Go From Your Country

Learning to Live Inside Out

Second Sunday in Lent, Year A

This is the week that the “moving out” part of our theme is most obvious. Whether we are talking about the call to go to a new place, like Abram in Genesis 12, or to move to a new understanding, like Nicodemus in John 3, movement is required. Movement means change, which is always difficult and scary. So this is a week about faith and about trust and the willingness to commit to the discipleship path.

We start with Genesis this week—the beginning of the saga of the patriarch we know as Abraham. But he doesn’t get that name until later. For now, he is just Abram, son of Terah, who just died in Haran, which wasn’t really home. Terah was from Ur, further south and east, almost to the Persian Gulf. But now we’re in what would become Turkey, a long way from home. Yet it became the new home. But it was a home Abram was asked to leave. He was asked to complete the journey his father started. Chapter 11, verse 31 says Terah set off for Canaan, but only made it to Haran.

You know what that’s like. You had a dream; you were going places; you were going to accomplish things; you had worlds to conquer and dragons to slay, so you set off. But somewhere along the way, you settled in Haran. You didn’t accomplish all that you imagined, but you did well. You didn’t conquer worlds, but you helped make a home for you and your family; and that was enough. What seemed so clear and so compelling some years ago now seems like a dream you begin to lose when you wake up. You remember that it was wonderful, heart-pounding stuff, but the details slip away like the morning mist as you suit up to face the day.

Did Abram hear those dreams from his father as they sat around the fire in the evenings? Did the lure of that original, unknown destination work its way into his soul as he tended the flocks? Genesis twelve says God called. What did it sound like? Was there a deep rumbling voice that formed words in Abram’s soul but was thunder to everyone else? Was there, as there so often was in the Bible, a dream that refused to fade in the morning dawn? Or did God sound like Terah, talking of Canaan as though he had been there and was hoping to get back some day?

“How do you know?” That’s the question we ask so many times. “How do you know it is God and not the secret desires of your own heart?” We want to know; we want to be certain. They always sound so certain in the Bible. Or do they? "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you” (12:1). Does that sound like certainty? Oh, sure the narration says “Now the Lord said to Abram...” But what is said? Go! And there is more about what is being left behind than there is about the destination. “To a land that I will show you.” “Will show you” not that “I am showing you,” not that “I’ve written out here in these directions.” There is no printout map with a line drawn from where you are to where you’ll end up.

God doesn’t seem to ask for certainty. We don’t have Abram’s inner dialog in this story; we don’t have the questions he must have asked, at least in his own head and heart. All we have is his action – “So Abram went...” That’s it. He went, and he believed. He went as the Lord had told him. And his uncertainty got him into trouble in just a few verses. He took wrong steps at least as much as he took the right ones. But he went. And that is what God wanted, apparently.

God doesn’t want us to wait until we are certain. God doesn’t want us to figure it all out first, to download the maps and chart our course; he wants us to move. “Move where?” we ask. Anywhere. Somewhere. As the Lord has told us. We don’t know everything, but we know some things. We know God asks us to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly. We know that Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers and that when you do it to the least of these, you do it to him. Maybe that isn’t enough to build a life on, but it is a start.

And along the way is a blessing. Not just at the end. There is blessing in the going, blessing in the following, blessing in the unseen destination. But it is time to move.

Nicodemus had to move too. His journey was different. It’s not so much the miles he traveled; rather, his understanding grew. Or was invited to grow. Did he grow? Good question.

Nicodemus was a leader of the people of God. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the governing body of the Jews in Israel at Jesus’ time. He comes at night, maybe because serious study takes place at night, or maybe because he was afraid to be seen associating with this questionable rabbi from the backwoods. He comes with social niceties, a bit of flattery to grease the wheels of conversation. But Jesus immediately changes the subject. Jesus immediately puts him on the defensive. You have to be a different person to be a part of what God has in store. “What?” Nicodemus is reeling almost immediately. He is knocked off his feet, and he spends the rest of the conversation trying to catch up.

He makes a feeble joke about climbing back in his mother’s womb, hoping to disarm the intensity of the teacher. Because being a different person was couched in a metaphor about birth. Born again, he said, born from above. The word in Greek means both things, a reference to time and to direction. Born again, as if the first time wasn’t traumatic enough, again as if the first time wasn’t as full of potential as it needed to be; again as if drawing breath like never before, filling the lungs with more than air, breathing in Spirit instead, in addition. Spirit from above, as if you were too focused on this life, the one lived out in front of your eyes and anything invisible isn’t real. Anything invisible, like love and hope and joy and transformation and possibility isn’t what life was about when born from below. It’s not a bad life, just a shallow one, just a nose to the grindstone and find your meaning in successes and failures each and every day and not in the love of a creator who stands ready to fill you with vision.

Let go, Nicodemus, let go of the need to control, your need to have everything your way. Let go of the belief that you can build a better world, a more vibrant community by shaping it along the lines of your own preferences and understandings. Grab hold of the Spirit, and be blown about, from one world to the next, from one joy to the next, from one soul to the next. Be born into a new way of seeing; let go of what was, no matter how satisfying it may have been. Grab hold of where God is calling you to go, who God is calling you to be.

I’m not telling you anything new, Nicodemus. I’ve been saying these things since I got here, since the beginning of time. This is all I have to say; this is all I know, this God thing, this vision of the people of God, the community of faith. I have not stopped saying this. And you are a leader of people and somehow don’t get it. How can this be, Nicodemus? What did you miss? Get ready, it’s about to get even more intense.

Jesus gave Nicodemus a whole lot of stuff to think about, to process. We don’t know how it all impacted him, what he went away with that night. But a few chapters later, when the rest of the leaders are complaining that the police didn’t arrest Jesus for speaking of the kingdom of God, Nicodemus speaks up and says, “Don’t we have due process?” That was not an affirmation of faith, by any means, but at least he attempted to stand on the side of right. They sneered at him and accused him of being a hick from the sticks like Jesus. Then Nicodemus shrinks from sight completely.

Well, not completely. He doesn’t speak again. But he shows up in the darkness again, the afternoon darkness of a weeping world, and gathers up the body from a horrible death, and wraps it up with about a hundred pounds of spices and puts it in the tomb of another Pharisee named Joseph. A hundred pounds of spices? Was that really necessary? I don’t know. Maybe. Or maybe it was overkill. Overboard. Maybe it was apology spice; maybe he finally understood what he had missed that night in the darkness and wanted to make up for it by bringing so much that he could barely carry it, a penance of spice poured out over a dead body that wasn’t going to stay dead, though he didn’t know that yet.

Summing up this story is a verse we all know. Know by heart. Or maybe know by rote, not yet by heart. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may … have eternal life” (3:16). Believes as in puts their life in, surrenders everything to, joins completely. Shares the vision. Having a vision means more than a slogan we can recite, though that can be helpful. It means grabbing hold of the wind; it means leaning into the Spirit, even when it blows you out of your comfortable spot. The message is, “It’s time to go. Go inside out.”

In This Series...

Ash Wednesday, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes First Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes


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In This Series...

Ash Wednesday, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes First Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes