3/12/2017 Second Sunday in Lent The text is John 3:1-17.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
My friends…I don’t know if you realize it or not, but we live in a day and age in which being a proclaimed follower of Jesus can be a risky business. No, we don’t live in some mid-Eastern countries in which Christians are being targeted and executed. But we live in a country where Christianity is under a subtle attack. It’s not cool to be a Christian, so churches of all denominations all throughout the country are closing. For how many baptized Christians do you know who have decided not to baptize their children…instead, they are opting for free choice when it comes to religion? They are not exposing their children to the faith and letting them choose what to be when they grow up without ever introducing them to God. How many of you know parents who have given up on Sunday school or confirmation classes because sports, dance, and everything else has become more important than learning about the faith?
This subtle assault on Christianity has us hiding our faith in order to not offend anyone. We find ourselves wishing people, “happy holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter.” Coloring eggs, hiding candy and wrapping gifts are okay, but Ash Wednesday and Holy Week services aren’t on our radar any more. There are too many other things that are more important to us. And so, we don’t take the risk to practice our faith, let alone proclaim it.
Maybe, as Christians, we should take a page from the secular world and do something that would encourage our members to be a little more risky when it comes to following Jesus. Lee Griess (Return to The Lord, Your God, CSS Publishing Company, Inc} tells the true story about an executive for a company called Sara Lee Direct who thought he was getting a great deal on a shipment of belts, so he acted quickly and bought a whole warehouse full. Only later did he discover that what he bought was not manufacturing belts for the conveyor system at the factory, but a bunch of those three-inch-wide paisley belts from the 1960s. Instead of getting fired, he was awarded a bronze plaque that proudly commemorated the “Worst Buy of the Year.”
Griess goes on to say, “When I read this story, I had two reactions. My first was: Is this business nuts? Have they gone crazy, or what? And then my second thought was that maybe I could talk the church council into adopting a similar policy. Maybe there could be a bonus for the worst sermon of the month. I could use some extra cash!
Seriously though, there’s a strategy behind rewarding mistakes. An official at Sara Lee Direct where the employee got promoted instead of fired for making that terrible purchase put it this way, “If you don’t go up to the plate and swing hard, you’re never going to hit a home run. If you’re not willing to make a mistake, you’re not really trying.” The bottom-line is that risk-taking is the only road to success. And companies are finding that it’s worth rewarding a few mistakes along the way if it encourages their people to take the kind of risks that can bring huge rewards. And the same is true for people of faith.
If we are not willing to take the risk of confronting our children who have decided that God isn’t important anymore, than what rewards are there? If we are not willing to put our time and resources into doing what God would have us do, then what are we doing? How much faith does it take to follow the way of the Lord? How much risk are we willing to take?
In today’s gospel, we hear of a man named Nicodemus, a leader in the synagogue, taking the risk to of going to Jesus. For him, this little step in faith is risky business for his peers vehemently oppose Jesus. But how big of a risk taker is Nicodemus? Yes, he wants to see this rabbi he has heard so much about and ask him some questions, but Nicodemus isn’t going to seek Jesus in the light of day. For, Nicodemus doesn’t want anyone to see his faith. He hides it safely from view as he goes to Jesus secretly in the dark of night.
The truth is, all of us have a little Nicodemus in us. It’s always easier to play it safe and keep Jesus at a distance than it is to call him the Lord of our life. Even Father Henri Nouwen, struggles with this. In his reflection on the story of Nicodemas, he writes, “I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own friends even when they do not lead me closer to Jesus. I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own independence even when that independence brings me no real freedom. I love Jesus but do not want to lose the respect of my professional colleagues, even though I know that their respect does not make me grow spiritually. I love Jesus but do not want to give up my writing plans, travel plans, and speaking plans, even when these plans are often more to my glory that to the glory of God.”
The same can be said for all of us. It’s tough being a follower of Christ. Followers of Jesus have always been under some sort of pressure to hide their faith. But sometimes it is necessary to take risky business of living out the faith that is within us in order to grow and change.
So maybe, this Lenten season, it is time for us to stop hiding our faith and begin practicing it. Maybe it’s time to begin proclaiming and showing that we are followers of Jesus by what we do in sharing his love with others. Maybe we should be less concerned about offending people by our faith than about offending Jesus by hiding it.
So, wear your faith proudly and don’t be ashamed of being called follower of Christ Jesus our Lord. Use this Lenten season to change and let your faith make a difference in your life and in the lives of those around you. Remember, our Lord gave his life for you out of his love for you and for all he created. Let that love shine through you to all whose lives you touch. And at the very least, in the words of Claudia Casello, remember: “God gives you all week. You can give him back one hour on Sunday.”
Keep the faith, my friends, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.