Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year A

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year A

Mar 08, 2020

Passage:John 3:1-17

Preacher: The Rev. Leann Wigner

Series: Lent

Category: Faith, Belief, Trust, Fear

Keywords: trust, fear, believe


We ask many questions about our lives that come from a place of fear.  What if I am not safe? What if I am not a good person? What will happen to me if I am alone?  Will I have enough of what I need? What if I don’t belong? What is the truth? Who can I trust?  Where is my future headed? What if I’m not accepted? What happens if fail? It is my conviction that these questions grow out of fundamental needs but also the fear that those fundamental needs will go unmet.  We ask about acceptance because we need safe places to be vulnerable. And we fear that no place may be safe enough for us to show even a little piece of our true selves. We ask about belonging because we need friendships and relationships.  And we fear that that we will never know what it is to be truly loved by another. We ask about what the future will hold because we need security. And we fear that the future might have none. I am sure that some of you have fears about what the future will hold for this congregation since Father Robert and Mother Jill left.   And that is perfectly natural. In the same way, I am sure that some of you have fears about the recent Coronavirus outbreak. These fears highlight our need for safety and health, but also our fear of pain and death. In all of these issues from seeking belongs to dealing with the treat of a viral illness to finding a new rector for this church, I am utterly convinced that the fear that we feel about these things can either be a place of spiritual death, or it can be the beginning of life if we recognize our fear and trust in God.  

Our Gospel reading has an Old Testament passage hiding within it, and it needs some explanation before moving into the gospel reading proper.  Toward the end of our gospel reading for today, Jesus says, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  Jesus is referring to a story from the book of Numbers (21:4-9), where God saved the Israelites from a bunch of snakes while they were wandering in the wilderness. At that point in Israel’s story, they had been delivered from their slavery in Egypt.  They had been wondering in the wilderness for forty years, but their next stop will be to enter the land that the Lord had promised to give to them, the land of Canaan. However, throughout this entire journey, the Israelites were afraid and failed to trust in God.  First, the Israelites were fearful about where their food would come from. And God sent manna (Exodus 16). Then, when the people of Israel came to the land of Canaan (the first time), the Israelites were too afraid to enter the land (Number 13-14). When God sent the people back into the wilderness, the people became afraid that they would not be able to find water (Numbers 20).  And again, God provided. Every step of the way, God wanted the people to hear one simple message. “I am your God. Trust me!” But in the story which Jesus is referring to, the Israelites had moved from the wilderness to the edge of the land God had promised to them, and they are still fearful about where their food and water would come from, despite the fact that God had provided for them every step of the way.  And, to add insult to injury, the people have to deal with snakes at this point in their journey. Fear overtook them. Finally, when they cried out to God, God gave them a solution. Make a serpent of bronze, set it on a pole, and it will heal the people and they will live. God was begging the people to trust in God.

A similar dynamic is happening in our gospel reading for today.  Our reading is set in the context of the story of Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a leader among the Jews.  He comes to Jesus to test Jesus, like a good Pharisee would do to a fellow Rabbi. He wants to know if Jesus is actually from God.  So, Jesus tells Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Jesus of course it talking on a different plane than Nicodemus and Nicodemus gets confused. Jesus is talking about spiritual birth, and Nicodemus doesn’t recognize that.  It is difficult for Nicodemus to understand that Jesus is teaching about the Kingdom. So Jesus, referring to the story from Numbers says: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  Jesus is telling Nicodemus the very same thing that God told the Israelites long ago: “Trust me.” God sent his Son just like the bronze serpent in love in order to bring life rather than evil, darkness, sin, and fear. But we must trust that God loves us and cares for us. And so Jesus speaks to Nicodemus some of the most profound words from scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  Here is your Greek lesson for today. The Greek word pistis which is translated as “believes” is John 3:16 does not mean intellectual ascent to some knowable fact like what it means in English.  The Greek word pistis means “trust.”  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who trusts in him may not perish but may have eternal life (may have life to the fullest).”  Trust – trust in God is what Jesus is seeking from Nicodemus, just like God was seeking trust from the Israelites who were wondering in the wilderness. 

Do you know what the most common commandment in the Bible is?  Three-hundred and sixty-five separate times throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, God says, “Do not be afraid.” This is the most common commandment throughout all of scripture.  The constant challenge before humanity is the challenge to let go of fear and to trust God and who we are in him. We need to learn that we are not our fear. When we let our fear define us, we forget our true identity as a beloved children of God and we lose our way in life, just like the Israelites wandering in the dessert.  We become scared and start doing things not freely, but because of the fear of what might happen to our lives. When we live in fear, we live in sin and darkness. Our worlds close in. Our sight become narrow. Our decisions become selfish. We forget the needs of the whole human family. We forget our values as Christians to live in light and love.  We forget that God is walking beside us to direct our paths. But when we make space for God in our lives and begin to listen to God’s loving voice, we can begin to orient ourselves to God’s perfect love which drives out sin and fear and darkness.  

Perhaps giving up fear might be a good Lenten practice for some of us. Disciplines like prayer, journaling, and meditating are helpful ways to work through our fears and to learn to trust in God.  For some of us, going to AA, therapy, or to our local PCPs might help as well. For all of us, a healthy dose of the facts are important too. I am especially aware of the need to get accurate facts concerning the Coronavirus.  There is so much bad information out there that just spreads undue fear. In Bishop Mayer’s statement on the Coronavirus, he says, “Good information is a powerful way to combat fear. With the coronavirus and widespread news of a possible pandemic, good information is vital.” Prayer, support groups, education…all of these things are important aspects of learning to trust in God when we are afraid.   More than anything, what is helpful for me is to remember God’s immeasurable love for us. Moving from fear to love is necessary not just for each of us individually, but for the survival of the human family. If we continue to focus on our many fears – our fear of terrorists, our fear of viruses, our fear of refugees, our fear of immigrants, our fear of no longer being the strongest and wealthiest nation on Earth, our fear that social security will disappear, our fear that the government is completely corrupt – we will never know what is means to find life.   We cannot continue to operate our society out of fear. Fear leads people to take guns into schools, to demonize people who are different than we are, to live without compassion for those who are hurting, to operate out of darkness rather than life. It is possible to move from fear to love, from death to life, from stagnation to rebirth, from living as rivals to living as people of God who belong to one human family.   Our gospel reading today assures us not only that this is possible, but it is our way our life as followers of Christ.  Today, let us choose the way of love rather than the way of fear. Let us journey to the heavenly places of the Kingdom of God and embrace life by embracing love.  Because it is indeed perfect love that drives out fear. God is calling to you: “Do not be afraid.”