Monday, March 13, 2017

Lent 2A


Is it Morning Yet?

This is a story most appropriate for daylight savings…and for all of us who wonder when the night will end,

A Rabbi once asked his students, “how do we know when the night has ended and the day has begun?” Immediately the students thought that they grasped the importance of the question. There are, after all, prayers that can be recited and rituals that can be performed only at night. And there are prayers and rituals that belong only to the day. It is therefore important to know when the night has ended and day has begun.

So the brightest of the students offered an answer: “When I look out at the fields and I can distinguish between my field and the field of my neighbor’s, that’s when the night has ended and day has begun.” A second student offered her answer: “When I look from the fields and I see a house and I can tell that it’s my house and not the house of my neighbor, that’s when the night has ended and the day has begun.” A third student offered an answer: “When I can distinguish the animals in the yard – and I can tell a cow from a horse – that’s when the night has ended.”

Each of these answers brought a sadder, more severe frown to the Rabbi’s face – until finally he shouted: “No! You don’t understand! You only know how to divide! You divide your house from the house of your neighbor, your field from your neighbor’s, one animal from another, one color from all the others. Is that all that we can do – divide, separate, split the world into pieces? Isn’t the world broken enough — split into enough fragments? No, my dear students, it’s not that way at all! Our Torah and Jewish values want more from us.

The shocked students looked into the sad face of their Rabbi. One of them ventured, “Then Rabbi, tell us: How do we know that night has ended and day has begun?” The Rabbi stared back into the faces of his students and with a gentle voice responded: “When you look into the face of the person who is beside you and you can see that that person is your brother or your sister, when you can recognize that person as a friend, then, finally, the night has ended and the day has begun.”

It was most decidedly night when Nicodemus sought out the teacher he’d heard of. 

Confused and uncertain, Nicodemus isn’t yet willing to come to Jesus by light of day. But, he’s curious and feels drawn to this teacher, this teacher who has demonstrated an unusually powerful connection to God—word had already gotten out about the fabulous wine at the wedding in Cana!
So, Nicodemus is curious, but rather than leaving Jesus side feeling enlightened, he clearly finds the teachings he is given confusing. Born from above? Born of the Spirit? What in heaven or on earth could Jesus mean by this?

As I encounter this text, in this moment, I find myself considering the privilege or disadvantage conveyed by birth. I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase, “born with a silver spoon in his mouth”?  Physical birth conveys social status, kinship ties and honor—it did in Nicodemus’ day and it does now.  Jesus overrides this social convention by elevating another kind of birth.    

Being born from above, sets aside this earthly understanding of relationship. It means to prioritize our kinship not by virtue of birth but by virtue of our connection to all who are born of the same God.
This is much of why baptism is so central to our life as Christians. In baptism we are reborn of water and the spirit and the boundaries of family as the world understands it are blown apart. In baptism, our identity is based not in our physical birth but in our spiritual connection to the entire Body of Christ—that which we call the Church. This rebirth is not limited to those of privilege, those who’ve been born with silver spoon in mouth, rather the invitation is extended to all.

We see this in Paul’s letter to the Romans, in which Paul repeats the conviction that participation in the Body of Christ is not limited to a particular tribe—“all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham—for he is the father of all of us”

We see it as well in the passage from Genesis we heard today we see how Abram, in following God’s call to him, is separated from his kin. However, the separation moves him from the limitations of tribal boundaries and opens him up to a wholeness of relationship much vaster than that from which he emerged—in you ALL the the families of the earth shall be blessed. 

All, all the families of the earth--All, Father of us all…does this language sound familiar?  Our Father in heaven…the prayer begins with an assertion of our relationship to all of God’s beloved children. We cannot pray this prayer without being reminded of our connection to each other. But not only those who share the pews in this place, but those we call neighbors, those we call strangers, those we call friends…our and us.

And, with this, I hear very little about personal salvation in the text we’ve heard today, but I do hear a great deal about the restoration of all of God’s people into a unified and reconciled whole. 
This brings me to a verse that has long been overshadowed by the verse which precedes it…John 3:17.

The version of this verse we heard today reads as follows: "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."

Not me, not even any one of you, but the entire world--of which we are but part. Other translations of this verse replace the phrase “might be saved” with the phrase “made whole”. Put in context, “For God did not send the son into the world in order that [God] might judge the world, but in order that the world might be made whole through him.”

Made whole. God’s vision for us is one of wholeness. God’s action in the world pointing towards unification. God so loved the world, completely and unstintingly. And, in this there is such goodness, such love, and the challenge to see beyond ourselves and into the wholeness of which we are part.

Separations, divisions, judgments—race from race; rich from poor; immigrant and refugee from citizen--these are all to be cast away in favor of those things which unify. For then, and only then, will the night end and the day begin.


Waiting for Sunrise, Haleakala Crater
Haleakala means "House of the Sun"

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