Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis' Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 2 Lent, 12 March 2017
RCL Year A: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17
You’re driving on a highway & the big, flashing sign says: “Construction Ahead. Proceed with Caution!”
What do you do?
Yes! Thank you for slowing down & being wise drivers who proceed with caution. Nicodemus is a “wise driver”. He proceeds with caution as he encounters new conditions on the road of life, new concepts he hears from Jesus.
As Bible commentaries note,1 Nicodemus is a legal scholar & leader of his day, so the idea there is something greater than God’s law confuses him.
The Nick we meet at night in today’s Gospel has a good heart. He wants to learn from Jesus. He’s not sneaking in the dark so his fellow leaders won’t see him with Jesus. He comes at night so he & Jesus have quality, quiet time after the day’s clamoring crowds have left. 2
Notice the different response we hear in our lesson from Genesis: God tells Abram “Go” & Abe goes. We don’t know the time of day or night when he hears this call.
Abe obeys while his name is Abram, before he has a hint of how God’s promise will work & despite his family responsibilities. Abe’s nephew Lot, the son of Abe’s deceased youngest brother, Haran, goes too. Abe sets out to an unknown destination long before he understands fully.
Do we ever understand fully?
As we hear in our Gospel, God works with us where we are.
We feed an infant long before he or she understands food’s nutritional value. Infants grow & thrive by God’s grace.
Like infants, we do not have to understand God’s grace to be nourished by God’s Love, including nourishing Love we receive in the bread & wine of Holy Communion.
When we are busy [as we tend to be] we can get distracted like Nick & fail to comprehend what Jesus says. If we are slower than Abe to respond, we can see hope for us in our beloved brother Nick. God’s great love makes room for all kinds of people.
By God’s grace through Jesus’ saving work on the cross, each of us is a work in progress. Like Nick, we may be confused about newness in life as we grow older. Yet each spring we see old bushes break forth with new life & blossoms.
God has planted unique gifts in each of us.
Entertainer Judy Garland said: Always be a first-rate version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.3
What is the 1st-rate you God created?
With Jesus’ Love & guided by the Holy Spirit, we can learn to be our 1st-rate self. [We know Jesus’ unique purpose.]
We see Nick in our Gospel stuck not being his 1st-rate self. He sees life from a limited perspective. He doesn’t yet know:
“If you keep telling yourself the same sad story, you will keep living the same sad small life.”4
Remember: later in our Gospel from John, Nick comes to Jesus’ defense [John 7:50-52] & helps Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ body for burial [John 19:38-42]. He becomes the first-rate person God designed him to be.
We know life changes after God changes Abraham’s & Sarah’s names to emphasize the change their promised parenthood will bring. They have unique work to do in God’s creation.
Did they ask God for this unique work? That would be like asking to be born.
Do you remember asking to be born?
Our being born was God’s idea.
YOU are God’s idea.
What was God up to when God created you?
Look around & notice each of us is unique. Our God-given uniqueness may connect each of us like pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle, imagery we spoke about during Epiphany. Fitting together with the purposes of each other, we manifest God’s Goodness where we are.
What is your purpose?
Answer this: Beyond being with family & friends, what do you love to do? ? ? [Think of simple things which give you a burst of satisfaction deep inside when you do them. . . .[I love to crochet, to tap dance, to watch dragonflies.]
I invite you to share some things you love to do….especially little things which give you deep satisfaction. . . .
[Answers from our 2 services included: Cook. Watch movies. Work at the Soup Kitchen. Sing. Golf. Fish.]
I believe what we love to do is true to our core purpose. You may instinctively know the timeless quality or gift of what you do. Being aware of our gifts helps prevent burnout, helps us be good stewards of our gifts, & helps us see how to apply the timeless quality in new ways.
The outward form of what we love to do may have to change. [Aging fingers may make me give up crocheting prayer shawls, but I can express the joy, love & blessings I put into these in other ways.]
The timeless quality remains inside us.
What is the timeless quality, the motivation of
what you love to do ? ? ?
Some of you love to cook, to play golf, to fish. You might share the same essential quality. Cooks may share the joy of cooking for different reasons.
This temporal act of creativity may be a challenge to bring together different flavors. Some golfers & fisher folk like a challenge, like to bring together different competitors.
Cooks may focus on aesthetics of how the food looks. Fisher folk & golfers may focus on the beauty of their setting, a great looking catch, a beautiful shot.
Perhaps the essence delighting a cook, a golfer, or fisherman is sharing with others the meal, the time on the course or in a boat.
A priest I know in Oregon says he finds great satisfaction gluing large plastic pipes together [!] as he does handyman work at home.
The essence of what he does is to make things fit. In his work, he makes sure his staff “fit” together for the good of all. Perhaps he is on earth to make things fit.
Jesus tells the fishermen James & John: “Come follow me & I will make you fishers of people”. The disciples get to do what they love to do in a different way.
Jesus tells us in our Gospel God sent him so the world can be saved through him. We continue the work Jesus has started. We have our unique gifts for this work.
Trusting Jesus, following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we work to help our brothers & sisters in the human family get out of the literal “stuckness” we see today in Nicodemus. This frees our brothers & sisters to live into the eternal quality only they have to give to the jigsaw puzzle of life.
“Stuckness” is victim living. We know & must help others know how to move from victim to survivor to thriver.
We can’t change what has happened. We can change how we see it.
When someone keeps telling you the worst thing that ever happened to them, you can ask them to notice:
“You are here today. You survived.
God’s life-giving Love in you is bigger than
the worst that has happened & can happen.”
A victim’s story is Bad Friday.
A survivor story is bewildering Saturday before Easter. We survived. Now what?
Suddenly it’s Easter: a new beginning, an awareness life may be very different, but life has not been taken from us!
Easter transforms Bad Friday into Good Friday.
Easter tells the thriver story!
Our Risen Lord Jesus shows us God brings life & good from any situation.
Jesus’ love links us to each other, to God & all creation.
The timeless, valuable, life-giving qualities
of what we love to do are like golden threads linking all aspects of our lives now,
in the past, into the future.
Notice life’s golden threads.
Discover their timeless, unhurried essence
which comes from God’s Love.
Barclay, William. The Gospel of John. Vol. 1. Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. 2nd Ed. Nueva York: Sociedad Biblica Americana. 1983.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1985.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. Revised Ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1999.
Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. Minneapolis: A Seabury Book. Winston Press. 1985.
New Oxford Anontated Bible with Apocrypha. Eds: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. 1977.
Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR:The Appreciative Way. 2010. “Teaching Forgiveness”. www.appreciativeway.com. 2014.
1 See Bibliography.
2 Barclay, William. The Gospel of John. Vol. 1. P. 124.
3 Quoted P. 37 of “Teaching Forgiveness” based on Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR. The Appreciative Way. 2010.
4 Ibid. P. 40 Quoting Jean Houston.