20 March 2011
Second Sunday in Lent
Lent 2A (RCL)
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
The passage from Genesis is cryptically short. If I were Abraham, I might ask God to stop showing up in my life: promises and challenges go together. God tells Abram to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house and go to a land that God will show him. There is no destination laid out before hand, no Google map. Just go. And Abram goes. On the thin guarantee that nations will bless themselves in him. He has to leave behind one identity in order to accept another.
In the passage from the Gospel of John, Nicodemus comes to Jesus (at night), and tells Jesus that the Jews know he is a teacher come from God. Jesus shoots back with a cryptic remark about being born again to see the kingdom. Being born again is another way of saying, change identity. John’s community is writing from the perspective of having been kicked out of the synagogue. They are struggling to identify themselves in this new situation. They are likely welcoming Samaritans, and possibly Gentiles into their fellowship. Clearly, a new identity is needed — being born from above/anew. And more challenging still, this new birth, like Abram’s, has no fixed destination. The wind/Spirit blows where it will, and we hear the sound of it, but we know neither where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with those born of the Spirit.
We live in challenging times to be the church. Things are shifting under our feet. The land of our fathers and mothers is no longer quite so firm. Where are we headed? There is not Google map, no destination. The Spirit blows where it will. How are we to find our way.
Paul also talks about Abraham in the passage from Romans. The Jews of his day (himself included) had made Abraham’s ancestry the distinguishing mark of what it meant to be God’s people. Paul was trying to shift that indentification. It was Abraham’s heirs according to the spirit who would inherit the promises, not according to the flesh.
As our world globalizes, and being American, European, Japanese means less and less, can we forge a new identity the way Paul imagines?