The Rev. Thomas Nibbe
Sunday, March 14, 2021
Saint Patrick’s Sunday
(Two More Weeks to Palm Sunday)
“…I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God…for the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid,but gives us power, love, and self-discipline…” (2 Timothy 1:6a,7)
DOING THINGS FOR GOD SEEING BEYOND GETTING WHAT WE WANT “…when Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe,the Spirit of God came upon him…” (Number 24:2)
A SONG SUNG BY GOD’S PEOPLE RETURNING FROM BONDAGE IN BABYLON “…Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good…His love endures forever…” (Psalm 107:1)
DEAD IN TRANSGRESSIONS, MADE ALIVE WITH CHRIST”…God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:1-10)
FROM ONE OF THE GREATEST DIALOGUES IN THE HISTORY OF LITERATURE”…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…” (John 3:16)
Would you pray with me this morning?
Good morning, God!
All praise to you, in these challenging days! We give you hearty thanks for life!
Definitely, Lord, we are in the Season of Lent, meditatively, seeking your will and doing things your way, like a seasoned runner under direction of a coach, to discover the prize for being a triumphant spiritual athlete. We run to win a spiritual trophy. We have our good days. We have our bad days. It’s all in the game. For us, it’s one day at a time, and we must not waste it. It’s all so much a part of fullness in life. We are ready to “take this day on” in Jesus.
We train ourselves with a divine confidence we have within, given by your Word.We are not afraid of failure in our lives. We are safe in your undeserved grace.There is no failure in our Lord Jesus. We are led by your Holy Spirit. Thus, we commend ourselves into your tender, encouraging Call to be the best we can be.
This year, in fact, of this moment we are beginning to discover new motivations to serve you and be helpful to all around us. The prize will be a trophy of the heart and mind. Lead us on…and show us the way.
Be with those who have suffered because of the pandemic. Be with our troopsoverseas and at home. Be with those who have suffered in their businesses andat their work. Allow us to be joyful day by day, but bring us through this time oftrial and great loss to millions and billions around the world.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
The Gospel Lesson for today from John 3:1-21 is not only “Heart of the Gospel”material from the New Testament, but it’s also a world-class masterpiece of literature.It provides the same kind of direction the reader needs in order to grab onto andand hold on tight to the fundamental essence of true spirituality. It involves two great Spiritual masters of the first century of the common era. One is the greatestof the religious teachers (rabbis) of his day, the Jew with the Greek name (whichalerts us to something), Nicodemus … and the young, impressive rabbi from Galilee,our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (in the original, Joshua Ben Josef).
The great Nicodemus, the renowned teacher of all Israel, (we learn from the text)is keenly interested in meeting this “Phenomenon” from the North, now in Judea.The text says that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, theruling council of Israel. He was for his time, “the renowned one”. He was the scholarof his day in Israel…the one everybody came to. Nicodemus didn’t come to people.People came to Nicodemus.
…it was Nicodemus who came to Jesus…
He didn’t want to be recognized as “going out of his way” to meet this Jesus of Nazareth. Pharisees and Jesus were always seemingly atodds with each other, it is true, but wouldn’t people be asking, why isthis great man purposely stepping out to talk to the Nazarene? It was because Nicodemus sensed something deep within. Was it the healing of the sick and the insane? Nicodemus was embarrassed because he was supposed to have “all the answers”, but most likely, thought that Jesus had something to teach him. Therefore, Nicodemus came at night.
The text makes it clear that Nicodemus was impressed with the worksJesus was known to perform. He was convinced that Jesus was doingwhat He was doing with power from on high.
Jesus flips the conversation. I can imagine him looking directly at Nicodemusin such a way of dispensing with useless, needless conversation. I hope Jesus never looks upon me the way he looked upon Nicodemus.
“Very truly I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
Okay. We’ve arrived at a breaking-point in the conversation. From here onin, either Nicodemus will disengage, or he will give heed to something Jesushas said…that…will…indeed…transform his life.
Nicodemus pauses ever so briefly and indicates his interest in continuing theconversation…”How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born?”
