Monday, March 6, 2023

Well, Why Not!


John 3:1-17

Lent 2 / Year A

I remember crawling out of bed one morning when I was in seminary and stumbling my way to the Chapel for the 8:15 Wednesday morning Eucharist.  I was barely awake and not entirely tuned in to the first part of the service.  Locke Bowman, a professor on campus, was the celebrant.  When we got to the Great Thanksgiving he read the liturgy: “The Lord be with you.”  We all replied, “And also with you.”  And then, so gently and tenderly he said, “Lift up your hearts.”  Now most priests tend say these words in the imperative: The Lord we with you.  Lift up your hearts (or else)!  Not Locke.  When he said, “Lift up your hearts” his tone was inviting and it caught my attention.  I almost replied, “Well, why not!  I accept your invitation to worship the Lord.” 

The role and place of invitation is so important in the life of the Church.  It is the offer to embrace the faith handed down through saints and scholars, through songs and scrolls, through pastors and parents and make it your own.  When the Church is truly inviting, people are called out of their Chapel slumber and respond, “Who?  Me?  Well, why not!”

When Jesus says to Nicodemus “You must be born from above (or born again) to see the Kingdom of God” is he sounding a warning or issuing an invitation?  Some would say Jesus is saying “You must be born again… or else!”  …or else you will not please God.  …or else your sins will not be forgiven.  …or else you will never get to heaven.  Or else!  I contend Jesus is speaking of an opportunity to see in a new way how God is at work in the world here and now.  I contend it is an invitation.

Jesus never thought of the Kingdom of God only as being eternity in heaven.  For him, the Kingdom of God is here and now, not just in the great Bye and Bye.  Seeing it and entering into it is a matter of understanding the mission of Jesus and how God works through him.  Nicodemus comes to Jesus because he is impressed by the signs he performs.  For Jesus, it is possible (perhaps even likely) to see the miracles and yet to miss the Kingdom.  In order to find the Kingdom, he says, you must be born again; not as in ‘or else’, but rather as “Why not!”

Jesus articulates to Nicodemus his mission and purpose in this way:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him

God did not send Jesus to provide an ultimatum or warning; the big “Shape Up or Else!”  Jesus is sent to save the world, not to condemn it.  The Kingdom begins with God, out of a deep love for us, giving what is most dear and precious to God – namely, God’s only Son – so we might have everlasting life, beginning right now, today.  Jesus makes it clear to Nicodemus he must be moved by God’s self-giving, not the miracles, if he is going to see the Kingdom at work in this world.

Our first reading this morning, though brief, is one of the seminal moments in the Old Testament.  The Lord approaches Abram and tells him to pack up his family and his things and go.  Go where?  Just go until the Lord says, “Stop here.”  Is it an order or an invitation?  I suggest it is an invitation and Abram’s acceptance is a sign of his deep faith and righteousness. 

Do you remember Jesus’ parable about the king who invites guests to attend a wedding?  When everything is ready the king sends out his servants to tell the guests the time has arrived for the celebration.  However, each invited guest decides not to go.  Astonished, the king sends his servants out again to invite whoever they can find.  The party will be open to those who want to attend – to those who accept the invitation.

Every Sunday morning we are invited to enter this place with our whole heart open to worship and praise.  Every day we are invited to participate in the work God is doing in our world.  Every moment we are invited to live out the faith of our Baptismal Covenant and be a blessing to all, as Abram became a blessing to all the families of the earth.  When has this invitation so captured your attention you responded, “Well, why not”?