A GIFT FOR LIFE
Intergenerational Sunday, 5/31/2015 by Laurie Chandler
Several weeks ago, I went downtown and there was a bumper sticker on the car parked in front of me that said, ?Every day is a gift.? Now you have to admit we have been having some beautiful days lately, one right after the other — each one sunnier, greener, and more colorful than the last. Not only that, but it?s almost summer, right? It might not be hard to put that bumper sticker on your car on days like these. But what about the challenging days, the ones with gray skies, literally and figuratively. Well, they are gifts too.
My message this morning is not quite what it started out to be. Hopefully it is more, because much of what I planned to talk about has been tested for me over the last couple of weeks. Months ago, I was delighted to discover that today?s scripture was the story of Nicodemus. I thought of the life-changing hope that Jesus offered to Nicodemus. Though the phrase ?born again? has so many associations in today?s world, the promise of a life-changing faith is a hope and experience of many of us.
Knowing we would also be celebrating our young people today, I thought how that gift was one that they could take on their journey of life. Our message this morning would actually make a good graduation speech. And then there are the rest of us, for whom graduation lies far behind on the path of life. No matter our age or situation, what Jesus offered Nicodemus he also offers to us.
So let?s start by picturing the drama of the scene we just listened to. Its main characters?well?it?s only characters?are Nicodemus and Jesus.
Let?s learn a little more about Nicodemus. First of all, Nicodemus was Jewish just as Jesus was. Among the Jews, Nicodemus was an expert, called a Pharisee, the ?most devout of all the Jews.? Pharisees spent their whole live studying scripture and they knew the Bible inside and out. Now there are an awful lot of rules in the part of the Bible that the Jews had. What we now call the Old Testament. One catch in being a Pharisee is that you promised to follow all of those rules. How many do you think there were? Thousands!
Then, to make Nicodemus even more important, he also belonged to the Sanhedrin, 71 elite Jews who comprised the Supreme Court. All of this, and yet he was intrigued by Jesus. He had heard about his miracles and most likely heard him teaching. Because of his status, he chose to visit Jesus secretly, by coming to Jesus at night. Can?t you just picture him, maybe going a secret roundabout way, then making sure the coast was clear, before knocking quietly on the door?
Nicodemus started the conversation with an affirmation??Rabbi,? he said, ?we know you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs (these miracles) that you do apart from the presence of God.? Beneath these words, Jesus must have known of the longing Nicodemus had to learn more, to go deeper, for he seems to have been answering an unspoken question. That question would be, ?How can you see the kingdom of God??
So Jesus explains?no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born from above, without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the Spirit is spirit, Jesus says.
First of all, what do we mean by the word Spirit? Here is another word that we could have included in our Faith Words study! Last Sunday was Pentecost, when we celebrated the gift of the Spirit to the early church.
I?d like to revisit a bit of Ken?s sermon from last Sunday, when he explained that the Holy Spirit is described by a word that is translated as advocate, counselor, and comforter. Just to be sure that our younger children understand these words, an advocate is someone who speaks up for you. In prayer, the Holy Spirit can even help you find the words to talk to God when you don?t quite know what to say. You probably know what a counselor is?someone who teaches you and gives you advice. And a comforter, of course, comforts you!
Ken continued by saying, ?the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Truth is the way in which the work of Jesus will continue, the presence of Jesus will continue, and so the presence of God will continue. That Spirit can be understood as the way in which we are equipped for what our role is in the world as we seek to bring the presence of Christ in all that we do.? End quote. So the Holy Spirit equips us for life, and for a very good kind of life, the kind where we share Christ through the things we do, the kind where we can remember and try to live as if every day is a gift.
And if you are curious about Nicodemus, the man who heard the invitation to be born of the Spirit from Jesus himself?he is mentioned twice more in the gospel of John.
In chapter 7, the Pharisees are considering arresting Jesus for claiming to be the Messiah. Nicodemus is the one who steps in with a thoughtful question??Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?? And Jesus is not arrested, at least not then.
Later, after Jesus has been crucified, Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus, asks Pilate for permission to bury Jesus. It is Nicodemus who helps Joseph with this last loving task, bringing a large quantity of myrhh and other spices for the burial. It would be difficult to picture Nicodemus doing this unless he, too, was by then a secret disciple of Jesus. I know I hope that by then he was learning what it meant to be born of the Spirit.
Now this is where we get into my experience of the last couple of weeks. What began, I thought, as a simple case of pink eye quickly got more serious. I now know far more than I would like to about conjunctivitis?that there is a viral kind that antibiotics don?t help. That it can last for weeks and the aftereffects for months. That the discomfort and loss of vision can be downright scary. Sitting in the parking lot at the doctor?s office one morning, waiting for my appointment, though, I suddenly thought of the Holy Spirit and all of these uplifting, wonderful promises that I was going to be preaching about.
?Wait a minute,? I said to myself. ?This is just the kind of situation that you have the Holy Spirit for. You could use an advocate, a counselor, and a comforter right now.? Later that week, the Spirit was there again when the vision in my right eye became blurrier and blurrier, until I couldn?t even see the big E on the eye chart with my glasses on. So I added some of my thoughts to my sermon, decided to try to be trusting, and most of all to remember that the Spirit was there with me.
So, say that you want to be born of the Spirit or you want to take advantage of the advocacy or the counseling or the comforting. What can you do? And how might your life change?
Let?s go back to the Bible for a moment. If you want to read more about life with the Spirit, John 14 is a great place to look. Jesus is talking to his disciples about the gift of the Holy Spirit. I am going to read verses 15 to 17 and 25 to 27. Jesus says?
15??If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16?And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17?This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
25??I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26?But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27?Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
So I think being born of the Spirit could just be as simple as remembering that we have this gift from God. Trusting, believing, and listening for the presence of the Holy Spirit. It could also mean seeing life events through the eyes of faith.
The things we do ?of the spirit? will be things ?of the spirit.? If we go off to work in the morning resolving to be a person ?of the spirit,? what we do that day will be ?of the spirit.? Perhaps you can even think of a moment in your life when you glimpsed the kingdom of God by doing something ?of the Spirit.?
And looking at life events through the eyes of faith includes circumstances that are inconvenient and scary, those ?sitting in the parking lot? moments. And you might think this isn’t a great topic for a Sunday celebrating all the generations of our church family, including the children, but then again, maybe it is.
The courageous and amazing young people who I have worked with in my years here have handled, among other things:?the loss of a home, the death of a parent, custody disputes , gender issues, and moving huge distances to start life in a new community. So, if I were giving a graduation speech, I would say to them and to all of you?remember that the church received the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.? Listen for the presence of the Spirit, even on ordinary days, and especially when times are hard. Trust, even when it isn?t easy, and you may find what I did: peace that helps keep your heart from being troubled.
As for ?the rest of the story,? the vision in my right eye is still quite blurry, but everything else is getting back to normal. So the Spirit and I are still on that journey called life, where every day is a gift, where we can choose to be born of the Spirit, to walk with an advocate, guide, and comforter by our side. And it may not be on the bright sunny days that we feel that rebirth but on the days of doubt or sickness or grief, at the forks in the road, or in the joy and celebration of graduation. Amen.