Head in the Clouds 2-26-17

During Lent this year, the assigned Gospel readings tend to be pretty long. So I’m asking Adrienne Lucas and you to help me, by doing a dramatic reading. Adrienne will read Jesus’ part and you will read Nicodemus, the bold on the screen. We are listening to this passage, as we are all through Lent, for insight into prayer – why and how to pray. So listen as you read and hear the Word of God for you this day, from John chapter 3, from the Message.

 John 3:1-17 – dramatic reading, Adrienne, congregation, DT There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said,  “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.” 3 Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.”  Nicodemus said, “How can anyone be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?” 5-6 Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit. 7-8 “So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.” 9 Nicodemus asked,  “What do you mean by this? How does this happen?” 10-12 Jesus said, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics? Listen carefully. I’m speaking sober truth to you. I speak only of what I know by experience; I give witness only to what I have seen with my own eyes. There is nothing secondhand here, no hearsay. Yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions. If I tell you things that are plain as the hand before your face and you don’t believe me, what use is there in telling you of things you can’t see, the things of God? 13-15 “No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life. 16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.

March 12, 2017

What Are You Praying For? Trust


What are you praying for this season? for health, for the health and safety of a loved one, for a saner world, for no snow storms? All during Lent we are asking this question – what are you praying for? What are we praying for? The question has a double meaning of course – asking not just what we are asking for as we pray – which how we most often think about prayer, but also why are we praying – which I’m hoping might lead us to a more genuine prayer life, toward possibly a more authentic kind of prayer.

I’ve been praying and meditating a lot this past year – more than almost any time in my life. And this new prayer discipline has given me a new kind of confidence and sense that a lot of what we usually think about as prayer may not be as helpful as we hoped, and that we have trouble talking about prayer because we have different meanings and different practices.

My hour of prayer each morning always has a few minutes of praying for my mother – as you can imagine. I don’t think that my prayer is convincing God to lengthen her life, or even to make God pay more attention to her. I do think that my time of quiet attention to her in God’s presence helps me to think about or care for her, helps me be accepting of what is happening to her. It helps me, to let go of worry and anxiety, and maybe to be more light-hearted when I talk to her each day. That talk with her is part of the prayer in some ways, and maybe that non-anxious presence is a way of God pay more attention to her after all.

Our assigned readings from the Gospel of John for this week and next week are a pair of significant teachings from Jesus. Nicodemus in this passage comes to Jesus at night, in the darkness, hiding his interest in Jesus. Next week when we read about Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well at noon in broad daylight, it may become more obvious how significant this Nic at night scenario is to John.

Nicodemus is a loyal upstanding Jewish leader, fascinated by Jesus’ teachings, but worried he might get in trouble by paying close attention to them. When Jesus says “You need to be born from above” to understand Jesus’ teachings about the new realm of God, Nicodemus totally misunderstands him. The Greek for born from above also means “born again,” so Nicodemus, taking Jesus literally, confusedly asks how someone can be born a second time from a mother’s womb.

Today, of course, we have a different, less literal understanding of what it means to be born again. That concept itself has gained enough baggage that we might do well to stick with translation ‘born from above.’ That way we stretch to understand what Jesus meant instead of assuming what he meant is the same as what the evangelistic preacher means about being born again. That might be correct, and it might work for you as best.

Listen though: When we stretch to hear Jesus words as “born from above” we may hear Jesus inviting us to trust God and see God’s creation from a higher perspective. Jesus is inviting us to a new consciousness, a trust and confidence in God’s love and care for all. That really fits for my experience – prayer that lifts our gaze to a non-dual consciousness, an awareness that doesn’t simplify everything in our world to too-easy divisions of everything into good and bad, us and them.

Let me sidetrack for just a sec here to notice how this works in our search for a music minister. We have to simplify that process, so we narrow down candidates and we also narrow down the way we think about the music – as though there are only 2 kinds of music – traditional and contemporary. For short-hand, that works to communicate something, but it’s pretty clumsy. I thought about this when I went to a concert last night. I often go to hear these wonderful musicians playing classical and contemporary Arabic music – totally different than anything we listen to. Last night’s concert featured those Arabic musicians playing with Chinese musicians. Talk about mixing up my usual categories!

We talked about this way that prayer helps us reach to more complicated understandings on the retreat and more and more I hear God calling us to a whole and lasting life through the unique power of prayer to this kind of conscious perspective. This is what Jesus is saying when he invites Nicodemus out of the darkness into a new way of seeing, to be born from above.

Let’s face it, we’re kind of like Nicodemus – checking out Jesus in the safest ways we can,… a little nervous to risk too much of ourselves, … wondering whether the usual claiming of this passage by one brand of Christian means it can’t work for us. What if we opened ourselves a little more to Jesus’ message during this Lenten season? What if we opened ourselves to the possibility of trusting God in the bright daylight? to the possibility of being born from above? seeing with a higher, less exclusive perspective?

We’re all kind of like Nicodemus, a little dense and in the dark. None of us is so clear and enlightened that we are above this call, that we can ignore this invitation to walk by faith. Every one of us would benefit on every level to pour ourselves into a discipline of prayer and meditation, if just for this season, to be born from above, to trust in the Living God that we might have a whole and lasting life, starting today, starting this week, starting now.

We’re all kind of like Nicodemus. He just asks the dumb questions for us, that we might not be brave enough to ask. Next week, we get to put ourselves in the place of the Samaritan woman in daylight at the well having a theological discussion with Jesus. For today, we peer through the night with Nic, wondering if we can walk this path with Jesus, testing whether we can walk by faith, if not be sight.

Jesus lets us know that God will welcome us on the path.

This is God’s good news.