Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 8 March 2020.
I think that they call them mystery tours, in which the passengers are not told where they are going, but only that it will be worth it. I have not been on any such tour, and maybe some of you have. But there is that sense of expectation and adventure. The journey will be interesting and the destination (should be) wonderful.
Now apply this to our lessons today.
Abram was already well on in years, and lived in an advanced community in Mesopotamia. It was long settled and Abram was a man of some substance, with flocks and servants. He even had an adventure-seeking nephew, Lot who was willing to go along with him when the quest was revealed.
It would seem that Abram was also a man who had a spiritual life of his own and did not live it wholly through the local cult of deities and sacrifices of appeasement and pleading.
And so God met his in his questionings and said, come with Me. I will show you a new land and a new promise, a new kind of living and believing.
When most people might have wanted to settle into their retirement, Abram was up for another adventure.
And so he ventured forth, trusting in a dream or a word or a deep inner sense of what God wanted. There was a rightness and an authenticity in this calling and so he was willing to set forth.
This was a personal faith found on a personal relationship with God. There was nothing of the automatic about it and it was never about appeasement and pleading. God was more than one who would bless the land and the women with fertility. He was more than a local deity to protect this city but not that city, who would have their own cult.
And it was this quality of believing that God blessed. It was a quality of relationship and a life of prayer. Abram was never going to earn the favour of God as if it were a wage, or as if God was under an obligation to him.
Instead of wages there was faith, and a trust arising from that faith. Here was a devotion that would worship God for Himself and for Himself alone, without bargaining.
This was the kind of faith that God was looking for in a man of those times.
And then there was Nicodemus, who like Abram was living in a developed system of faith and worship. There were the scriptures and the sacrifices, the scribes who wrote and the priests who sacrificed.
It was all very ordered, and nobody needed any trouble-makers to question the nature or the quality of their practice.
And so Jesus appeared, able to out-argue the scribes and Pharisees, the priests and the entourage of the temple.
And no only that, but His teaching had a new kind of quality about it, a new kind of electricity. When He spoke things happened. People were healed and forgiven, they were redirected in their lives and restored in their hopes.
But while Nicodemus could see and appreciate all this, he could not put it all together. Something was missing, and the criticism of his colleagues on the Sanhedrin did not help. More heat than light, and so he had to go and ask for himself.
And when he found Jesus, instead of getting some answers Nicodemus got more questions instead.
Instead of a learned discourse on the law, he was given a mystical discourse on the things of the Spirit.
Instead of a few simple directions, he was presented with a wholly new agenda. Instead of being in control, he was going to have to start again.
This would be a new kind of faith and a new kind of Lord.
Again it would mean letting go and receiving before he could possibly learn how to give.
Instead of a life based on legalisms and careful distinctions, he would have to live with things that cannot ever be earned but can only be received, and received with joy and gratitude.
While the sacrifices of the temple were a daily atonement for sin, Jesus had come to complete that atonement eternally in a way that humans never could.
God’s mission was about bestowing what could never be earned and about loving where the starting point was always about giving rather than receiving.
And so Jesus came and would give Himself in a way that none other ever could. He would step outside His Mount Olympus where the Greek deities played games with mankind and He would step up to the cross of Calvary where the Romans and the priests and law speakers would make their games with Him.
Jesus would step outside the wildest imagination of human theology in order to reveal something far more glorious and which the human contrivance could never begin to comprehend. The wind would blow and the Spirit would come and life would never be the same again.