God Gives Life
Based on Psalm 121, Genesis 12:1-4, Romans 4:13-17, John 3:1-17
Recently I was listening to the “On Being” podcast with Krista Tippet. She was interviewing Ezra Klein, the man who co-developed Vox media. Ms. Tippet always begins her interviews by asking her guests to describe their religious or spiritual life growing up and how that informed what they are doing as adults. Mr. Klein answered that his father was a “cultural Jew” but did not believe in religion, while his mother was a seeker. Thus, joked Mr. Klein, he has spent his life searching after something that he could never believe in! How many people in our time have the uncomfortable feeling of seeking some greater good, purpose or meaning – you know, something to give their life…life, yet when they are confronted with such a revelation they are unwilling or unable to commit to it?
This brings me back to the Tippet question…how would you describe your religious or spiritual upbringing and how it has informed what you are doing with your life? Are you like Ezra Klein or Nicodemus…seeking and searching but unable to move from your head into your heart? Alternatively, maybe you are more like Abram who at 75 years of age heard from God that he would become a great nation if he only followed God away from all that he knew into a land that God had prepared just for him and his descendants? Quite possibly you find yourself holding the two polarities in tension, weighing the choices and wondering if you have the courage and faith required to take the next steps on your journey with God. Our scriptures speak again to us today, calling us into deeper discipleship and relationship to the God who gives life. Before you go deeper into your relationship with God, however, let’s go to God in prayer asking for courage and guidance…
The scripture passages from Genesis and Romans deal with the obedience of Father Abram (who would later come to be called Abraham). When God first called Abram from Ur into the unknown, he was 75 years old. Interestingly, the scriptures before our reading today say that Terah, Abram, Sarai and Lot were all headed from Ur to Canaan but stopped once they arrived in Haran. Abram’s brother Haran and father Terah had both died while Abram was living in the land of Haran. Once both Abram’s brother and father were dead, God called Abram to continue the journey that he had begun with his father. God asked Abram to follow God to a place that God would show him. God promised that if Abram did this, God would make of him a great nation. Sarai his wife was barren and beyond child-bearing years, yet Abram believed in his heart what he heard and packed everyone up for travel. Paul writes that the blessings of a new life came to Abraham by faith – because his relationship to God came before the law was given. Specifically, Paul states that the blessings of new life exist for, “…those who share the faith of Abraham…in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist….”
The Pharisee Nicodemus is confused. Nicodemus seems to be a very “heady” and literal person as we find him in scripture talking with Jesus. Jesus is speaking metaphorically (and truthfully) that everyone who believes in God must be born into new life through water and the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus, a law-loving and abiding Temple leader, cannot get his head around what Jesus is saying. How can this new life come to one who is already alive, questions Nicodemus? Jesus tells him that everyone who believes in the divinity of Jesus will not perish but instead may have eternal life. Jesus has come so that those who are living in sin and away from the life-giving God might be saved through faith. Nicodemus has trouble believing the words of God that he is hearing, even though Jesus says multiple times, “very truly I tell you”!
Will you believe me today if I tell you that very truly God gives life? That belief in and obedience to, the LORD, will bring into existence things that do not exist? If you are struggling with this concept let us look closer at our scriptures for today. The Patriarch Abraham is our second biblical witness to the life-giving promises of God – following after Noah. What characterizes both men is first, that they hear from God and second, they do the crazy things God asks (building the Ark before the rain starts to fall and following God into the wilderness leaving everything known behind, respectively). This level of obedience sets the bar for all who follow. Noah is tasked with saving enough of creation in order to repopulate the world following the Flood. Abram is tasked with continuing the repopulation by becoming a new nation with God – something that will ultimately create three major religions which now engage billions of people. God took one faithful man, Noah, and saved all of creation. God took two faithful, elderly, childless people and created from their obedience life-giving relationships for more than half of all humans.
What about you…what is God trying to do with you? If we return to the question that Krista Tippet asks all those whom she interviews…what was your childhood religious or spiritual life like and how has it informed what you are doing as an adult? For those among us who are growing into adulthood – how do you think your upbringing in the Church will inform what you are going to do as a vocation? The world fills people with all kinds of nonsense about “best paying jobs” and “get rich quick schemes”. Some churches and preachers teach the “prosperity gospel” where if you just give enough time/energy/money to the church/pastor/to God then God will reward you in a quid-pro-quo manner.
The Bible actually teaches something quite different. It teaches us that when we seek after God with our whole heart then we develop a life-giving relationship with God. God says multiple times that God doesn’t need our sacrifices – God desires our obedience, respect and most of all our time and attention. Those who choose God over the world find that their lives are blessed more than they ever imagined. They say things like, “I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see….”; or, God’s call on your life is that point where the world’s great need meets your great passion; or, no matter what happens, it is well with my soul. To realize this kind of abundant life, it takes emptying our heads and moving forward with our emotional selves.
This is what Nicodemus seems to be struggling with. Nicodemus was too much in his head and not in touch enough with his emotions. He seems to be like Mr. Klein, searching for something he cannot/will not believe in. You see, our rational selves can be a barrier to God making in-roads in our lives. You are looking at a man whose rational and analytical way of assessing the world is way over-expressed. It is something I have struggled with for much of the last 20 years – how to empty out my need to understand and instead allow my faith and trust in God to rule my life. That is, how to move from my head to my heart in all matters spiritual. This is what Jesus is trying to teach Nicodemus and all of us. This is what Paul is writing about to the Romans; the realization that this life-giving relationship with God is available to all who share the faith of Abraham. True 2,000 years ago and true still today.
If there is a disconnect between your faith in God and what you are doing with your life, maybe it is time to empty yourself of the rational world. One way to do this is to rebalance your life by rebuilding your relationship with God through prayer and study. Then ask God how you have been gifted to be in service to your neighbor and God. Service might be as close as MESA, Madison Learning Center, Skyline CAP, or other non-profits who are looking for volunteers. Maybe it is getting involved with the Lions, Ruritans or another philanthropic group. Maybe it is stepping up your involvement here at church by serving on committees or using your God-given gifts to help the church in other ways. Very truly I tell you, when you empty out all the worldly reasons you can’t believe in God and God’s truths, God will fill you with abundant life and call into existence things that do not exist for you…and that truth will set you free! Amen and amen!