Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Echoing the Call to Reclaim, Revive, and Renew

The invitation to Reclaim, Revive, and Renew has been called by The United Methodist Council of Bishops for this Lenten Season. We echo their call, which is itself a reverberation of the calls and invitations to Humanity throughout the ages. Today’s Bible readings, especially the Gospel reading, are major landmarks in the everlasting cycle of regeneration reflected in the blooming flowers and budding trees of Springtime. 

God’s purpose is the salvation of Humanity.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.     (John 3:17 KJV)

Any Bible interpretation that makes it seem like God is unable to eventually meet the goal for which God sent Christ into the world is erroneous on its face. There are plenty of ways to misunderstand the Bible. Jesus explicitly said he did not come to condemn anyone but to save everyone. Any interpretation of any other passage in the Bible that seems to contradict this clearly stated objective needs to be rethought and re-understood. Perhaps some Bible passages even need to be put on a shelf for future reflection after more information can be obtained to help us reconcile them with the mission of Jesus.

Manuscript of the sermon preached on March 5, 2023, at Briensburg UMC   [Audio Podcast] 

Bible Readings for the 2nd Sunday in Lent: 
Genesis 12:1-4a;  Psalm 121;  Romans 4:1-5, 13-17;  John 3:1-17
[Video of readings by Briensburg UMC lectors

The Greek word sozo translated as saved in this and other similar Bible verses are defined as “to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction” according to the New Testament Greek Lexicon. The word communicates past, present, and future salvation. We have been rescued, we are being healed, and we will be preserved forever. Hebrews 7:25 confirms, “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”  To think that God is unable to save anyone is itself a contradiction of the Bible. God is able to save everyone and not just a little bit; God is “able to save them to the uttermost” – that is in every respect, in every facet of the idea. Even if it seems to take forever for some people to come to saving faith in Christ, God is still able because Christ, “ever liveth to make intercession for them.” There are no time limits. God is eternal and God’s love (including patience, one of the attributes of love Paul listed in 1 Corinthians 13) is eternal.

Jesus talked with Nicodemus in John 3:7 where it says, “Ye must be born again,” about rebirth as a metaphor for the spiritual regeneration we all need, not only once as with our physical birth, but repeatedly throughout eternity as we grow in our relationship with God and Creation. Paul used a similar metaphor in his letter to the Corinthians where he wrote, “I die daily” to illustrate his point in that passage that “in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:31, 22 KJV). Paul went on to write, “Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual” (1 Corinthians 15:46 KJV). To the Philippians Paul wrote the wonderful promise as phrased in the Good News Translation, “And so, in honor of the name of Jesus all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees, and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11 GNT).  Spiritual rebirth is much more than what we experience the first time we consciously place our faith in Christ. These metaphors to “die daily” and to be “born again” communicate to us the need for constant renewal throughout this life and into the life of the world to come.

God sent Abraham to the Promised Land to “be a blessing” to the world

And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:    (Genesis 12:2 KJV)

God sent Abraham and his descendants to the Promised Land to establish a priestly nation that would channel God’s blessings to all the people of all the nations of the earth. Their claiming of the Promised Land symbolizes our reclaiming of the Spiritual Promised Land and our commission as the Church to be a blessing to everyone around us.

Everyone becomes a spiritual descendant of Abraham through faith in God.

Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.     (Romans 4:16 KJV)

And so the promise was based on faith, in order that the promise should be guaranteed as God's free gift to all of Abraham's descendants—not just to those who obey the Law, but also to those who believe as Abraham did. For Abraham is the spiritual father of us all;  (Romans 4:16 GNT)

Paul used several metaphors in his letters to describe how we are considered the spiritual children of Abraham, even if not genealogical descendants. He wrote later in this letter to the Romans, “You have received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:15 KJV) and goes on to compare us to a branch being grafted into a tree (Romans 11:11-24).  The point is that we share a common spiritual heritage when we place our faith in God.  It is a heritage of family and community, of priesthood and blessing, of new beginnings and everlasting life.

Spread the word: God wants the best for everyone.

The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.    (Psalm 121:8)

One of our traditional United Methodist rituals for Holy Communion includes the words, “The body… and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy soul and body unto everlasting life.” (A Service of Word and Table IV). This blessing reflects the ancient understanding of the church through the ages that our salvation is comprehensive, constant and all-inclusive, not only for this life but for the life of the world to come. With the psalmist, we affirm that we are being preserved “even for evermore.” In John 3:16, Jesus promised permanent salvation, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Civalla Martin put it simply in her hymn,

God will take care of you, 
through ev'ry day, o’er all the way; 
He will take care of you, 
God will take care of you.

God’s love is universal and unconditional. God loves everyone everywhere, regardless of what we have done or left undone. When we place our faith in Christ, we acknowledge and accept and experience the love God already has for us. As we continually renew our spiritual life, we grow in our appreciation and understanding of the depths of God’s love. God’s love is given to us not as a reward for our behavior or decisions, but as a free gift to everyone – not because of who we are, but because of who God is. God’s love is for all, available whenever and wherever we accept it, but it is still there all the while along the way, enveloping us until we do, even if it takes forever.

The church today joins the church throughout all the ages in encouraging everyone to enter into a saving relationship with God in Christ “sooner rather than later” and to renew that relationship constantly throughout our lives, not for the sake of fear or wrath, but for the sake of life and love.

Let us join together during this season of Lent to reclaim our identity as the people of God, revive our community, and renew our spiritual relationships with God, with Humanity, and with Creation

In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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