from Dr. Christopher Carter
This second Sunday of Lent we are continuing our sermon series on “Giving It Up.” This series invites us to consider giving up more than just sugar or social media; it asks us to give up particular ways of being in the world. Check out our intro video here:
Last week Pastor Bob spoke about the importance of giving up our desire to try and control all aspects of our lives. Interestingly, he referenced the story of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and how their desire to see the world as God sees it could be understood as a manifestation of their desire to have more control over their own lives.
To be sure, as Christians we know that faith can be a bit tricky. It is easier to rely on and view the world through our own eyes rather than trying to see things as God might see them. Too often we make the mistake of believing our own vision and view of the world is God’s vision and view of the world. In the Gospel passage this week we see Nicodemus whom is an extremely well educated Pharisee struggling to understand Jesus’ teaching because he has expectations about what it should mean. And yet, in the story of Abram’s call we see someone who responds to God’s invitation in faith, and so it is in faith that his expectations find their foundation.
1The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.
3I will bless those who bless you, those who curse you I will curse; all the families of the earth will be blessed because of you.”
4Abram left just as the Lord told him, and Lot went with him.
1There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. 2He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”
3Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”
4Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?”
5Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. 6Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ 8God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9Nicodemus said, “How are these things possible?”
10“Jesus answered, “You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? 11I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up 15so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. 16God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
Consider these questions:
- How would you describe “God’s view” of the world? By this I mean, how do you understand the relationship between God and Creation?
- How do you believe your answer to the aforementioned questions influence the way you live and the ways you interact with others (e.g. family, strangers, and foreigners)?
- What are the similarities and differences between your answer(s) to the second question and the way Jesus describes his relationship with God to Nicodemus; or the way Abram responds to God’s movement in his life?
Post-Sermon update on 3/13
from Pastor Bob
In Sunday’s worship service, Dr. Christopher Carter’s sermon moved from control to expectations. Audio from the sermon can be heard below, and video can be found by clicking this link (will open in a new tab).
Dr. Carter began with a wonderful point from the text with Nicodemus’ admission: “Rabbi, we know.” I wonder how often we make the same assumption that is noted in the sermon, that assumption that we know what’s coming or that we know everything about a particular situation. If I’m really honest, I must acknowledge that I make those assumptions more often than I would like. And in cases where those are small or even insignificant assumptions, perhaps there’s very little harm done. In larger cases, building up our expectations in that way can be detrimental.
I recently heard about something called the Stockdale Paradox. The Stockdale Paradox is outlined in the Jim Collins book Good to Great (HarperBusiness, 2001). Collins tells the story of Vice Admiral Jim Stockdale, a U.S. naval officer who was held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam from 1965 to 1973. Over the years of his imprisonment, he was tortured and subjected to unimaginable conditions all while developing a set of guidelines helping other prisoners deal with torture and even sharing secret intelligence in letters to his wife back home.
Collins writes that Stockdale never lost faith in his certainty of his eventual rescue and freedom. But Stockdale notes that this faith had flexibility, in a similar way that Dr. Carter in Sunday’s sermon noted differences between goals and expectations. Collins continues the story asking the Vice Admiral who the people were who were unable to maintain a sense of hope.
“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”
“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.
“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say,‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
Another long pause, and more walking. Then he turned to me and said, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
This is the paradox. Some of these tortured prisoners had so much expectation that they lost faith.
Consider these questions:
- How have you experienced God’s Spirit moving (blowing) in the world? Have you experienced God’s Spirit in the ways you may not have expected to?
- Have you ever felt compelled to leave someplace or something comfortable and toward someplace or something that changed you in a profound way?
- What (if anything) has gotten in the way of following this Spiritual compulsion?
- If/when you have followed this kind of Divine lure, have your expectations been shifted? Changed? Shattered? How?