Learning to Walk Again

March 5, 2023

Horseheads UMC

 

First Text:            Gen. 12:1-4a        

Second Text:        John 3:1-17

Theme:                Salvation comes through relinquishing our claim to knowledge and wisdom, and starting completely over with God.  Nicodemus found this out the hard way.

 

Summary of Message:

Abram had to learn to walk again after being older, established in a region, and too old to have heirs. His directive to walk away from his home country to an unknown land was not only frightening but it was a challenge to his obedience. Verse 4 tells all: “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him….” The rest, as they say, is history! Israel (God’s chosen people) was formed because of the promise of God AND the obedience of Abram. Much later, a pharisee of Israel, Nicodemus, was challenged learn to walk differently than all he had known: being born again spiritually. He had to give up his prestige, power and pride to follow the Savior of the world. From this powerful exchange with Nicodemus comes Jesus’ most well-known quote, “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.” Can we learn to walk again, spiritually?

 

Desired Outcome of message and entire service:

            Full surrender to God for the way of Salvation through Jesus Christ.

Main Metaphor / Image:         Walking with Jesus and His incarnational Dirty Feet.

 

 

Sermon Series all month: “Jesus with Dirty Feet!”

He was fully divine, but also fully human, and walking this earth, his feet became dirty, just like us. “He was tempted just like we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

The American Quaker, John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a good prayer to begin this very challenging message: Let us pray:

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.

Abram was called to go somewhere he had never been.

Nicodemus was called to think of life differently than he ever had.

Both of these characters walked the earth in Palestine their whole lives, now in old age, but had to learn to walk again, following God.

 

Here’s how it is with me; seeing is believing.  I want evidence right in front of me that something is different, that something is true, that something is going to make a difference.  Are we really any different than Abram or Nicodemus, in being called to an unknown land?

 

There are times when we see and see, but do not perceive.  This is what Jesus said.  There are times when we hear and hear, but do not understand, the truth of God.

 

Sometimes this deficit in our hearing and in our seeing has little to do with clouds outside us, and everything to do with the fact we are aging. 

 

According to the Better Hearing Institute, Hearing Loss is a Common Problem with Common Causes : Over 35 million Americans have a significant hearing loss. That’s more than 1 in 8 individuals.

 

But for most people, it comes on us gradually.  In fact, what seems to be selective listening may be actually not hearing what is being said. Once at Clyde we had Old Home Day and invited past pastors back. One beloved pastor could no longer hear conversation, but just pretended to listen and smiled, then looked serious, giving a new facial expression every 5 seconds. 

 

Abram heard and heeded the call of God to leave and trust.

 

Could you obey such a call? “So Abram went, as God had called him, and Lot went with him.”

 

Nicodemus seemed to have this problem.  He had been around his own environment for so long, all he could hear was the sound of his own voice.  But get him out of his comfort zone, and his hearing loss becomes profound. 

 

Jesus says to Nicodemus, in Message Translation, “You’re not listening to me!  Let me say it again.  Unless a person submits to this original creation  – the wind hovering over the water creation, the invisible moving the invisible, a baptism into a new life – it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.”

And sometimes our problem is not seeing what is right in front of us, and not realizing our vision is diminishing.  “According to Mayo Clinic, about half of all 65-year-old Americans have some degree of cataract formation in their eyes. As you enter your 70s, the percentage is even higher. It’s estimated that by 2020 more than 30 million Americans will have cataracts.” 

I assume Nick was an old dude.  Only old guys taught in the temple and did the sacrifices of the people, up on the altar of God.  Its as if Nick is standing before Jesus with a hearing aid horn, saying, “What’s that you shay, sonny?”  And he can’t see well enough to focus on this young Jewish man as the possible Messiah the whole nation has been waiting for!  “You see the wind rustle the trees, but you don’t have any idea where the wind came from or where it is going to after that; that’s what it is like to be born from the Spirit, born from above,” says Jesus.

Well, that’s all well and good. A little bit of a Bible story, some singing and a good old – fashioned prayer led by our paid Pray –Er, and off we go into another week. 

 

Not so fast, Christian!

 

When my Dad finally had his hearing checked professionally, and got his  hearing aids, my Mom realized that he really had not known most of what she had been muttering around the house.  And when my Dad finally got his cataracts taken off, he felt like he knew what he had been missing for so long.

 

I think we are a lot more like Nick at Night than we are ever willing to admit, until Jesus confronts us

 

Listen.  This is what Jesus says to you today.  

Start over. 

Go back to basics. 

Begin again with God:

who you think God is, what you think God is doing in the world, and how you think God wants to use you in this life.

“Awesome,” you say, Christian.  “Give it to ‘em, Jesus!”

“You must be born again, or you cannot even see the kingdom of God.”

Be born again, be born from above, be born of the Spirit, we preach to the world.  To those who don’t know Christ, we preach it, to the world we preach it, to the unenlightened we preach it.  “You must be born again!”

But wait, Jesus only said this, using this phrase to Nicodemus; a church leader, a temple word – warrior.  These were “first and foremost teachers of the people, expounders and interpreters of the Oral Law and custodians of the body of customs and traditions being constantly being amassed by the Jews of the Land of Israel.”

 

Jesus did not preach this word to the world, to the Gentiles, to the heathen who had no faith in God.

 

Jesus preached it to the choir:  You have to be born from above.

 

According to Max Lucado, there is a civil war of the soul going on.  (read excerpts from p. 139 ff., In the Grip of Grace.) 

 

For my doctoral work, I have had to read Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey.  This a book written by business consultants to help business people manage the changes that take place in their businesses. The premise is, that it is our immunity (resistance) to change that keeps the body healthy, warding off viruses and bacterial infections that would make us sick.  In companies, the same is true.  We naturally fight off change as an invading virus, coming only to do us harm.  But some change is helpful, needed even.  And it is then we must find a way to overcome our immunity to change. We have to outsmart it, dismantle it in order to allow change inside. 

 

That is what Jesus was doing with Nick at Night: dismantling his immunity to seeing God’s truth differently: “you must be born again.” 

 

Back to the drawing board.

          Back to square one.

                   “Return to me and I will return to  you, says the Lord.” (Malachi 3:7) and

 

“I am doing a new thing, do you not see it?”  (Is. 43:19)

The Cross

P.T. Forsyth used to say that “God did not punish Christ, but Christ entered the dark shadow of God’s penalty upon sin.”
–A.M. Hunter, P. T. Forsyth
(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), 62.

“Christ nailed up might be more than a symbol of all pain. He might in very truth contain all pain. “
–John Steinbeck,
To a God Unknown (1933)

 

 

 

HEY CHURCH: STOP LOOKING TO CHANGE OTHERS; CHANGE YOURSELF, THEN YOU CAN BE USED BY GOD TO CHANGE OTHERS.

 

HEY CHRISTIAN: THIS IS YOUR SEASON, THE SEASON OF LENT.  It’s TIME TO TILL THE GARDEN.

 

 

John 3:16 was spoken to the churchman.   It was spoken to the believer who was hiding from God.  And john 3:19 is equally important:

“And this is judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

In your spiritual life, are there any places the light of God is not allowed to be?  Is there any darkness which you have fostered, kept from God out of shame, or a sense of selfishness, which you now want to give over to God?  Let light shine in the darkness.  Let light shine into the darkest places, driving out all sin and shame and exposing it for what it is: selfishness, a desire to control your own life.