A Sermon of The Rev. Dr. David A. Killian, Rector
Given at the Church of Our Saviour
Second Sunday in Lent
March 20, 2011
Scripture: John 3:1-17
Today is Pulpit Exchange Sunday for the Brookline Episcopal Churches. Your Rector Joel Ives is preaching at St. Paul's Church; the Rev. Jeffrey Mello is preaching at All Saints; and I am here with you. This year, members of our congregations are joining us in this exchange and several members of All Saints Parish are with me today. We were happy to travel the one or two miles to get here – a very short distance, especially when you compare our journey to that of Abram in today's reading from Genesis.
In today's passage, God tells him, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing."
Just as God told Abram that he would be a blessing for the nations, I hope that I might be a blessing for you this morning and that Joel will be a blessing for the people of St. Paul's Church and Jeff a blessing at All Saints. Isn't that what we hope we could each be for one another – a blessing, a goodness, an enrichment? And the good news is that God is calling each of us to be a blessing for the earth – no matter our ethnic background, academic achievements, wealth, fame, or age. Age was not a deterrent to Abram, who was reputed to be 75 years old when he set out for the Promised Land. So, whatever your age you, it is not too late. God is not finished with you yet. Every day God gives you new opportunities to be a blessing, and the model for us is Abram – who is a symbol for the human race in its struggle to put aside old habits of violence and oppression. E. A. Speiser, in the Anchor Bible Commentary, says, "Abraham's journey to the Promised Land was no routine expedition of several hundred miles. Instead, it was the start of an epic voyage in search of spiritual truths, a quest that was to constitute the central theme of all biblical history."
Abram is the father of the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He is a model for the human race in its struggle to overcome barbarism and live as God's children.
Abram is not the only one in today's readings feeling the stirrings of change. In the Gospel of John, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, comes to Jesus by night, presumably because he thought it was risky, perhaps even dangerous, to be a follower of Jesus. Nicodemus was a careful man, watchful not to make a mistake to endanger himself and his family by being seen with the rabbi from Nazareth. Isn't it that way with any of us contemplating a decision with life-changing consequences?
I think so. In fact, I did something similar when I was considering leaving the Roman Catholic Church and becoming an Episcopalian. I had been raised a Roman Catholic. My relatives were Catholics. I went to parochial schools. I joined a Roman Catholic religious order. I was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. Most of my friends were Catholics and I was vitally involved in the renewal movement of the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council. How could I leave the church of my birth, turn my back on my ancestors, and walk away from my friends and colleagues who were working so hard to renew the structures of the church?
Like Nicodemus, I sought advice from an old friend, Bishop Mark Dyer, the bishop of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I didn't travel at night. No, I drove during the day and arrived at his home, where he invited me to stay for a couple of days with him and his family. We talked day and night about the change that I was considering. Even after that meeting, it took many more months of prayer and pondering before I made my decision. Yes, I can understand why Nicodemus was cautious about making the biggest decision of his life.
Edgar Schein, Emeritus Professor of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that there are three phases of change: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing. In the unfreezing phase, you are dissatisfied in your current state; you are uncomfortable with the old answers or conditions. This was true of Abram in the City of Haran, which while being culturally advanced, was spiritually stultifying. It was true of me as a post-Vatican II Catholic who disagreed with the Pope on several critical matters. We can imagine that Nicodemus felt a discomfort in his religious situation and was seeking help from Jesus. The second phase is changing – when you actually make a decision to turn your life in a new direction. This was Abram's decision to leave the city of Haran and go into the wilderness to search for a new land. It was my decision to leave the Catholic Church and become an Episcopalian. We don't know if Nicodemus made this step or not. The third phase is refreezing in your new identity. For Abram it meant not returning to Haran but continuing his march with God to the covenant in the Promised Land. For me, it meant becoming involved in the life and ministry of the Episcopal Church and finding a new home and identity as a Christian in this tradition.
Perhaps that third phase is not so much a refreezing as a slushing – that is, a condition of being open to new ideas, new truths, new understandings. I think that this is an apt description of the attitude that we wish to have in the season of Lent.
Lent calls us to journey with Abram to leave what is known and comfortable, trusting God to take us to a new and better place. If we trust in God, we can journey to a new land, knowing that God will be with us every step of the way and God will be there to meet us when we arrive. God is our future. God is our destiny. We trust in God because as the Gospel of John tells us, God so loved the world that God sent his son Jesus Christ to be one with us. Christ is with us today on our journey to feed us at this table in the Holy Eucharist so that we might be blessing for others.