Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Proper of the Day: The Second Sunday in Lent

My favorite Lenten cycle is Year A, when so many of the Gospel lessons are from the Gospel of John, my favorite. Today on this Second Sunday in Lent we heard the glorious and unfortunately often-misused story of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night. It includes perhaps the most well-known verse in all of Scripture, John 3:16, and ends with perhaps the most underused verse in Scripture, John 3:17. I attempted in my sermon today to give a new glimpse into what God's love is like. My view is strongly Johannine in influence (no surprise there!) but I was definitely treading some new ground here. I'd be curious especially to hear your thoughts and reactions to what I offered at Trinity Parish this morning:

Trinity Parish in Bergen Point

Second Sunday in Lent 2008 (RCL)

Genesis 12:1-4a; Ps 121; Romans 4:1-5; 13-17; John 3:1-17

The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts always be acceptable in your sight, O God our Strength and Our Redeemer. Amen.

There’s not a person here who does not use electricity every day Think about what you use it for, for a minute. . We couldn’t live without it. We use it for the lights, for our electronics, sometimes for our heat. Sometimes our stoves work by electricity, and even when they’re gas, it’s electricity that still powers the timer and the exhaust fan and all that. Our cars need electricity – I’ve just had to put a new battery in my car after it started to wear down and I couldn’t start it anymore. I had to jump start it twice in the past week or so, which is how I knew I needed that new battery in the first place. When I was serving supply at St. ThomasVernon, I stayed overnight each Saturday in the vicarage. There isn’t a lot of furniture there, but more importantly, not too many lights. I found I really missed having those lights I ‘m used to in my own home and now am starting to really need. It was kind of dark and a little spooky. Kind of like a brownout but one that won’t get any better. And there’s hardly any aspect of our lives that doesn’t need electricity in some way, shape, or form. It’s always on, we never have to think about it. We turn on the switch and ta da! The light comes on, and all is good.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the word, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

My friends, I think the love of God is kind of like electricity. It’s always on, always there, and we actually never have to worry that it won’t be there. Unlike what we get from PSE&G, we can be absolutely assured that it will be there when we need it. And that makes us kind of like any of the appliances or lights or whatever that actually run on electricity. All we have to do to access God’s love is to plug in and turn on. I know that sounds like something from the 60s, but it’s true. This most famous verse in all of Scripture is, for me, the Good News itself. God loves us and forgives us through Jesus. All we have to do is accept that that forgiveness exists and is personally intedned for each of us, for you and for me – to plug ourselves into that unending, never-blacking-out presence of the almighty, and it’s ours. And unlike the failings of the utility company, God’s assurance of forgiveness, of complete acceptance of us and who we are, never ever ends.

Buy you know what, there’s even a better analogy for God’s love. It’s the World wide Web. Yup. The web. Now I know that not everyone here has used the Web or even has a computer, so bear with me a little bit. The idea of the World Wide Web is that information can be anywhere in the world. It’s just a matter of getting to it. so every computer that is connected into the Web has a unique identification number. Now we humans don’t do very well with streams of numbers, so we use those www. addresses instead. So if I want to see information on Trinity Parish, for example, I can type in into my web browser, and the computers behind the scenes turns that into the specific ID number for trinity’s web page, and then sends the information to my computer, which also has a specific and unique ID as well. You can actually look at maps of the Web and it looks remarkably like a spider’s web. There are a few web sites that have thousands and millions of connections, and they branch out in all directions and connect to other kinds of sites as well. The really cool thing about the World Wide Web is that you only need a single connection to any other site or node in the Web and you can get connected to the whole thing. For most of us, getting an email address is really akin to getting connected into the Web, because our email address has to be unique, ours alone, like those strings of numbers that identify the millions and millions of computers already connected to the be Web.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the word, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I think the web is a better analogy for the love of God because it incorporates something really significant about God and God’s desire for humanity. You see, that love is not just for each of us individually, it’s for all humanity. God wants to connect to each us in a spiritual world wide web, but not only that. God want each of us to connect to everybody else as well, not just spiritually, but in our day-to-day lives. When we connect into the electricity network, the network can’t tell anything about what has just been connected except that it’s drawing more electricity. There’s no communication over the wires, the network, to other things that are also plugged in. The Web seems like a better way to think about God’s love because, once you’re connected in, you still are unique and are linked in back and forth not only to God but to all of humanity as well. Each of us maintains our individuality as one of God’s created persons and at the same time we can begin interacting with all the others who are connected in as well.

