Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sermon Year A Lent 2

Do we dare?

We are doing a study of the film Chocolat
as our Adult Sunday School class during Lent.

Sometimes seeing things visually
in a contemporary modern setting
opens our eyes in new ways to hear scripture texts
and to reveal the gospel in our own lives.

Last week we watched the opening scene of the film—
set in a small town in France.
The village is gathering for worship in the parish church
and suddenly the wind begins to blow.
Really blow.
The huge, heavy wooden church doors are forced open by the wind
and the wind forcefully blows into and around the congregation.
It is not a wind one can ignore.

The mayor of the town gets up from his pew near the front of the congregation,
walks to the back of the church
and with great effort, and even greater determination,
closes the doors shut again.

The wind is kept out of the church.
Everything can now continue undisturbed.
And continue it does---grey and dull and lifeless as usual.

After all, who wants the Holy Spirit blowing around a church?
That would mean change.
That would mean letting God stir things up in the congregation.

That might mean God will stir things up in the people, too.

Opening the doors to the ruach—the holy breath—of God
means transformation—
following God in new ways, to new places, to new creations.
No wonder the mayor slammed those doors shut!

Do we dare let the Holy Spirit come inside?
Inside our church?
Inside our very selves?

Abram would say YES.

That is the story from Genesis that we hear today:

The Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him….

God calls Abram to leave everything that is safe and secure.
God calls Abram to set out on a journey into the unknown.
God calls and Abram goes.
Abram is obedient and faithful and trusting.

Trusting that God will be true to God’s word,
that all shall be well and all shall be well and all shall be well.
That God’s blessing is important enough to risk everything.

We marvel at Abram’s courage, his chutzpah to leave all.
He is leaving both his past and his present.
He turns his face and heart to the future
and puts it all
in God’s hands.
Abram opens the doors and says to the Holy Spirit—
Come in! Come in! I am ready. Send me.
Do we dare follow in those footsteps?

In our gospel reading today, we meet Nicodemus.
Most of us have a lot more in common with Nicodemus
than we do with Abram.

Nicodemus is too afraid to come and meet with Jesus in the daylight.
He doesn’t want his friends and colleagues to know.
He sneaks around in the darkness and comes in secret.

Nicodemus is one who is curious--
but is also careful and cautious and fearful.

He longs to be part of this new thing that God is doing
but Nicodemus is afraid.
Nicodemus is confused.

His friends the Pharisees are shaking their heads and warning,
Don’t get messed up with this Jesus mess.
Things are fine just the way they are.
Who says we need to change,
Who says we need to be any different than we are right now?

But Nicodemus hears a call to go and find out for him self.
Can this be right, he questions? Can this be true?
Nicodemus wants to follow his heart
but he is so afraid.

Nicodemus struggles with this God who wants to overwhelm us with love.
Nicodemus is much more comfortable with a God that judges,
condemns, knocks us down.

Jesus tells him,
You’ve got it wrong, Nicodemus.
God is love.
Believe it. Trust it.
God’s love is not finite or limited—it is not love in the past tense—
It is love—infinite, forever, without boundaries.

Trust in the goodness of God.

We, too, are scared of the unconditional love of God.
We try to freeze God in place, safely in the past.
We try to bind God to our favorite pew—
the one we head straight to every time we come to worship—
and make God just stay put.
Sit still, God. You’re going to rock the house
if you keep letting that Holy Spirit blow through the doors.

In the C.S. Lewis books The Chronicles of Narnia,
we are reminded that God is at work in the world
when we hear the words,
Aslan is on the move.
On the move.
God is always on the move. Always.

And God does not like to travel alone.
God invites Abram.
God encourages Nicodemus.
God invites us on the journey--
over and over.
persistent as the wind.

The mayor of the little French town in the film Chocolat
has decided that things are fine just as they are.
He has appointed himself as the spokesperson for the town
And he says:
Thank you, no, God, Keep your Holy Spirit out of here.
We dislike change.
We like safety.
We are suspicious of the different, the new.
The old ways were good enough for our ancestors
and they are good enough for us.

God whispers,
Do you not hear me calling you to new life? Now!

And things do not change until others in that village find their own voice.
Until others dare to speak up.

Lent is a time of “Do we dare?”
Do we dare trust God?
Do we dare risk change?
Do we dare open the doors to the Holy Spirit?
Do we dare risk opening our hearts
to embracing life in all its God-given abundance?
Do we dare find our own voice to speak up?

If our answer is yes,
then we can open the doors and open them widely.
If our answer is yes,
then we, like Abram, can take a walk on the wild side with God.
If our answer is yes,
then we, too, have realized that God’s blessing is everything.
Absolutely everything.

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