Second Sunday in Lent
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Sunday, March 20th, 2011
Loving God, you reveal your love for us through the life, death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus, and offer us the gift of salvation. Help us to rejoice in this gift today, filling our hearts with your love by the power of your Holy Spirit; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Six-year-old Benjamin was protesting his bedtime to his father, Tom. When Tom refused to budge on changing the bedtime, Benjamin finally became so frustrated that he blurted out, “Daddy, I hate you!” Tom, who had a wonderful presence of mind that day, replied to his son, “I’m sorry you feel that way, Ben, but I love you.”
“Don’t say that!” blurted out Benjamin. Tom was surprised and said, “Ben, but it’s true – I love you.” “Don’t say that, Daddy!” “But I love you, Ben.” “Stop saying that, Daddy! Stop saying it right now!” And then it came: “Benjamin, now listen to me: I love you... like it or not!”
Even at the age of six, Benjamin knew that there was very little he could do with such unconditional love. Had it been conditional, it would have been a different story. For example, if Tom had said, “I’ll love you if you go to bed nicely,” then Ben becomes a negotiator. “Okay, this time, but I’m not eating my vegetables at dinner tomorrow.” However, faced with unconditional love, Ben really had only two options: Either accept it or run away from it (Pastor David Lose, WorkingPreacher.org).
Isn’t it true that we have the same two options when we are faced with God’s unconditional love? Now granted, we do try very hard to make it conditional. We’d like to be able to say: “I’ll do this for you, God, and then you do this for me. Okay?” However, instead, God always acts first – whether we like it or not.
God did not ask our permission when Jesus offered himself for us. God did not give us a chance to say, Yes, we want a Saviour, or No, we don’t. In fact, God did not even wait to find out if we would love him or not.
Many of us, I suspect, are familiar with “God so loved the world” – John 3:16 from today’s gospel. However, I’m not sure that most of us grasp just how scandalous God’s love for the world really is. In the gospel of John, the world – or, the kosmos – is constantly in opposition to God. We could almost translate it as the “God-hating world.” To God, however, that seems to be no obstacle. Even when we are saying to God, “I hate you,” God comes back at us with, “Maybe so, but I love you!” God says to us, “I love you – like it or not.”
Pastor David Lose suggests that those same four words - “like it or not” - should be added to the baptism service. I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – like it or not. This is, in fact, the scandal of infant baptism. You did not ask Levi if he wanted to be baptized. You did not wait until he was old enough to choose for himself. You just went right ahead and baptized him – like it or not. Yet, isn’t this absolutely how God deals with us? God always acts first, with unconditional love, and we are left with only two options – Either accept it, or run away from it. God does not negotiate with us.
In our gospel today, we heard about being born from above and being born of water and Spirit. These also are things that happen in baptism. Today, Levi has been given a second birth, or born anew. Today Levi became a child of God and an inheritor of eternal life – like it or not! Levi’s baptism involved water, God’s Word and the Holy Spirit.
The first two of these things are relatively easy for most people to understand. The water part is fairly obvious. When somebody is baptized, there is always water involved. As for God’s Word, people are always baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, which comes straight out of the gospel of Matthew (Mt. 28:19). However, people often have a little more difficulty understanding the Holy Spirit.
You may have noticed that in the Baptism service today we prayed more than once for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on Levi and on all those who are baptized. This, too, comes from the Scriptures, as all those who were baptized into Christ in the New Testament also received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
One way to think of the Holy Spirit is as the Spirit of Jesus. Jesus isn’t physically with us any more, but has sent his Spirit instead. Another thing that might help us in thinking about the Holy Spirit comes from today’s gospel, where the Holy Spirit is compared to the wind.
While you can’t actually see the wind, you can hear the sound of it, and see the results of it. You can watch the trees moving in the breeze and if tumbleweeds and other things are being blown across the highway in front of you, you know that there is wind, even though you can’t see the wind itself.
It is quite similar with the Holy Spirit. You’re not going to be able to look around here today and see the Holy Spirit floating in the air or anything like that. However, we can see the results when the Holy Spirit is at work in somebody’s life, or even in a congregation. In fact, all sorts of things are listed in the New Testament as signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence – both gifts of the Spirit and fruit of the Spirit.
And so, when you see things like love and peace and patience in somebody’s life, you know that the Holy Spirit is at work. When you see self-control and joy and generosity, you know that the Holy Spirit is at work. When you see kindness and faithfulness and gentleness, you know that the Holy Spirit is at work. When you see people who have faith, and people who love God and one another, and people who live in hope, you know that the Holy Spirit is at work among them.
We prayed for the Holy Spirit to be active in Levi’s life today, because ultimately even faith is a gift that comes from God’s Spirit, just as salvation is a gift that we did not earn and that we did not ask for. This is why we baptize infants – because it reminds us that God gives us the gift of salvation long before we are even able to say yes or no – to accept it or to run away. As an aside, though, it is also okay to baptize somebody who is older. No matter what age we are, salvation is still given as a gift.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (Jn. 3:16).
This is a gift of love, and God says to each person who is gathered here today, “I love you – like it, or not!” Amen.
Lent 2(A) John 3:1-17
March 20, 2011
St. Luke’s Zion Lutheran Church
Pastor Lynne Hutchison
© 2011 Lynne Hutchison All Rights Reserved