Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent

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

The text from Hebrew Scriptures matches up to Paul’s interpretation in the epistle as it did last week. At the core is the idea that Abram obeyed God even though there is no evidence that he came from a monotheistic people. His obedience was reckoned as righteousness. And as Paul says the one who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist, does no works to wow Abram yet he goes.

But it is to today’s gospel with the familiar John 3.16 that I wish to explore together with you this morning.

I was particularly drawn to what Nicodemus says to Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” It suggested to me a situation that many of you know about.

It is the family of whatever size that is alienated from the community that church offers because at a critical point they could not dot the ‘I’s’ and cross the’ t’s’ required at that moment in their home denomination. Let me give some examples from my experience.

The mother of a young child wanted to be baptized. I asked her why she wasn’t and she said that about the time she was 8 years of age, her parents got mad at the pastor of their Baptist church and left.

Here was a twenty-something that did not know until we had instruction that adult baptisms were the most common in the early Church. She thought she had missed the boat—grown too old for the sacrament.

In another case the groom was Episcopalian and the woman was Roman Catholic. They were undecided where to be married. I told them whatever they decided was appropriate to them. They went to the priest and were told that where they were married did not make a difference to their life in the Roman Catholic Church.

They decided to get married by me and later when she became pregnant, they sought out the priest to find out the requirements they should fulfill to have the baby baptized Roman Catholic. The priest told them he would not do the baptism because they had been married in the Episcopal Church. They felt like the rug had been jerked out from under them.

I have talked with people who could not get their children baptized because they had been married by a justice of the peace. A Methodist colleague told me he would refuse to do a marriage or a baptism for anyone not a regular member.

Let me say that these events took place in other areas not here in Cornwall, but the point I want to make is ‘are we ever too old’ to be welcomed by God and brought into the fellowship of Jesus Christ? The answer should be a resounding no.

Whose sacraments are these? They are of course God’s sacraments, provided as a way to communicate God’s grace to human beings at various points in their lives.

A friend says that you cannot use John 3.16 and ignore John 3.17 which completes our gospel reading. I tend to agree. “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.”

Notice some points: the Son was sent into the world, not just the Roman occupied territory of Palestine. So the Son is sent not just for us who are Christians but for the whole world also. When itt says that he came not to condemn the world; it means not just the humans of the world but all living creatures. So when we do our part to conserve and recycle and taking just our share, we are making a better place for all living things.

Saved through him—everyone, not just Christians, but everyone. While we can respect the beliefs of other faiths, it is important to believe that they too will be saved by Jesus’ sacrifice.

Sadly, the world, certainly the human inhabitants of it, has done a pretty good job of condemning itself. Condemning from the standpoint of squandering the habitat of other creatures, hunting and fishing them to species extinction. And condemning from the standpoint of turning our backs on others we feel superior to.

We condemn when we don’t take the time to understand the customs and traditions of other people. Many Americans think that everyone should speak English and when they don’t they’re marginalized by category.

I remember in the late 1960’s when there were close to 2 billion people on the planet that people were concerned about controlling population. Now there are 6 billion of us and few seem to be worried that a major crop disaster will bring suffering and death to millions.

When I was studying anthropology, I learned that for most societies in history their culture developed to help them live in harmony with nature. Now we use our know how to live in spite of nature, and we pay a price.

The enormous need for cooling water means that nuclear plants are sited where natural forces can severely damage them. People build houses on the Pacific palisades in California to enjoy the ocean view even though the hills are prone to mudslides.

People live in retirement communities in Arizona many miles from the source on any drinkable water. People live in the lowlands of the Mississippi and Red Rivers; they live in areas frequented by hurricanes or cyclones. They live too close to volcanoes.

Yes, left to our own devices, we have condemned and are condemning ourselves. Yet the very teachings of Jesus hold the answers—share what you have, care about others, express love toward all.

We are never too old to forge a relationship with Jesus but that relationship will call us to do things outside our comfort zone. We are never too old to stop condemning and lead the kind of lives Jesus wants us to have. Like the Nike commercial says, “Just do it.”

Amen.