05 March 2023
“Faith” is a word that is used all the time in religious circles, in Christian worship, and even in political discourse. Unfortunately, all too often, the way we use the word is a shadow of the richness, vitality and challenge of the biblical meaning. This week the Lectionary allows us to eavesdrop on a conversation about faith between Jesus and a rather hesitant visitor who comes to him at night – and what Nicodemus heard from Jesus was both shocking and surprising.
We come to worship in faith this week. May we leave empowered to put that faith into action in our daily lives.
Genesis 12:1-4a: God calls Abram to leave his home country, and promises that he will be blessed and will be a blessing to others, and Abram obeys.
Psalm 121: A song affirming God’s help, attention and care.
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17: Paul holds Abraham up as an example of faith and relationship with God, and points out that it was not so much Abraham’s obedience as Abraham’s relationship with God through faith that ensured that God’s promise would be fulfilled through him.
John 3:1-17: Nicodemus comes to speak to Jesus at night, and is told that he must be born of the Spirit in order to see God’s reign, and that Christ came into the world to save through faith, not to condemn and judge.
OR Matthew 17:1-9: Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain and he is transfigured into a glowing white light, and is seen to speak with Moses and Elijah.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:[Note: The transfiguration reading appeared just two weeks ago as the focus of the last Sunday after Epiphany – sometimes called Transfiguration Sunday. However, in the Roman Catholic Lectionary – and I believe sometimes in the Anglican Lectionary as well – the Transfiguration is remembered on the second Sunday of Lent. This offers us a choice – we can revisit the passage from a different angle, or choose rather to focus on the John reading – which I will do here.]
The clear focus of this week’s readings is the idea of faith or believing. Abram, believing God’s promise, sets out from his home to a new land. The Psalm expresses deep faith in the God who protects and cares for God’s people. Paul emphasises Abraham’s faith as the doorway into relationship with God, and invites believers to embrace a similar faith in Christ. And Nicodemus, coming to Jesus in the night, is invited to be born again, born from above, in order to see God’s reign, and to recognise that Jesus is the one who came to bring life – salvation – to those who believe. The call to faith is unavoidable here, but, of course, the question it raises is this: what is faith? Is it simply an intellectual agreement with certain propositions? Or is it something deeper? The key lies in the conversation with Nicodemus, where faith and the new birth are brought together by Jesus. This faith, then, is not just accepting ideas in the mind. It is an experience of new birth. It is a completely new way of being that enables us to ‘see’, to ‘know’ God’s reign and then to live out of this new birth as leaves driven by the wind. This is certainly more than just signing a pledge card, or praying a specific prayer in order to be “saved”. This believing is completely transforming, and must, therefore, like birth and the life which follows it, be a growing, developing experience that is embraced anew each day.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: If there is anything that our world needs today, it is faith. In the face of cynical partisan politics, divisive and cynical polarisation around issues as diverse as climate change and abortion, and faith communities that offer nothing but negative, cynical or doom-saying assessments of the world, it is both prophetic and healing to live and speak from a position of faith. As we engage the world and its struggles from a deep faith in the God who is at work to save creation, we cannot help but offer hope and connection to all we encounter – whether we agree with them or not. As we engage people with the faith that they are created in God’s image, and that God is at work in their lives, we cannot do other than embrace them in Christ’s name and call out the God-imaged glory within them. Such faith must lead to completely different responses to the challenges of our world. Greed and hoarding is a symptom of a lack of faith in God’s provision, and leads to poverty for others. War is a lack of faith in God’s protection, and leads to escalating violence and insecurity. The refusal to address issues of justice is a lack of faith in God’s resources within us to make a contribution, and leads to ongoing disparity and suspicion between “the haves” and “the have nots”, between the perpetrators and victims of injustice. If we can begin to live in faith, though, we may appear foolish or even naive, but it will make a huge impact on the big issues of our world. Just a few faithful people really can make a big difference.
LOCAL APPLICATION: In our churches, it is easy to reduce faith to a system of ideas that we call our people to accept. It is easy to make salvation nothing more than praying the right prayer and signing the right card. But, if we do this, we rob our people of the true power and value of faith. A faith that is simply a set of ideas does not lead us to new birth. It does not change our very lives and give us a new way of seeing or a God’s-reign way of being – which may be why Christians are so often accused of being hypocrites. The faith of Abraham that Paul calls us to experience, the faith that leads to new birth, which Jesus offered to Nicodemus, is a transforming encounter with a God who leads us into a whole new world – the world of God’s reign, where children are the leaders, the meek inherit the earth, and the poor, the mourners and the peace makers are the recipients of God’s presence and grace. Once we have embraced this faith, we cannot help but begin to live this new life in such a way that it makes a difference in our families, our places of work and leisure, our communities and our churches. Once we have been born anew, we find ourselves recognising Christ in those we would normally shun, and we begin to care about issues that we would normally ignore. It is not our obedience that leads us to life – as Paul points out – but our faith. However, faith that does not change who we are and how we live, is not faith at all. Ultimately, believing does not happen in our heads alone, but in our whole being, and in lives that, in small but significant ways, touch the least with grace and compassion, and seek to make the world a more hopeful, celebratory and gracious place.
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Faith In Action
The Faith We Need
Faith That Carries the Cross
My Faith Looks Up To Thee
Breathe On Me, Breath Of God
The God Of Abraham Praise
If Thou But Suffer God To Guide Thee
My Redeemer Lives (Link to YouTube video)
I Believe That God Appeared In Human Form (Link takes you to lyrics. The tune is the famous “I believe that every drop of rain that falls…” that has been sung by many famous performers.)
Give Thanks (Link to YouTube video)
Now To Live The Life (Link to YouTube video)
A Liturgy For The Lord’s Supper
Encounters – Nicodemus