You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Below, you’ll find Steve’s reflection and Andy’s prayers for this week.
You can find this week’s Children’s Time video here.
Scripture: John 3 1-17
Music: I Feel the Winds of God, Spirit God Be Our Breath
This is one of those stories that keeps coming up in the readings this year.
One part of the story that really struck me this time was the opening where we learn that a big time theologian, Nicodemus, goes to visit Jesus – at night. Apparently, he wanted to keep this meeting secret. You need to remember there weren’t a lot of street lights in 30AD in Jerusalem. Walking with a torch would have been a giveaway if as he was trying to keep this hush–hush. So he would have walked over to see him and every time a branch cracked under his foot he would have paused and looked around to make sure he was undetected.
You see Nic was the ultimate insider, part of the elite; today he probably would have had a blog entitled something like, Religion for Serious Believers. He would have been a sought after preacher for special events and one of the headliners at theological conferences.
He wouldn’t have wanted any of the other religious leaders to know he was meeting with Jesus. It would have undermined his credibility and reputation. Jesus was seen as a rabble rouser and a challenger to those who were insiders.
Besides, if Nic’s visit with Jesus was discovered it would have left him vulnerable to attack by other theologs. Trust me there is no more vicious an attack than when one theologian goes after another. It makes MMA Cage wrestling look like child’s play.
It strikes me that Nicodemus found himself in a different role; he was the one who people sought answers from – especially during times of trouble. He wasn’t supposed to have questions of his own – he was the answer guy, he was the guy who spoke authoritatively for God. He was much more use to having people asking him the questions. But there he is standing in front of Jesus at night. He can’t quite get out the words he wants, maybe it was because he wasn’t sure how Jesus would react or maybe it was because he was nervous or awkward and needed to work up to asking him his question so he starts by praising Jesus, “We know you are a gifted preacher, a wonderful teacher and a remarkable healer.” Then he paused.
I expect he wanted to ask Jesus how to deepen his relationship with God. How could he embrace this new life that Jesus had spoken of that seemed to have brought so much too so many? After all, these are questions I ask of myself and that I know many of you ask of yourselves.
I suspect we all wonder about such things – especially in the long dark nights of the soul, when things are not going in the way that we believed they would. What do I need to do to have the sense that that God is with me? What do I need to do to find purpose and meaning? How do I know if there eternal life? Will I meet my loved ones in heaven – even if I don’t know what they look or sound like? Hard questions that make us struggle.
Maybe Jesus felt like it was taking too long for Nicodemus to get to his question. It was night and he probably wanted to rest rather than get into a protracted, esoteric conversation. So Jesus cuts him off and says, “If you want to experience the kingdom of God, the presence of God, you need to be born from above. You need to be born of both water and Spirit.” And the Spirit will make this new life possible.
It seemed like some kind of strange riddle to Nicodemus, “What do you mean? How can I be born again?
But to those who were first reading the Gospel, the followers of the author of John’s Gospel, they understood what Jesus meant, you had to be baptized by water and by the Spirit of God. In order to experience the new life that Jesus was speaking about, you needed to be open to the Spirit of God moving as she will; offering new insights and meanings, showing a different way and possibly a different purpose for your life.
This new life comes in mysterious ways and God’s doing. It is about finding a new path and a new way. It is about embracing the life that God offers to us and celebrating the reality of God in our lives. It is about letting go of some of our concerns while we simultaneously embrace God’s love and grace.
There have been many times in my life when I have grown weary, when I’ve felt distant from God. There have been times when I have wondered about the meaning and purpose of my life.
Certainly the pandemic has made many of us wrestle with what is truly important. There have been times when I have wondered about God’s presence and when I have wondered not just about my purpose but about St. Paul’s and church in general.
When I have reached those dark times, I’ve taken a deep breath and tried to open my eyes a little wider to see if there is any sign of light any signs of the presence of God. When I’ve done so, I’ve seen Spirit moving and at work.
I confess, in the first few months I wondered if the community could hold together. I expected our finances to fall through the floor. They went down some but those who could, remained faithful and month after month we kept up and some of you gave a little more when you could. That was truly a sign of God’s persistent presence in your lives and a sign of the Spirit at work holding our community together.
I wondered if we could remain connected without worshipping in person. I have been surprised that we are reaching more people this way than when we just had our regular Sunday morning services.
Where I have most fully sensed the presence of God’s Spirit at work is how you have reached out to one another through all kinds of barriers and restrictions to support and care for each other. People helped others by running errands for them during lockdowns. Also, by doing things that seemed minor like picking up the phone and calling on a neighbour just to check in. That kind of contact made a huge difference for many.
God’s Spirit has been at work in a variety of ways bringing new life and rebirth even in the midst of a pandemic.
We will soon be moving into a new time and a time of change for St. Paul’s. I hope we will keep asking what being born again means to us not just as individuals but as a community of faith filled followers. We need to ask what is our mission and ministry not just for today but for the next 5-10 years. Where is God’s Spirit calling us? Where is God’s Spirit leading us?
Being born again is not a onetime event. It is something that happens over and over and over again, in our own lives and in our community. It is about coming to new and deeper understandings of God at work in the world through the Spirit Helping us to see God’s presence at work, in amongst and between us.
May God guide us on this day and into the future. For we are not alone we live in God’s world. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Holy One, Holy Three, as we gather together in this time of prayer, lift up to you our hopes and concerns. As the Author of Life, you weave us together in a tapestry of community; each one of us a strand, in your love no longer separated by time and space in this virtual gathering, but bound to one another in spirit and in truth. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, we give you thanks.
In this time of pandemic, we are aware both of how fortunate we are in our region and how some of our brothers and sisters – elsewhere in Canada and around the world – are still under lockdown orders and uncertain about their future. We give thanks for health care workers and others who provide care for those whom we love. We remember in prayer those places with the highest infection rates, especially the people of Brazil, India, Italy, Mexico and the United States. And we pray, God of Mercy, for compassion and wisdom among leaders, and for courage and strength among all your people.
Your world is both beautiful and broken, O God. Among your many peoples, we see a prism of possibility, the potential for a peace that is just and that honours dignity and diversity. We see also the human tendency toward self-concern and the desire to maintain power, even at great cost to others. We pray for places where fear and violence are the primary tools of state; today we remember especially the people of Palestine and Israel. And we pray, O God, that humility and healing would shape our lives and our world.
God of All, when we cannot gather, when we cannot join as a community of faith, to worship and to share the week’s news over coffee, we depend on your Holy Spirit, your fire of joy and light of hope, to remind us of our importance to each other. As the days lengthen and the weather warms, inspire us to reach out and connect, to breathe and rest, to take comfort in everyday pleasures. We pray for those who are ill in body and in spirit; for those in hospital and care home; for those who are grieving – especially those who cannot be with family.
And we pray for ourselves, God of Love; each one of us, longing to be fulfilled. Remind us that all your gifts are gifts to share. We ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us when we pray to say, Our Father… Amen.