Re-Remember your Re-Birth

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, March 12, 2017, Lent 1, Year A, John 3:1-17

“How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Good morning. I know that change is hard and no change is harder than Daylight Savings Time…in March.

I want to tell you about a friend of mine, Nick. Nick is a good dutchman with a good Dutch name… Zylstra… Nick is a guy I met at college (the third time I tried to finish my bachelor’s degree). He was much younger than me and single so that meant he had plenty of time for my shenanigans.

We played softball and ping pong together… We pondered and giggled about Reformed Theology together…

We helped plant a church together at Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids.

We camped… we laughed… we dreamed about the future of the Church and the world together.

And because of our close relationship… because of our mutual respect for one another… Nick could tell me things that not many other people could.

“Hey Christian… I think you’re funny, but when you made that comment in class, I think you were out of line…”

“Hey Christian, while I’m happy to critique Reformed Theology with you, I think you often times throw the baby out with the bathwater… I think that diminishes your reputation with our classmates and folks will be less likely to hear what you have to say even when you have a valid point.”

Ouch.

“Hey Christian, I know that we joke around a lot, but I really think that you’re a good dad… Thanks for letting in on how your family functions… I think it will be helpful to me in the future.”

“Hey Christian, I know we’ve been playing ping-pong for a long time, but your serve is actually illegal… It breaks the rules because you hide the ball with your hand….”

Nick, in many ways, opened my imagination to the priesthood. He left for California to become an ordained pastor first… and then I followed in the Episcopal Tradition.

I had three kids first… then he followed by having three kids of his own…

Our families had big dreams of starting a real live hippie commune together but things kind of fell apart along the way… I still wonder about that dream and hope that we can start that intentional living community someday.

He is a true friend, and in many ways, was and is Jesus to me, and I think we could uncover some of the mysteries of living as the early Church lived… if the stars aligned correctly.

But instead of smelling like patchouli and living on a school bus, I guess that this st. philip’s gig will do…

I get to live in the greatest place on Earth and get to do ministry with you folks. I get to succeed and to struggle in Northern Michigan with you… and to carry out the mission of the Church side-by-side with each of you. In this place… in this context… I feel pretty lucky…

And you, and Jodi, and my girls, are stuck with me…

So, if Nick is Jesus in this morning’s Gospel… then I’m Nicodemus in the story… I’m the pharisee who comes to Jesus at night because he is unwilling to be vulnerable in front of the rest of the world. Nick is my Rabbi who is unwilling to lie… Who insists on injecting truth into my life… even when it is uncomfortable.

Sometimes, that’s what Lent feels like, isn’t it?

Like the weekly gospel text that insists on infusing truth into our lives even when… even though, it is uncomfortable and even painful, counter-cultural and antithetical, to any other narrative that we can access, dream up or live into.

Lent is a time to re-focus. To re-remember. To make room for resurrection.

So how is your Lent going?

Is there anything you would like to share with us about frustrations or insights that you have experienced because of your Lenten discipline?

Anybody out there who is trying to read more?
Shut out some kind of distraction?
Increase your gifting, particularly to the poor?
Anybody who has incorporated fasting from some type of food?

Don’t give out too much information about it or it may not count….

I feel thankful that you are here, that we are here, together… as we walk to the cross… together…

Lent is a quiet… slow… often times painful journey.

I have personally experienced Lent as a powerful and revealing time in which God has seemed very near.

Other times, Lent has been a time of desolation… a time of despair… a time of loneliness and shame…

Lent can be a time of great consolation and it can be a time of great desolation…Lent has both winter and spring.

And along those lines, there is a thin space between birth and death, between the womb and the tomb.

In the scope of eternity (or even recorded history) your life and mine are just a finite blip.

I don’t even mean the dates that we are alive.

I mean, the few years that I will be breathing… that I will have lived… are so miniscule.

For instance… I looked it up on the internets… which means it must be true… There are approximately 7 ½ billion people on the Earth. That’s a lot of people… living right now.

And…according to the internets approximately 350,000 babies are born and 150,000 people die, each and every day.

If you listen closely you can hear all of creation groaning with birth pangs and those in the throes of death at the same time.

Everyday, every minute of everyday, every second of everyday, people live and people die… all the time…

Plantlife and animals alike, are dying and being born.

