. It seems fitting that at that point in God’s story that Abram was at the crossroads of the future. He surely had the choice to disobey and to stay or make alterations to the plans and have gone right or left instead of forward; but he didn’t. He went forward simply because God told him to.
Now I was at a church in Florida when an Elder told me I was expecting too much of them. After all, many of them, like her, were in their 70’s, this despite the fact that she and others were out playing golf at least once a week. I wasn’t asking her to move with her possessions to a distant land only to seek out God as to where God wanted to take that church next in its witness to the community. It seems asking them to pray to discern God’s will and discuss how the church should move forward was a task too big to ask of them.
And here’s the thing. While we aren’t told what Abram was doing when God told him to go, we know that he must have been open to God’s Spirit to hear God speak and his response was one of obedience.
In turning to Nicodemus, we know that he was a learned man who was a part of the Jewish Council; and we know that he came to Jesus at night. We can pretty much assume from what is written that Nicodemus was spiritually curious about who Jesus was, maybe even believed a bit in Jesus’ divinity. But he was a man of status and power, probably a self-confident man, a person with influence, and a rational man. He couldn’t jeopardize his position by talking with Jesus in the day, in front of everyone. They then have the discussion of being born again, or maybe a better way to say it is to be born anew by water and spirit, not by flesh. Nicodemus does not seem to understand. Jesus tells him if he cannot understand earthly things then he will never understand spiritual things. Jesus is there. Present. Showing signs. And yet, Nicodemus has trouble understanding.
What he doesn’t understand is that Jesus is inviting him into a fuller life with God, a deeper faith, to become a mature Christian, a full participant in the abundant life he offers. Jesus knows that neither Nicodemus or any of us can do it on our own. We cannot bring new life to ourselves. We cannot pick ourselves up when we have been knocked down by life, but God can. It is God who gives birth, in water and Spirit. Rebirth is God’s gift to give, God’s work to accomplish, and it is. God who willingly labors to bring us this new life. And this new life should flourish in all aspects of our lives, when we are out and about, not just in church or at home. I too often have seen people living exemplary lives in church and when visited at home, but at work can be ruthless bosses or gossipy coworkers. Some people have a way of compartmentalizing their lives, but when God brings new life to us, it is new life in all areas of our lives. As we mature and grow in faith, we see even more how much God does for us and how we are called on to always give glory to God.
Born anew by the power of the Spirit. Fundamental Christians will expect you to have a day, date, and time that you were born again, but they miss that we are not born anew once, but we are repeatedly born anew as we seek God, grow closer to God, and trust God with our lives, as we obey God to go on that journey where God leads. For it is only by the power of God that we may begin anew. And haven’t you, at least once in your life, found yourself a bit lost, discouraged or depressed, fatigued by life, or even become immobilized? Everyone who has ever been there knows how hard it is to get out of those feelings, that place in life, without the help of God. For it is by the power of God that we may begin anew. God may use family and friends or therapists to help us, but it is always through the leading of the Holy Spirit that we are lifted up and made whole.
In going back to Abram, we find a man who trusts in God. What makes him have so much trust? What makes him move without having every little question answered, every little detail in place first? Abram knows that God will provide, so there is nothing to fear. And he knows that God will equip him for his journey. Everything he will need will be provided for. For the one who calls always leads the called to a more complete expression of the persons they were created to be. And listen to this quote: “A faithful response is the embrace of what God has already called into being - a newness of being - and a release from what is known to what is promised.”
Every new birth is a blessing and every blessing holds the possibility of newness.
So what is God saying to this congregation this morning? I think the most obvious is that you are called to leave the place you were at and to go to a new place - not physically, but mentally, emotionally, and most of all spiritually. To be born anew and in that newness seek out what God wants you to do as you grow in maturity.
What is God calling you to do? In the wind that blows, what do you hear the Spirit saying to you? We have some committees that have many members - Mission, Worship, but the Youth and Children’s programs could use more help. Might God be calling you to that? The Education committee is very small and could use more members to brainstorm ideas to help put more educational pieces in place for all ages. Might God be calling you to that? And as we go through the study and look to the new direction God is calling this church into, the new life you are each being called into, you need to each ask the question, “How can I serve? What can I do to use my gifts and talents to the benefit of the ministry of this church for God’s glory?”
A couple of final thoughts. First, we move forward with faith. The psalm we read this morning reminds us that God will not let your foot be moved, the God who keeps you will not slumber.” God will not slumber as we do what we are asked to do. God is right there with us. God’s Spirit is with us, guiding us, uplifting us. And most of all, remember that God said that God will make us a blessing. We have inherited this covenant promise made to Abraham. We are children of the new covenant and we receive God’s pledge to this world. Where we go, God goes. And when we refuse to show hospitality and welcome, or if we refuse to walk in those places of great need which often also hold great danger, God’s saving work that has been given to us, is hampered somehow.
There is much need here in Evansville and around the world. There is violence in this city, but there are also so many lost youth and adults who don’t know any other way, who have never experienced the saving grace and love of Jesus Christ. There are many who struggle to obtain the basics for their children, not because they don’t work, but they are suppressed by being paid unlivable wages. There are children who have experienced gun violence at schools and on the streets. There are people in this church who are lonely and in need of a friend. I don’t know who that is, but I can guarantee you that person sits among you. And, there are children living overseas without medical care, without educational opportunities, whose parents can’t find work, who toil the land to provide some sustenance only to be met with drought. Life on this earth is not easy, but we are privileged because we know God and we have been blessed.
As this congregation continues on its journey into the future, remember and be open to God’s calling. Jerusha once said to me that when Kevin was alive, the path forward seemed clear, now it is no longer clear. Now, you are being called to move forward in faith into the unknown, but knowing that God is beside you every step of the way. And, also, God equips us for our journey, equips us for the tasks that we are given. If you are asked to do something, perhaps don’t say an immediate no. Pray on it and ask God what God would have you do. Be open to the stirrings of the Spirit that come like the wind. Put your trust in God to provide you with what you need to do a task for the glory of God.
In story after story in the Bible, God chooses the least likely person to do a task and they always rise up when they are doing the task. They are blessed. We will be blessed if we trust in God, if we allow ourselves to be born anew as we grow in our faith to maturity. We should never stop growing and trusting and moving. God is there to guide and bless. There are always blessings waiting for us, even if the journey is hard at times, there are blessings even in the midst of difficulty. Let us move forward, going where the wind blows us, with faith and trust that God is our guide and we are equipped for every task God calls us to undertake. Amen.
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