05-27-18 “Same Yet Different”
New Testament: Romans 8:12-17
Gospel: John 3:1-17
Imagine a young woman marries into a new family. She comes from a smaller family but is now being introduced to huge family. Even though she and her new husband have been courting of a long time there is still a learning curve once the wedding is over. The first Christmas season rolls around and her husband says, “Well it’s time to make plans for New York.” She knows what he is talking about but is still shocked to a small degree. “New York,” she says quietly.
They begin to have a long conversation about family heritage and honoring one’s parents. He reminds her that every year his family travels to New York and rents out a huge suite overlooking Central Park and they celebrate there. She wants to maintain her family tradition of staying at home and sitting around the tree on Christmas morning opening gifts as they always have. Christmas, family and presents – all the same, yet they are celebrated differently.
I think there is a large learning curve for the new Duchess of Essex, Meghan. Do you think there might be expectations placed on her by her family that were not expected by her far less famous biological family. Ya think!
A major league home run is a home run in any park. The rules says any ball that leaves the park within the fair poles is ruled a home run. The longest home run in Wrigley requires a 400’ drive. In the old Polo Grounds in New York it took a blast of 500’. It’s still a home run, yet it’s different.
How can this be considered fair. How can people all playing the same game have so much variance in the form of presentation? These are examples of a defined act yet it is played out differently; here is another.
Pastor’s who are changing appointments will experience a time of learning a new system. Even though there is a Book of Discipline that tries the level the playing field. Each congregation still plays the game a little differently. Is this fair?
Not every marriage survives, not every ball player adjusts to the game and not every pastor is cut out for the demands of the itinerant system. For the majority the inequalities are overcome by something greater than the challenge. What is intangible that binds all these differences together and keeps them unified? Love. A married couple remains in love despite the different ways their families celebrate Christmas. They overcome hardships because their love is greater than their differences. For other married couples the greatest love is to seperate. A baseball player remains in the game because they love the game beyond the inconsistencies. A pastor remains faithful to God throughout a career even though every church they serve sees rule, mission and ministry differently.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus and asks a similar question, How can we have the same scrolls of faith, the same prophets, the same law, the same God and yet be so different in how we understand faith? Even after Jesus answers Nicodemus, he is still confused. Jesus tells him it is a matter of interpreting God’s love. Nicodemus is not challenging God, he is challenging how other s worship God.
In the current dispute in the United Methodist Denomination some think that God is demanding we stay together while others believe God is saying we must separate.
Can God be unified in one thought yet be big enough to love others who don’t see things just as the Lord does? Seems to me that Jesus loves Nicodemus despite how differently he sees things. Can God love me even though I may not interpret the Word exactly as it was intended? That is my hope and that is one reason why I continue to play the game. That is why I don’t get mad and go home or go play somewhere else where the rules are more my speed.
I see the challenge in this passage between Jesus and Nicodemus as a call to remain himself. Yes, love yourself; but continue to struggle with the faith to understand God better, Jesus seems to be saying. The call from Jesus today is not to understand your opponent or your neighbor better, but perhaps to understand God better. We spend too much time concerned over how others worship God.
I think Jesus loved Nicodemus just the way he was. An inquisitive, fearful, seeking Disciple who did not let a lack of understanding from drawing him closer to Jesus. The scriptures don’t present us with a much clearer example of someone who is lost in their faith.
In most cases, if we rely only on trying to understand and love our neighbors better we will fail. Our success comes from understanding and loving God greater, first. The first and greatest commandment was to love God, then secondly, love your neighbor. This is the order set by God.
The same part is that we love God, the different part is that we all love God in our own unique way. Jesus did not hand Nicodemus a Book of Discipline and say adhere to this. He gave him a challenge to love himself, to figure things our in his own mind, yet remain in love with God.
The soldiers we remember today, the ones who died in combat serving this nation where not unified in their faith, their politics, their view on marriage or even which baseball team they rooted for. What was the unifying word again? Love. Love of country. A greater love than for a person, an ideal, a vision, a moral platform. Love of country is greater because it encompasses all of these and more.
Love of God comes first because it also incorporates all love. If we truly love God then that love will guide our love of all visions, platforms, ideals and even, yes, people.
It is possible for a variety of people with a variety of thoughts and beliefs to live together in harmony. Or, must we travel to the lowest end of the spectrum by spewing out hate filled words on Twitter and Facebook, or worse do we draw up plans to take a gun into the school and intact our own vengeance? Without love we would have no hope. Love great enough to bind us is a great love. Greater than we can comprehend.
How do you celebrate this great love? One way is to remember the sacrifice. That is why Memorial Day is so important to us – we remember the sacrifice. That is why Jesus is so important to us – we remember the sacrifice. This is a the core of what makes us who we are. God’s love.
A party is not enough, nor are flowers or a poem or even a whole church service with a fairly good sermon. These are wonderful pillars to help support what we believe. For that young bride making her first trip to New York, or the young groom changing to adapt to his bride’s heritage, just going is not enough. It may make all but one happy for a few days but it is not a lasting sacrifice. Until he or she embraces the groaning as something beautiful it will only be lip service. Lip service will not stand up to the test of time. When Jesus asks us, “Do you believe these things?” The Lord meant, “Do you believe these things?” Beyond a celebration, beyond nice trappings and wonderful words; do you believe? Doesn’t matter whether or not your neighbor believes the same as you, “Do you believe?”
Are you willing to sacrifice for the good of the Kingdom as Jesus sacrificed for yours?
A deep abiding love of a baseball creates sacrifice by the players. Life long injuries, time away from family among others. A deep binding love in marriage means we make sacrifices of history and heritage. A deep abiding love of country makes you sacrifice, sometimes even our own lives. A deep abiding love of God helps us transition between pastors and so much more. A love of God first, allows us to truly love our spouses, country, churches, pastors, even our baseball team.
The love of God goes even further than these. A deep abiding love of God means we sacrifice our very selves to the cause of Jesus. Are we able to sacrifice enough to be able to sit down and have a conversation with a person like Nicodemus who sees things very differently than we do and not get up and leave the table. Whether it is the Way Forward or a new pastor. You will never be able to understand these until you have an understanding of God.
Even more, to understand the God who lives in your neighbor’s heart. We can’t until we love God first. First love God, then love neighbor. We have deeply held beliefs and that’s not bad, until those deeply held beliefs stop us from having a conversation with Nicodemus. This world is filled with people like Nicodemus, Martha, Mary, Thomas, Peter, there are a lot of Paul’s and probably even more Judases.
Knowing that you will never be able to make them all understand God exactly as you do, how will you celebrate those differences? Do you want to know how Jesus celebrated – Jesus loved them all, still does. Do you think you could begin to celebrate the differences long enough to see if you can find sameness?
WRAPPING IT UP/BENEDICTION
Again I remind you that the people in these earthly unions will eventually let you down. God will not. How do we celebrate the great love God has given us? It is the same love but how we accept it, share it and live it is a varied as the number of people God has blessed it with. The same yet different. Beautiful.
If God didn’t want it this way, the Lord would have created each of us exactly the same. Did’t the Lord realize that if we all a little different we might find it difficult to love each other? The challenge is not be to love the sameness, for even the pagans do this, the challenge is to find a way to love the differences. Each one of us in this Sanctuary is created in the image of God, so what does God look like? God looks like love.
PRAY – AMEN.
Leader: Go forth in peace. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all
People: And also with you.