"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16“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.
17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the LORD Jesus Christ.
Welcome to this 2nd Sunday in Lent (Year A.) This gospel text from John is probably the most known, and beloved text in all of Scripture. "For God so loved the world..." We know it by heart, most of us. But the story and the setting are important as well. Nicodemus, a leader in the temple, meets Jesus by night to ask him some strange questions. Why would this leader of the temple want to meet Jesus in the middle of the night? Alone? What was he fearful of? I'll say more about this, and our 1st reading from Genesis in my Sunday message, but I'm going to take a different route this week in this post.
I've been asked recently a question that many of you may have thought about at the communion rail. "Pastor Greg, why don't you say my name when I receive the Sacrament?" Good question. Here's why. First of all, yes, I know your name. But I may not know the name of your guest, or the first time visitor next to you. And to say your name, and not to say the name of the person next to you may say to that person that we're not hospitable here at LL. "He said her name, why doesn't he say mine?" they may ask themselves.
I learned from my professors in seminary that it's best not to use someone's name while distributing Holy Communion, precisely for the reason stated above. It's awkward for me to serve someone and not use their name. They may feel put off, or slighted, when I speak your name and the name of the person on the other side of this person. So I elect not to use your name. I hope you understand. I know it seems like a petty thing, but I take this very seriously. So, for better or worse, that's my reasoning. For me, it's a hospitality thing.
Also, I've gotten this lately. "Pastor, how do you go about preparing your Sunday sermon?" Here's how I generally do it. First of all, it normally takes me about an hour for every minute I preach, to prepare my sermon. A 10 minute sermon often takes 10 hours to prepare - not all at once mind you. It's an evolutionary process. It's a combination of looking at both the Hebrew (original language of the OT), and the Greek (NT language), reading commentaries, prayer, thinking about what's going on in the world that you bring into the church on Sundays, what's going on in our own community and parish, and in general, the well being of us as a faith community. I typically start by reading the texts on Monday morning, mulling them over, looking for a constant theme between the readings. Then I try to find a word or a phrase or thought that might give me a kernel of an idea for my message. Once I get that (which often takes days), I'm generally able to craft a message around that thought, word, or theme. But I generally don't finish until Friday, or even Saturday mornings at times.
It's a challenging, often difficult, and also a rewarding process, as I look at these ancient texts each week. I know it sounds corny, but I take preaching seriously. Unpacking these texts, making them seem relevant to you each week, bringing a sense of hope, understanding, and grace. It's very rewarding to complete a sermon, and yes, some have more clarity than others each week. There are some Sundays when I can't wait to get into the pulpit - I'm so confident of my message. And then, there are others when I hope and pray that what I'm about to say makes some sense at all. As John Denver said in a song, "some days are diamonds, some days are stones." And so it is with preaching.
It's a big responsibility, preaching the gospel. Lutheran clergy are generally taught "law/gospel" preaching. Simply put, this means that the law means forcing us to confront our sin, and to make us see the need for a savior, Jesus Christ. It "convicts" us of our sin, and as Luther would say, makes us "run to the gospel of Jesus Christ." Gospel preaching then, brings the good news of Jesus Christ, and him crucified. It's about what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for us, since nothing we do can ever earn or merit God's grace apart from Christ himself. So Lutheran preaching moves from "law" (convicting us of or need for Jesus), to "gospel", where Jesus meets us - at the cross.
Hope to see some of you Sunday. These lessons are amazing this week! Join us around the table as we receive the Sacrament each and every Sunday.
Thanks be to God! Amen.
"I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light"