Second Sunday of Lent
Psalm 121 / John 3:1-17
March 6, 2023
Jane Shelton, CRE


If you have been reading your daily Lenten devotionals this week provided at our Ash Wednesday service, you will have seen the header on each of the day’s reading, “examining our fear to live with faith.”  If you haven’t picked up a copy, you can find a copy on the tables in the narthex as you exit the sanctuary.

We often talk about faith with one another, yet do we have a clear understanding of exactly the faith Jesus is discussing with Nicodemus?

In preparing for Lent and thinking about being in the Wilderness, I put in the search window of my Bible app, the word “wilderness,” and the results went on for screens and screens of information in the Bible.

It seems that God’s people were always wandering around in the Wilderness, and even now, we walk with Jesus in the wilderness through this season of Lent and in our daily lives.  Why do we continue to wander about?  What are we searching for in our wandering?  What do we fear?

To recap the fears highlighted in this week’s Lenten devotional, we considered fear of the future, fear of loss, fear of death, fear of others, fear of failure, and even fear of God.  Each of these fears, however, provides scripture that points us back to our faith in things from above, in what God provides for us, for instance:

Fear of the Future.  “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Fear of Loss.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalm 23.1)

Fear of Death.  “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Fear of Others. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18a) and “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Fear of Failure “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you.  I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Fear of God “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7a)

Where is our faith?

Nicodemus seeks Jesus out for answers, although in the secrecy of the night so that he would not be seen in the presence of Jesus.  Nicodemus knew in his heart Jesus was sent by God, but Nicodemus wasn’t ready to proclaim Jesus as the Son of Man before everyone.  He was not secure in his faith to be open and honest with those around him, the other Pharisees, perhaps his friends and family.

Yet, he says to Jesus, “we know”…who is “we”?  The other Pharisees?

They knew who Jesus was because they saw the signs of what Jesus was able to do in his healing and other teachings around them.  They knew he had the power and presence of God to do these great miracles.  Yet, they did not have trust and faith enough to proclaim Jesus as the Son of Man to the Jews.

Let’s step back a moment to the Old Testament when Moses was wandering in the wilderness.  The people were not obedient, and God got frustrated and angry, and cast down the poisonous snakes, and when they were bitten they were dying, and Moses prayed to God to save his people.

God tells Moses to make a brass serpent and put it atop his rod, so that when the people are bitten, they can look up to the serpent sitting atop the rod, and they would be healed.  Their life would be restored.

What an amazing story!  So what is our take away in this story?  God wanted the people to look up.  Look up to where your help comes from.  Look up to the one that cares for your every need.  Look up to the one who loves you more than any other.  The one that has the ability to nourish you and heal you.

So here in the New Testament, Nicodemus is seeking answers, and Jesus is in essence saying, look up!  “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  Look up Nicodemus, where is your faith?

And Nicodemus being the one that has to be so logical, misses the most basic point.  Jesus is not saying you literally have to re-enter the womb of your mother to be born again, because God allows us to be reborn of water and Spirit.  We are more than flesh, we are from above.  Look up!  Where is your faith?

As humans, we can be such deniers of the Spirit.  We get so distracted by being led by the things of this world that we forget we carry the Spirit within us.  Where does it want to take us?  Where is it pushing us to go on our journey in the wilderness?   How is it prompting us in our faith?

I love the poetry in this scripture:

                “What is born of the Spirit is Spirit… do not know from where it comes or where it goes…”

The Spirit is from above, and it’s like the wind, blowing in whatever direction it chooses.

Have you ever had your mind set on something that you were going to do in life, and you had the whole thing planned out, and all of a sudden you are going in a totally different direction?  And I have found that the Spirit is a pretty strong wind, too.  You may do everything you can in your power, in your flesh, to go in a certain or particular direction, but the Spirit comes in and says, “No,” I have a different direction for you.  There is someone that needs you over here in this other direction.  What God has in store for us in the other direction the Spirit sends us often turns out to be so much more fruitful in our lives, and usually in others around us as well.  All we need is faith and courage to allow ourselves to be moved by the Spirit.

Like Nicodemus, if we are going to be teachers, and our call is to teach about the Son of Man, which is our call as a disciple of Jesus, then we will be wise to allow the Spirit to guide us through the wilderness.

Jesus presses upon Nicodemus that he testifies to things that he has seen, but what about the things he has not seen.  What about heavenly things?  Where is your faith, Nicodemus?

And here, Jesus gets to the story about Moses.  “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up…..look up Nicodemus.

We are living in a time where there are so many judgements floating about us.  Now make no mistake, judging others has always been around us.  It is definitely not new to us, and I think this next sentence is the best in the Bible to speak to us about not judging others, “Indeed God did not send the Son of Man into the world to condemn it, but that the world might be saved through him.”

The Son of Man was not sent to condemn others for their actions, but to save them from the world.  To tell them to look up!  Look up!  Have faith, your God who sent me, loves you and provides for everything that you need.  When things around us seem to be unbearable, look up!

When we are riddled with worry and fear, and wondering how we are going to make it through the next day, have faith that God is there in your presence taking care of you.  Just as in the assurance of the Psalmist, “I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come?  My help comes from the Lord.”

Let’s take a moment and read Psalm 121 together, it’s there printed in your bulletin: (Read First Scripture Reading in unison with the congregation).

Now let’s just take a moment to ponder that information in our hearts and in our minds. (Moment of Silence).

Christian author Sky Jethani describes in her book titled “With” how we live our lives over, under, from, and for God.  However, these are all ultimately flawed ways of experiencing God.  Amazingly, God invites us into the mystery of communion and mutuality.

Faith is a relational journey between us and God.  God invites us to participate in what he has created, be stewards, to nourish and help all things thrive, be it our earth, the animals, and the people.  When we nurture others, we bring them closer to God’s goodness, and this allows everything to flourish.   While we are in the wilderness, while we are walking this journey called life, that is most definitely messy, are we in communion with God?  Life has its ups and downs, and sometimes it is very windy so that we don’t know if we are walking backwards or forwards.  Yet, when we nurture others and encourage them to look up, this is the fruit of our faith.  This was the life of Jesus, who showed us to have faith in his Abba Father.

Come, walk with Jesus on this journey in the wilderness.  Look up and trust where the Spirit is leading you, and don’t worry about the direction, just keep walking in faith.  God is there with you

*Cover Image by Stushie; used with subscription