Summary: The third sermon in the 2007 Lenten Series
Introduction: (Slide 1) A public reading of Luke 13:10-17 followed by a dramatic reading entitled ‘Christ on Trial: Witness: Nicodemus’ written by Elsa L. Clark, Peter Mead, Arden Mead and Mark Zimmermann. © 2007 Creative Communications for the Parish.
In the mid-1980’s, a young community organizer in Chicago named Barack Obama had decided to apply for law school and was accepted to a very prestigious one. As he began preparation for law school, he reflected on his time in Chicago wondering if he had come several years earlier for the right reasons. His ambivalence, highlighted in part by his own journey and struggles, was highlighted even further in a conversation that he had with one of the black pastors in his community.
Obama was seeking ministerial support for programs for the many youth on Chicago’s south side who were in need of education, mentoring and hope. In the course of the conversation, the pastor asked the question, ‘Do you know where it is your faith is coming from?’
Obama later reflected on these words in light of his work and concluded that it had required a deeply chosen commitment and sacrifice he saw demonstrated in several persons who were seeking to help young people make good choices. But He also saw that it required faith which forced him to examine the pastor’s question, ‘Where does your faith come from?’ and determined that faith in one’s self was ‘never enough.’
This story, and the pastor’s pointed question, ‘Do you know where it is your faith is coming from?’ came to mind this week as I prepared this message. I believe that Jesus asks Nicodemus basically the same question in our main text this morning and I believe that his nighttime encounter with Christ forced Nicodemus to re-examine his source of faith that we have heard questioned in our dramatic introduction.
This morning I think that it is very important we reflect on the question posed by the pastor, (Slide 2) ‘Do you know where your faith is coming from?’ For Nicodemus, faith came from two sources, his religious culture and his religious training. (Slide 3)
Nicodemus’s training was second to none in that day and age. He was well trained in the Jewish faith of that day. Today he would be considered to be a seminary graduate and perhaps a PhD in Theology.
He was raised in the Jewish culture and customs of that day. He knew and understood; he was thoroughly and completely taught what it meant to be Jewish both culturally and theologically.
But when he began his conversation with Jesus, the rug was pulled out from underneath him when Jesus said, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God.”
The Kingdom of God was a key theme in the Jewish faith of that day. There was a belief, an expectation that the Messiah would come and set up the Kingdom of God here on earth and that there would be blessings and benefits for the faithful followers, like the Pharisees, who kept the faith by keeping the many layered laws and rituals they demanded others to keep.
But time and time again, Jesus pointed out that there were more important things about the Kingdom of God than just rules and rituals. Many passages in the gospels, such as Matthew 13 which contains the parables or stories about the Farmer and the Seed, the Wheat and the Weeds, the Mustard Seed, and Yeast, begin with ‘The Kingdom of God (or Heaven) is like…’ In these passages, Jesus presents what God the Father thinks is the most important about His Kingdom.
A brief look at Matthew 13:3 through 8 illustrates what Jesus meant about the Kingdom of God.
“A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The plants sprang up quickly, but they soon wilted beneath the hot sun and died because the roots had no nourishment in the shallow soil. Other seeds fell among thorns that shot up and choked out the tender blades. But some seeds fell on fertile soil and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted.”
What was Jesus’ point in this story? Was it about effective farming methods? Was it on how to find the good soil? Was it about how to spot trouble when you sow your seed so that you can correctly sow your seed? What was Jesus’ point?
His Disciples had trouble following the story until He explained it after He told it as we read in verses 18 through 23
Now here is the explanation of the story I told about the farmer sowing grain: The seed that fell on the hard path represents those who hear the Good News about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches the seed away from their hearts. The rocky soil represents those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But like young plants in such soil, their roots don’t go very deep. At first they get along fine, but they wilt as soon as they have problems or are persecuted because they believe the word. The thorny ground represents those who hear and accept the Good News, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares of this life and the lure of wealth, so no crop is produced. The good soil represents the hearts of those who truly accept God’s message and produce a huge harvest—thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted.”