The Pas 2nd Sunday of Lent
March 16, 2014
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
O God, our leader and guide, in the waters of baptism you bring us to new birth to live as your children. Strengthen our faith in your promises, that by your Spirit we may lift up your life to all the world through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Today we begin our exploration of the 2nd part, or article of the creed, and here is where we can find most of our faith wrapped up in the words, and statements set down for us by those who sought to make this declaration of our faith clear and memorable.
And here we discover that we have the greatest portion of our faith wrapped up in the person of Jesus, God’s only Son.
Jesus’ life, his teachings, his legacy are what we build our lives upon, knowing that our statement of “I believe” is only the beginning, and will end when he comes “again to judge the living and the dead.”
And so we say, I believe in Jesus Christ his only son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
And in this article of the creed, we uncover in seven statements the conception, birth, trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as well as our belief our faith that one day he will return, when the time is right, as promised.
And this is it, this is the mystery of the faith in which we believe. This is the reason we are here, today, to profess that belief, and to be renewed in heart and spirit by Jesus life and teachings, by the actions of God in sending Jesus among us to live, to learn, and to teach.
Luther’s explanation of this, the 2nd article of the creed says: “[We] believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also a true human being, born of the Virgin Mary, is my LORD. He has redeemed us}, lost and condemned human being[s]. He has purchased and freed [us] from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has done all this in order that [we] may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally.” (Book of Concord para 4, pg. 355)
While the Anglican catechism states: “[We] learn to have faith in the one true God: … in God the Son, who redeemed [us] and all mankind.” (BCP pg. 545)
And this gets to the heart of today’s gospel to the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus; to the heart of a spiritual life, of a life lived in faith, not just living by the letter of the law, as set down by Moses, but fulfilling the spirit of the law, always.
Paul tells us: “We who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:12-14)
We acknowledge Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, the Son of God, and the actions of his life that opened to us the way to have a direct and loving relationship with God, and to have the hope or rather the belief that there is eternal life.
This gets to the heart of what it is that Nicodemus can wrap his head around, in today’s gospel. Jesus talks of spiritual rebirth, and this rebirth is one of choice. We choose to accept God into our hearts and lives in the persons of God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit, but it truly isn’t a decision made by the head.
Yet at the same time, Jesus didn’t just manifest among us, rather he was conceived, and he was born. “God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgins name was Mary. … The angel said to her Do not be afraid, … you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son. … He will be called the Son of God ” (Lk 1:26-35)
And even at his birth, Jesus was lauded as a king, although he was found in a manger, in a stable. “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Lk 2:20)
And he taught us how to live within God’s love and to believe that God’s love is so much stronger than God’s law and gives us the strength to say “I believe.”
Jesus sums it up with” Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (Jn 3:5b-6)
In evidence of this, of this need for rebirth, of the desire to have the faith of Jesus, of the disciples in his life, “Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews … came to Jesus by night.” (Jn 3:1b-2a) The words Nicodemus longs to say are “I believe.” But his head doesn’t understand what his heart is yearning to proclaim. Rather he falls back on the phrases: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” (Jn 3:2b)
The son of God and the son of humanity was born into this world to experience all that the world has to offer, and yet, he remained sinless, being the only acceptable sacrifice that would remove the world’s burden of sin and allow us to have the relationship with God that is only possible because Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead.
And we can understand Nicodemus’ approach, his yearning to be able to wrap his mind around the idea of faith, of belief. He comes in the middle of the night to seek faith to embrace understanding.
He see’s the miracles. He see’s the joy brought by those whose lives are changed. His mind tells him that this is impossible, apart from the presence of God, but other than the look of joy and the reinstatement to the people of Israel by the outcasts, there is no physical evidence of God’s presence, except Jesus. And we also see and understand his confusion, the conflict between head and heart, and the desire to say “I believe.”
His heart and mind are in conflict with each other, and we can understand this when we approach our lives of faith from the perspective of logic. And so Jesus responds ” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jn 3:8)
We see the evidence of the wind, as we see the evidence of the Spirit, and our hearts declare “I believe.”
And so we return to the article of the creed. We return to the words: I believe, and we understand that for us to receive this rebirth of the spirit, for us to embrace the gift of grace, we move beyond what we can see to what we can feel to the words “I believe” when we say: I believe in God the Father…. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. … I believe in the Holy Spirit.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16-17)
And this is where Nicodemus yearns to live in his heart, he yearns to believe as do we in the tight corners of our lives. And so we reach for the words of the creed, to the promises made in our baptisms, and we say “I believe.”
“Jesus says to [Martha], ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever live and believes in me will never die.’ Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:23-26)
Martha believes, and we believe. And the strength of her belief is there when Jesus calls Lazarus forth from the grave. In calling our hearts from the death of living only in our heads, as we see with Nicodemus.
We are able to embrace the faith set down in the words of the creed to strengthen us, and instruct our hearts, not only in the deeds of God, but in how we respond to those deeds in the depths of our lives.
“While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ he said. ‘Why bother the teacher anymore.’ Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’ … When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead, but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s [parents] and the disciples who were with him and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Little girl, I say to you get up!’ Immediately the girl got up and walked around.” (Mk 6:35-42a)
I believe. Those are the strongest words we have when we are talking about the expectations that our lives don’t end here; that our journey is never alone. These are the firmest words we can present to any of the challenges that lie before us.
I believe describes the depth of our faith, of our need for jesus to be a part of our lives. it describes what Nicodemus fails to grasp but at the same time, we ca see our selves, our own doubts in his actions and approach.
But God believes in us, an so he sent Jesus to teach us, to teach Nicodemus, to teach Martha, Jairus and all of the world, when we say “I believe.