Death making space for new life.

Change that is embedded in the Creation Cycle, the creative process, is a part…of life.

And Lent… is the time in the Church calendar where we walk together into darkness and into death, to make way for light…for resurrection.

Morbid? Perhaps.

And though it is true, that we are actually walking closer to our own, personal, physical death, each time we walk through a new Lent, the season is also and maybe moreso, a time to practice that death on a micro level.

In Lent, we reflect on our lives. We examine ourselves and try to be receptive to death.

Everything comes to an end… and in Lent, we try to pay attention to those things.

Because we have the benefit of recognizing the pattern that Jesus has established. Lent prepares us for the Resurrection that is to come.

But Resurrection can only happen after death…

Now, you should know, there isn’t much I remember from my time in seminary, but I do remember that my liturgy professor used the word “anamnesis.”

I only remember it now, because I had to look it up so many times.

In it’s most simplistic form, it means to “re-remember” and yet in a more mysterious way it means to be present at, or present with, the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord.

It’s the part in the Eucharistic Prayer that points to the words of institution where Jesus says to his friends, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The part where we, as Christians, are invited to enter into the Paschal Mystery, each and every time we participate.

As we practice Lent… and the passion of our Lord… we have the Church’s 2000 year old memory… we have the memory of the Body of Christ… to help us re-remember what happened on that journey to the cross…

Each Lent we “RE- Remember”.

And as you and I… as we, spend time being examined in the desert… we must recognize that the same change that is present in all of creation is present in our lives. That the life and death that is present in a physical sense, all around us…. Is present in the rhythms and patterns of our lives.

That change is inevitable…. In our own personal lives, our health will change… we will move away to college… our friends will move… we’ll buy new houses… loved ones will die… we will celebrate births… we will fall in and out of love… The Cubs will win the world series… The lions will lose… well, that may never change… But…things will change….

And at church. Change is inevitable… it can’t be avoided… just like in our personal lives, we have change built in… each year we will have a new vestry… Our leadership will take a well earned break… our clergy will retire… patriarchs and matriarchs will die… The new rectors will make big changes… like painting the office…

We’ll have new life… and baptize baby human beings…we will marry and we will bury people.

The vestments will change… the striping on the parking lot will change… The Bishop will change…. Things will change….

But the Church will remain… those changes will all be a sincere attempt to serve the people to continue to carry out the mission of the Church and move closer to the Reign of God. But it will change.

And hopefully we will see new life because of it…. Hopefully we will see the birth of new things…

And each of us, at various times, will ask this question, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

“How can I move forward with this conflict… with this struggle… with this addiction… with this illness… with this depression… I want things to be back to normal… what must I do to make that my reality once again?”

When you find yourself there… in the midst of a Nicodemian crisis… you are invited to have the courage to call a friend… not just any friend… but a friend who you know will listen to you… to sit with you as you wrestle… to speak truth to you… to encourage you and to not judge you.

Because remember, Nicodemus had to go through a death of his own in order to witness new life.

The death of his reality is what ushered in new life.
This story, in this morning’s Gospel, is Nicodemus’ own personal Lent.

His willingness to be reflective and to ask questions. He was willing to create space to get the answers to the questions that he had about new life, about God, and about the teaching about the Spirit.

He creates space by acknowledging Jesus as “Rabbi”. Perhaps as HIS own personal teacher. Nicodemus, as a leader of the Pharisees, had to be vulnerable… he had to humble himself and be receptive to another teacher and another teaching… He needed to be vulnerable and he needed to listen.

And Jesus delivers… Jesus offers the truth… he tries to hear Nicodemus’ questions and to answer him where he is at… physically and spiritually.

In his physical darkness and in his spiritual darkness… Jesus shines the light for Nicodemus … He offers truth for Nicodemus…

And each of you, at times, will be invited to be Nicodemus and each of you, at other times, will be invited to be Jesus.

You will be invited…but in order to accept the invitation you may have to be willing to be vulnerable and ask questions that seem ridiculous… you may have to be willing to be vulnerable and tell one another the hard truths of the gospel.

This, I truly believe, is the only way that we can compost our sin…. And the only way that we can encourage growth and new life and even re-birth..

The only way Lent can make room for Easter.

“How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
Amen.