Genesis 12: 1-4a, Psalm 121, John 3: 1-17

Jesus expects that living is a lifelong learning process, one that involves continual
renewal and rebirth, what he calls – from above. Our sacrament of Baptism embodies this
idea that we are called to be continually renewed by the Spirit -from above, from within,
from around us, and throughout our lives. The question is whether we also expect this to
be true and to ask ourselves if we really live our lives with that depth of trust that God in
Christ will accompany us through thick and thin, in light and in darkness. Can we
develop the confidence in God like the psalmist in Psalm 121 who proclaims his faith
after a time of questioning – “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore.”
The story in Genesis 12 is also foundational to our faith as it brings a promise from
God of new life and rebirth for Abram just after it has been confirmed in chapter 11 that
his wife Sarai was barren; she had no child. God’s promise to Abram that he would make
a great nation through him and Sarai, to bring blessing to all the families of the earth was
an outrageous promise, yet it was accepted by Abram enough that he was willing to set
out on a whole new adventure with his family at seventy-five years old. How many of us
have felt that kind of daring at 35, 45 let alone 75 to start into a new venture simply based
on our faith?
These stories today and throughout the season of Lent draw us into a deeper
relationship of trust with the God who makes these promises and who invites us to
discover for ourselves what are the boundaries we need to cross, the landscapes we need
to discover, the new ways of thinking and being that we need and to have the courage to
explore? Of course, given the travel restrictions that are currently being imposed because
of the Covid 19 virus, this is not a time to be thinking literally about travel, but to begin
our Lenten journeys in the spiritual and emotional realm of our existence. Indeed, this is
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    the place the John takes us to at the beginning of his gospel as he enters into deeper
    conversation with Nicodemus, inviting him to explore new territory with his religious
    beliefs.
    Nicodemus was a man who knew a lot about his own religion, the laws and rules,
    given that he was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin which would be like our
    Supreme Court. He knew his religious stories and doctrines! But for his deeper, more
    personal questions, he turned to Jesus in the darkness of night to lift up his questions –
    about the identity of Jesus and where his authority came from, about how to know and
    experience the renewal of this kingdom of God that Jesus talked about, that he had also
    read about in the Torah. He wanted to know God more deeply.
    His questions are not unlike those questions that motivate the ‘spiritual but not
    religious’ folks who want to know how to achieve more spiritual feelings, who want to
    know how to be in touch with their creativity, open their imaginations to the ‘cosmic
    consciousness’, perhaps, connect their mind, body and spirit whether it is through
    chanting ‘om’, receiving daily intentions, even through the use of drugs, perhaps taking
    part in a sweat lodge or receiving the cleansing of smudging.
    I think that is what motivated my sister-in-law’s recent trip to an Ashram in the
    Bahamas as she continues to grieve my brother’s Rob’s death, a place she went to in
    January to learn how to practice yoga, meditate and to eat a pure diet of vegetarian food.
    She did feel cleansed and relaxed as she actually slept through the night for the first time
    in months. But she was not really convinced of the authority or truth of the many Hindu
    gods and goddesses that were offered to her through the morning chanting in Sanskrit,
    even though the language and poetry had its own beauty. She is still a Christian at heart
    and clings to Christ in her own way as her guide and measure of what is true for her.
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    “The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates said. In other words, if we
    don’t question ourselves about what kind of person we want to be or about what we really
    believe, we are living a script – someone’s else’s – not a life.
    The call upon us to be people of trust, understanding and generosity is being tested
    so profoundly in these weeks as the world moves more deeply into a pandemic from the
    Corona virus, a virus that respects no borders, cultures, races or economics. However, it
    is being communicated more clearly everyday that it is up to each individual take
    responsibility for their own health, personal cleansing, touching and self-awareness of
    your own symptoms. If this virus becomes more of a problem in our own communities in
    and around Ottawa, we will have to put into practice being more caring, looking out for
    each other in our families, with our neighbours, in our church family, in our schools. Our
    hearts really need to go out to the many Asian and Iranian students in our colleges and
    universities who carry such fear and worry about their families back home.
    So what are your questions that rummage around in your mind and heart in these
    winter nights, especially when the moon is full and our times are presenting us with so
    many more challenges, new challenges that have never been experienced before?
    Perhaps you are a student and wonder how you will find the resilience to complete
    your studies now that you are on the final stretch towards the end of the term. You may
    have questions about the path of life you are currently on and where it will take you or
    you may long to be back home as you worry about your families and old friends…..
    Perhaps you or a loved one are involved in treatments for cancer or other chronic
    illness and wonder how to stay strong, and in the night you find yourself reaching out to
    the Spirit for courage and strength in your weariness, fear or grief.
    Perhaps your questions are more about political issues, wondering how such hate
    and fear has gripped the hearts of so many people leading to such destructive behaviours
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    and policies. We wonder what is happening to the state of our democracies especially as
    populism continues to rise. I think we can feel proud of our own political scientist Daniel
    as been hired by the German government to try to form an organization and policies to
    face into the populism that has been rising in Europe.
    After this conversation with the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’an Nation and
    the long blockades that crippled our transportation system for some time, we may have
    many questions about how to move forward in a hopeful way in the journey of
    reconciliation amongst our many different nations that share this same land many of us
    call Canada or the north. I know that my heart is struggling with many questions seeking
    new understanding as I continue to examine my own beliefs and work through some
    difficult feelings.
    Some of you may be anxious about the future of the church – not just our own- but
    many churches across North America are wondering how to reach out, what it is to be
    faithful in dealing with our buildings. Over the next few weeks you will be offered some
    questions in order to reflect and pray over the direction of our own congregation in the
    next few months given that we have now heard the news from Edge that they were not
    successful in finding a developer who is interested in developing this heritage building.
    You will be invited to share what is on your heart and minds and what brings you hope
    and joy. Perhaps your questions are more about how to nurture the new unfolding future
    which is more open ended, more collaborative, rejoicing that we are being lead into new
    ways of being intentional communities of care and love
    In Joan Chittister’s book Seeing with our Souls, Monastic Wisdom for Every Day,
    she says that ‘questions go to the core of the present. Answers only satisfy as long as
    nothing changes. That’s why people ask time and time again from childhood on, do you
    love me?”
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    When Nicodemus meets with Jesus in the heart of his nighttime, Jesus does not
    engage with him in the traditional bantering between two rabbis about the law but rather
    he challenges Nicodemus with some entirely new categories that Nicodemus would never
    have heard before or even thought about – water and spirit, heaven meeting earth, being
    born again. Although Jesus knows and respects the stories of Moses, how Moses lead the
    people of God into freedom and the promised land, Jesus now introduces Nicodemus to a
    whole new way of coming into God’s presence, accessing eternal life, and that is through
    believing in him. This is the truth that John communicates throughout his gospel.
    Heaven now meets earth in a human being, in Jesus who is the Christ, God’s
    Wisdom made flesh. Throughout our lives we come to know the story of Jesus Christ,
    how he was born into the world as we are born, how he taught, healed and preached, how
    he suffered betrayal by the people he came to love, how he knew the feelings of
    abandonment, how he suffered torture and death on a cross, and most importantly how he
    rose again on the third day. As we meditate on his story and notice how often it intersects
    with our own human stories, engaging deeply with our own questions, we then too
    become part of the redemptive story of God. And remember those powerful words from
    Johns’ gospel that the redemptive purpose of God is to love the world into wholeness,
    even those who may reject this message. God’s love is expansive, unstoppable, including
    all people in God’s loving reach and embrace.
    John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who
    believes in him may not perish but have eternal life”. If God’s love is for all, then we
    who have experienced that love in Christ are called to see persons of other faiths (and no
    faith) through the lens of that profound and amazing love.
    Like Nicodemus, when we encounter the living Jesus with our own questions in
    the darkness of a sleepless night or in the midst of an anxious day, whether we are
    powerful or weak, educated or uneducated, when we come as we are, and when we
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    accept that in Jesus a fragile human being like we are – heaven meets earth, Spirit meets
    flesh – then by our faith, we are drawn into the mystery of God’s great love for us and we
    are born again, receiving the strength and hope to begin again on a new adventure, a new
    purpose.
    So what of Nicodemus, the man we first met sneaking in to meet with Jesus? There
    is hope for Nicodemus, and we often identify with him, even if we sense we shouldn’t!
    His openness to examine his strongly held beliefs signifies that his believing process has
    begun but, for the rest of his story, we must press on. We see him again in John’s gospel
    but this time at the end. Jesus is dead, crucified on a cross, and there is Nicodemus –
    clearly grown into a new person. This time, however, he comes not as an interrogator but
    as a disciple, not as an apostle of the night but as a follower of the light. Now, he does
    not say with great bravado, “We know, we have all the answers to life’s great questions.”
    Indeed, he says nothing – he simply comes, bearing spices of worship and praise and
    hope, whose aroma will be carried by the wind that blows where it will.
    Prayer
    As we come to you by day O Lord Jesus, may we come to believe in you again, in your
    great purposes for our lives as in our hearts your spirit and your life are born again in us.
    Give us a taste of eternity, blessing us with the gifts of heaven here on earth so that we
    might be carried by the aroma of hope. In Jesus name, the light of the world. Amen