Here is the sermon preached by Ben Masters on Sunday 20th March, based on John 3:1-17.
As I speak, may You speak, and may Jesus be glorified. Amen
People, power, revolution, government, justice, change, democracy, hope, future, a few words that touch the tip of the iceberg of what is going on in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt. What has all this got to do with Palestine 2000 years ago? More pointedly, what has it got to do with Nicodemus and Jesus? What has it got to do with you or me?
Just as in Libya, the ordinary Jewish people were seeking revolution against their government, as they were occupied by the pagan Romans. This revolution was going to bring about the Kingdom of God. The question on the lips of everyone was “what does the kingdom of God look like?”
There were many different factions, some collaborative, some quietly subversive, and others violently demonstrative. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, he would have believed that the way to bring the kingdom of God to earth would have been to keep the Torah. For the Torah was God’s given way of living, and if people lived as God intended then His kingdom would come! The thing was that there were many different ideas about what living the Torah looked like! And so Nicodemus opening sentence begins to make sense, Jesus has come from God, and if he has come from God then God’s kingdom is on it’s way. So Nicodemus wants to know Jesus version of living Torah, or how to bring the kingdom of God now, here to earth in the present.
I want to be very clear about this, as we heard in the Gospel reading, “how can anyone be born after having grown old?” Nicodemus wasn’t hoping for a place in heaven when he died, and referred to that as the Kingdom of God, he was hoping for the Kingdom of God on earth, now, just as it is in heaven.
Was Jesus collaborative, subversive or violent? What did the kingdom of God look like through His eyes? This is what Nicodemus wanted to know! Jesus first speaks of the grace of God, for to see the kingdom of God one must be born from above, or in other words a work of God first takes place. So we are to look away from ourselves, from the things we can do, to see what God can do and has already done.
Jesus was and IS calling for a revolution beginning with you and me, beginning at the centre of our lives, the very core of who we are. He is calling for us to be born from above, by His spirit, we are to be transformed from those who live in the here and now with no thought for tomorrow, to those who live in the here and now,so that God’s kingdom may come.
Jesus, leader of this revolution, wiped out the Romans with his military might and prowess and reestablished the Jews to their land. Wrong! Jesus leader of this revolution, chose ordinary people, like you or I to follow him. Peter, a fisherman, Matthew a tax collector, Andrew another fisherman... No military might there! The blind could see, the lame walked, the deaf hear, the mute sing for joy, the dead are raised. Where was this revolution going? As Jesus said in the Gospel reading we heard earlier, “The son of man must be lifted up...” Golgotha, the skull, an execution site, amongst thieves, murderers, pagan Romans, death....death...
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
This is so alien to Nicodemus, he just doesn’t get it, a crucified saviour? a contradiction in terms surely? Is it not alien to us? We love to follow the successful, we seek to be like them, and if we were like them perhaps our lives would be a great deal better! Here Jesus is proposing that we follow a crucified king, a king who let the darkness of the world do its worst to him, crowned not with gold but thorns!
We know that Jesus was resurrected, we know that the grave could not hold him, and that sin and death were defeated, we know that He lives and reigns now, as on that Sunday when he rose again.
And yet Jesus travelled the road to the cross, he gave himself in love for us, so that as those who looked to the serpent in the wilderness were healed of their affliction, so those who look and believe in Him would be part of His kingdom.
So Jesus our crucified and resurrected king ascended to heaven, so now we are his hands and feet. We are born from above, by the indwelling of Gods Spirit in us. So God continues to send His Son to the world, in and through us, to establish God’s kingdom on earth.
What does this look like? We proclaim the crucified and resurrected Jesus, we tell the world that Jesus is Lord, that the wrongs we have done, and death itself have been conquered and that God is working to restore and reconcile the world to himself.
We love one another as Christ loved us. He gave his life for us, and so we must be life giving. We give a voice to those who can’t speak, we lift the poor out of their poverty, we work for the equality of all people, Jews and Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Men, Women, Children, whatever nationality, culture, colour, or creed the kingdom of God is for the whole world and knows no bounds.
A documentary, where celebrities lived in the slums of kabira for a couple of days to raise awareness for comic relief was shown the other day. Lenny Henry, asked to live with a family, the parents long dead, the 16 year old boy, worked to pay for his younger brothers and sisters to go to school and so that they could have one meal a day. They lived in a hut that was directly next to where the open latrine was placed, it had been blocked for 4 months. These children were sleeping no more than 10 feet away from raw sewage. Lenny outraged at the injustice begged for his wallet back. His words, “if I can’t change these kids lives, I might as well go home now” He bought those children a house with a separate working toilet, and lifted them up out from where they were. During the viewing they showed a clip where Lenny just breaks down and sobs, his heart broken at what he has seen.
This is what the kingdom of God looks like.
The kingdom of God begins with grace, it is God who calls us to himself, to be part of His kingdom and be his hands and feet in the world, in 1 Corinthians 1 Paul puts it like this:
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards,* not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one* might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’