“Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder. I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus.
I recognise and greet my burdens, my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story, my unloved body, my own love, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day. I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day. I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet. / Hello to you all, I say, as the sun rises…. / Hello.” (written by Padraig O Tuama. From a conversation with Krista Tippett on the podcast On Being.org)
I didn’t write that, I stumbled upon it – hearing it as one of the truest and most beautiful description of prayer I’ve come across. Honest – messy – practice of holy listening. Of bringing all of who we are – to God. Opening ourselves to what God may initiate – may birth in us.
Under the cover of darkness, Nicodemus steals away to have a conversation with God. And while he may bring all of who he is – he also seems to bring his preconceptions – which he can’t seem to let go. Impossible – is Nicodemus’ response to Jesus new possibility.
You know those kinds of conversations right? You say something – propose something – and maybe before you’ve even finished the thought the person says no, absolutely not. And it feels like the person didn’t hear you - they had already made up their minds and drawn their own conclusions. We all do this – it takes work – and practice - to turn off our thinking – and be open to hear something new.
One night I got into a cab. I don’t remember much of the conversation but the cabbie got us onto the subject of religion – and Jesus. He asked me if I wanted to give my life to Jesus. I didn’t tell him that I was in seminary. My sense was that he wasn’t interested in having a real conversation. He was interested in getting me to accept his perspective, his point.
To me there wasn’t any harm in going along to get along – even though I suspected – theologically – there would be plenty of places where we wouldn’t agree. Like in the way in which he quoted John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that if you believe you won’t perish, but will have eternal life. So don’t you want to be born again? It was quid pro quo theology as if God operates within the same economic systems we do. He asked – don’t you want to accept Jesus as your savior? Sure, I said – he was psyched.
Then he asked me to repeat after him, line by line a creed – it was basically the Apostles creed – but a little bit different. And when we finished he exclaimed – that’s 15 for me today! Meaning – he’d gotten 15 passengers to recite this creed and be born again. Good for you – thank you – I’ll take $5 back please.
That cabbie – and Nicodemus – had way too much invested in their own perspectives and abilities. As if being born again is something that is up to us, that we do – and not God. But Jesus describes God doing the work – being born of God as the Spirit chooses. A God who is more God than the one Nicodemus reduces to his perspective.
Or think of it this way - how much say did you have in your birth? Did you decide when to be born? Did you choose to whom you would be born? Did you pick the time period – or country – or religion you’d be born into?
Our birth was not our doing – it was two other people – who also did not have a birth of their doing – and so on and so on – all from a divine source. But surely your birth was a life-changing event – for you, your parents – who knows who else. Your birth was a moment of joy and pain. When you entered this world – you were not all smiles – you were screaming your head off – and maybe some other people were yelling too. For some – the moment of life may have even involved death.
Wrapped up in your birth were a million factors beyond your control – plus a myriad of emotions – instinctual reactions and never before conceived thoughts -- all of which miraculously conspired to create your one precious life. And the world would never be the seen by you or by those who bore you the same way again.
What I opened with – that is from a book by Padraig o Tuama – and within it I hear a prayer to be born anew each day. That all we can do is bring ourselves to God and ask that God will help us “see” something.
"I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day. I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day. I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead."
That is a prayer of someone hoping to see God in their midst. When Jesus says “eternal life” here and throughout this gospel – when he says God gave out of love so that we might have eternal life - he is not talking about immortality – about a future in heaven. Kingdom language throughout the gospels is about the here and now – thy will be done on earth as in heaven. Jesus is inviting us to see the kingdom of God – to enter the kingdom of God – to live right now in the unending presence of God
Which service do you think has higher attendance – Easter Sunday or Good Friday? We have over 300 people here on Easter Sunday – Good Friday – maybe 50
Part of living in the unending presence of God – part of seeing in that way – means seeing what we don’t want to see. That’s what Jesus is talking about with the serpent and Moses. God’s people wanted liberation from slavery – but they didn’t like the exodus they had to go through to get to the other side. They wanted new life – they wanted to be born anew – but the struggle had them complaining. So, the story goes, God sent poisonous serpents – and told Moses – put one of those serpents on a stake – and hold it up and tell the people to look at it. They have to face death to make it through to new life.
And Jesus – tells our bewildered Nicodemus – this is who I am for you. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. For whoever can take that in – whoever can wrestle with what that cross represents – their sight will be forever changed – and they will have eternal life – they will be born anew, from above to live in the unending presence of God.
In Matthew, Mark, Luke - Jesus says what we hear today a little differently – whoever wants to save their life must lose it – and those who lose their life will save it.
Being born again always requires letting go of something, dying to something, facing something and having faith God will bear us through it. I don’t know what Jesus on the cross represents in your life for you this Lent of 2017 – but there is no Easter without Good Friday. To be born again isn’t an easy assent to words or creeds. It is labor – it is courageous – it is to hope, in faith for that which we cannot yet see.
So on this day I pray – may each of us greet our story and hope that we can hear some stories, perhaps some surprising stories during the long day ahead. May we greet God, the God who is more God than the God any one of us could imagine – and may we say hello - or goodbye – may we allow ourselves to be born anew. Amen.