Nicodemus is “fishing”. This was the typical conversational retort from a Pharisee…
Jesus lays things on the line. Both men are intently focused upon dialogue.I sense that Nicodemus will remember Jesus’ words the rest of his life…
“…Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they areborn of water and the Spirit…” This spiritual thing is not (bottom-line) aboutrobes and stoles, candles and wooden altars, food-fellowship after worship,or how well the choir sings, or what kind of hat the pastor has purchased…
It’s about dying to self. Letting go of living to satisfy “me”. It’s about opening up my human heart and letting God in. (God is a gentleman…He would never force His way into our lives.) It’s about finding myself in my compassion for others…It’s about the assurance that God is going to be worthy of the trust we place in Him…It’s about the knowledge that there is no failure in the Lord…
It’s about dying…and being raised up by the power of God in Christ through theHoly Spirit. It’s about being freed from guilt, and shame, and regret…by thepower of God in Christ to forgive us, to renew our spirits, and to restore the human spirit so that it no longer wages war on itself…
Other points of our interest and focus this morning are these masterpieces:
GOD WILL WASH US CLEAN AND PUT A NEW HEART WITHIN US”…I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols…I will give you a new heart andput a new spirit in you…I will remove from you your heart of stone and give youa heart of flesh…and I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decreesand be careful to keep my laws…” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
THE NATURE OF BIBLICAL SPIRITUALITY WILL BE POWERFULLY PERSONAL AND DIRECT
“…I will put my law in their minds…and write it upon their hearts…I will be their God…and they will be my people…no longer will their teach their neighbor, or say to oneanother, ‘Know the Lord’, because they will all know me, from the least of them…to the greatest…declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:34)
WE WILL SEE THE WISDOM OF DYING TO SELF AND BEING REBORN”…I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…”(Galatians 2:20)
FINALLY HABAKKUK’S FEELINGS ARE NOT DOMINATED BY EVENTS AROUND HIM, BUT RATHER, IN GOD’S ABILITY BY FAITH TO GIVE HIM STRENGTH AND ASSURE HIM THAT ALL IS AND WILL BE WELL”…I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound…decay crept intomy bones…and my legs trembled…though the fig tree does not bud and thoughthere are no grapes on the vines…though the olive crop fails…and the fields produceno food…though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls…yet, I willrejoice in the Lord…I will be joyful in God, my Savior!” (Habakkuk 3:16a, 17)
The story of the great life-changing conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus is…No matter how intelligent and well-educated you are, you must come to Jesus with an open mind & heart so He can teach you the truth about God.
There is much more to the dialogue, but for today, we’ll leave things at this.
I want to share a true story about another dialogue.
This conversation took place over the telephone, because the person I was talking to—on the other end of the line—was incarcerated. I had been praying for him for some time. He not been, for some reason, allowed to talk to others on the outside. Finally he called. He asked me a question during the courseof the call, “Will God forgive me if I commit suicide?” My response to thisquestion was, “…Now let me get this straight…Are you asking me to condone some thing we both know is evil…?” There was a pause on the other end of the line. My fiend continued, “I am miserable, and hurting, and my shame is overwhelming…I want to end my life…” I told him, “…You know, I want to empathize with you and your situation…but I do need to tell you something that God is placing on my heart to pass along…and that is this…You want to end your life, you want to kill yourself and die…and you want to do that your way. Let me tell you something. For years, after your confirmation of faith when you were a teenager (way back when) and the years following, I’ve sensed there was a need for you to progress in your spiritual life…being the judgmental person may be, I sensed you were into religion, but you hadn’t progressed from religion into faith. You want to kill yourself and die, but you want to do it, your way. I sense that God has allowed your present depression and thoughts of suicide in order bring it to yourattention to do things His way. For that reason, I am so glad you decided to trust me enough to talk it over. God wants you to die, but He wants you to do it His way, not your way. You need to die to yourself, and to your selfishness, and to your addictions. As Jesus said, and I know you remember the third chapter of John’s Gospel, you need to die to yourself and be born again.” There was a pause. There was a response on the other end of the line…”I understand. I am willing to do that.” I responded with asking if he’d be willing to pray…especially about dying to self and accepting his new life in Christ. He was willing. We prayed together. I could feel the Holy Spirit come upon him and me. Since that time things have gone well for him.
In the Season of Lent with just two weeks remaining prior to Palm Sunday, PassionWeek, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, we sometimes keep the Spiritual impactof this incredible week for granted. We go through the motions. We may even havea Spiritual lift, but miss out on the message of “new life” in Christ Jesus. We need tobe born again. We need to die to self. We need to be raised up, with each newmorning, to meet the new day with the full impact of the Holy Spirit upon us. Maybethis year you’ve been feeling down in the dumps. Maybe you’ve wondered if Godeven exists in our twenty-first century pandemic world. Maybe, like my father-in-law,you have asked the question, “…Is that all there is to religion?…” He left his religioustradition to follow Christ Jesus. You know, religion is a good thing, but it really must transition into Christ-centered, selfless, faith in Him. Gracious God, grant your abundant blessing on my friends who have chosen to place their confidence in today’s message and allow them to surrender and receive Christ.
Until next week, may the blessing of Almighty God, strengthen and uplift you…
“Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord!” (Ephesians 5:19b)