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.