+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 3:1-17
Theme: Baptism and the Spirit
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Life is a kaleidoscope. It is a sequence of constantly moving activities and events. Prosperity and adversity, challenges, and successes compose a dynamic medley of life’s experiences. The intention of Lent is to bring understanding to where we are headed; to identify purpose in confusion, form order from chaos, and locate stability in turmoil. Above all Lent calls us back to giving priority to the most fundamental of needs and realities.
Christ gives us this direction today. Our appointed gospel reading is thoroughly baptismal. “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”1 Remember Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness immediately after His baptism and we are specifically told that He was led there by the Spirit2.
It’s helpful to be mindful of these connections in the Lenten season.
Jesus said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”3 All human beings inherit from their parents the virus of original sin going right back to Adam. We are born, each and every one of us, without natural fear, love, and trust in God. We are conceived with the propensity towards selfishness and disregard for the needs of others. We have no ability on our own to approach God nor can we even conceive of the need to be reconciled to Him. This is the catastrophic reality of original sin. There are no exceptions.
The Holy Spirit, however, converts our profane souls and sets them in tune with God. The gospel can do with one word what volumes of the most sophisticated human philosophy can never accomplish. The result is transformational. Baptism forges a new relationship between the believer and God. It breaks new ground. It changes our whole orientation.
The human desires which formerly were (and could only be8) directed toward self and those from whom we hope to gain some benefit or advantage now enter upon a new conflict, a new struggle. The will of God is now in competition. Whereas formerly (in a unbelieving state) we are content to follow our own agenda and may even do so somewhat peacefully, now the spirit struggles against the flesh and the flesh against the spirit in pursuit of God’s will. The Christian’s struggle against temptation is an infallible mark of the presence of faith. Where there is no faith there is no struggle. Where there is no struggle there is no faith.
Consider, for example how the Ninth and Tenth Commandments forbid coveting. Jealousy and selfish desire lead to grumbling. These commandments call us to be content. They call us to recognize the countless ways God’s fills our lives with blessings and continues to provide. But what about when we are content with the wrong things? What about when there is no struggle? What about when people are happy to go on in their materially rich but spiritually vacuous lives? What about when they are happy carry on without the knowledge and presence of God and just take their chances.
Such contentment, though genuine in and of itself, is actually based on idolatry. It is founded on the false trust in persons or things that are not or have no relation to the true God. Such contentment can be used by Satan to keep people deadened to their need for God. Nicodemus, you see, was not content. He was not satisfied with the caricature of Christ that he was hearing from the Jewish rulers. Himself a Pharisee, he was privy to all their high level conversations. But he was not content and so he went to Jesus himself. Not lacking for any material desire He wanted to hear first-hand from Jesus about true spiritual riches.
Jesus then utters those oft-quoted words, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”5
Still the argument rages on “If God really loves the world than why another earthquake and tsunami?” Something’s wrong here, the skeptics say. Yes! Something is wrong, terribly wrong. The world is spiraling into chaos because of sin. It’s been happening since Adam and Eve’s fall. These things are nothing new. Only the infinite patience of God prevents the instant destruction of all ungodliness and unbelief.
God’s love for the world is not a matter of tolerance of human foibles. It is a love that reconciles through true sacrifice. Only the death and resurrection of Christ could accomplish this. It’s easy to drivel on endlessly about the love of God and not convey anything more than God’s general contentment with humanity. It can become nothing more than a meaningless platitude or a generalized cliché. At worst it becomes a legalist call for people to achieve their own spiritual certainty and security through their love of others.
It may come as a shock that Christ doesn’t love you because He’s generally obligated to like all people. Christ passionately desires your salvation because unconditional compassion is the truest expression of His very being. It’s not about something He sees in you or even about not giving up hope on you. It’s about fellowship with the Holy Trinity. He passionately desires that you share eternally in the life of God. That is the import of your baptism.
Lent is the season for perseverance. As such it’s a microcosm for a Christian’s entire life. The consequences of the fallen world inundate us. We become tired and vulnerable and may even consider throwing in the towel. But we press on. We push on by God’s grace relying on His promises. News reports show that a 69-year-old South Korean woman obtained her driver's license after 960 tries. Yes, you heard that right, 960! How that’s possible is hard to say. Now, we must admire her persistence but we might think twice before getting into her car. It’s true of our life too, isn’t it?
We press on as the great apostle said, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”6 We gain wisdom and maturity. We learn to test the spirits, recognize the devil’s temptations and combat them. We strive to serve the interests of others and not our own selfish desires.
From the files of driving instruction comes this story also. A driving instructor was giving lessons to an extremely nervous student who panicked when ever another car approached on a particular two-lane road. One day, however, they got to the same stretch of road, and she remained completely calm. “This time you’re doing fine!” exclaimed the instructor. “Yes,” the novice driver agreed. “Now when I see another car coming, I shut my eyes.”
Dear friends, we need not fear the adversities and challenges of life; Christ is our comfort and defense. We need not blindly follow the agenda secular society. Christ has given us the eyes of faith. We need not gorge ourselves on the unwholesome delicacies of the world. Christ feeds us with His body and blood. We are the baptized. Christ identifies us as His own.
May the Holy Spirit more clearly reveal these truths to you during this holy season of Lent. Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +
Second Sunday In Lent
20 March 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 3:5 2 See Matthew 4:1
3 John 3:6 4 See Romans 8:5-8
5 John 3:16 6 Philippians 3:13-14