Now, you know that in both the electricity network as well as the WWW that you can go online or off. Even if you’re plugged in, you can be off, like a light or the TV or something. Same thing with a computer or printer or anything else on the web. The web “dial tone” if you will, is always on. That’s God’s love. And as I’ve said, unlike the various human networks, that dial tone of god’s love will never go down. But we can plugged in or not. And even when we’re plugged in, we can be online – connected to the network so that it knows we’re there, or offline, when the network can’t reach us. And if I may stretch this analogy one more time, I think that a little like what Jesus was talking about by being born of both water and spirit. This story from John’s Gospel is about the closest he gets to discussing baptism. Remember, there’s no Baptism of Jesus in this gospel. We have this story instead. And Jesus tells N. he has to be born of both water and spirit. Baptism is a sacrament, and we say sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and invisible grace. Since we can’t really see God’s grace, sacraments help us access that grace and love in a real and visceral way. And we can’t completely describe what a sacrament is or what it does and how it does it. we have all sorts of analogies for what happens in Baptism, and we recount those at the Blessing Over the Water at the baptismal service itself. So I’m going to suggest that baptism with water – the physical sacrament that each of us undergoes, it kind of like being plugged in to the world wide web of God. When we’re baptized we get assigned a unique ID in the entire network - our name or userID or spiritual email address if you will – and that ID is ours forever and can never be taken away from us. That’s the water part. So we can never be unplugged in that respect. But each of can and perhaps often is either online with God or offline. And that’s not anything god does or does not do. That’s our own doing. God’s love - the spiritiual internet dial tone – isd always up. God’s internet never goes down. And even though each of us never loses our unique userIDs, we aren’t always online with god’s love. Sometimes we’re offline. And I think that’s like the baptism with the spirit. The water part is forever. The spirit part – our spirit part, is sometimes not as tuned into God’s love as we could be. When that happens, we’re offline and we’re not getting the grace signals that god and the rest of interconnected humanity is sending us and wants to receive back from us too.

Lent, it seems to me, can be seen as that time of the year when we deliberately pause to see what is keeping us from being as online in God’s network as we can be. What is it that is keeping you from accessing God’s love and grace? That’s why we spend these six weeks leading up to Easter, so we can make sure we’re as open and ready to participate in that blessed network as we can. We prayed today, “Bring us again with penitent hears and steadfast faith to embrace and ever hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son.” This Lent, let me encourage you to consider how are you are or not online with God. There are all kinds of ways to do that. Let me suggest a couple. On Ash Wednesday we recited the Litany of Penitence. You might find that a way to start. On the Easter Vigil we will also renew our baptismal covenant. There are series of promises we make and remake about being online with God. You might take five minutes a day to look over the Ash Wednesday service or the Easter Vigil service and see how those lists may be inspiring you to one or more new intentions in your life. You might decide to read a bit of the Gospel each day and think about how the Good News brings you online with God. If you want to, feel free to take a Prayer Book home with you and reread either of these sections or to get a list of Scripture readings. Just bring it back when you’re done so others can share it as well! And there are lots of other ways to work on getting online with God. You can always ask on of us clergy for help too. If one particular method isn’t working for you, maybe another one will.

This whole idea of God’s love as like the Internet may or may not work for you. That’s OK. The point is that each of us trys and trys again to understand what is being offerred and how we want to respond to it. But not matter what analogy you find yourself most comfortable with. And it isn’t an analogy at all. It’s the one absolutely surefire way to practice getting and staying connected. Even if nothing else seems to be working, even if you can’t seem to find God’s grace in your life anywhere else, you can find it right here. Every Sunday, we celebrate that God is online with us, and we reconnect ourselves to God in that other sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Communion. Communion means “connect with” after all, and that’s what we do: we get back online with God and not only God, but each other as well. So this Lententide, I invite you to get back online with God. The more you do it, the easier it gets. That love, that grace, is always present, always available. God wants you and me to be in God’s network so much that he gave his only Son to set up the initial connection, so that everyone who believes in him may not be unplugged but may be online, with God and all of humanity, for ever.

In the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Amen.

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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