Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sermon for March 20th, 2011

Born of the Spirit
March 20, 2011
Scripture: John 3:1–17
Exploring the Scriptures

Two men meet in an out-of-the-way place late at night. The setting is simple. There are a few props in low, flickering lamplight. Yet, the scene is etched with fresh transformative brilliance into the faith story of every generation. The encounter is a backdrop for the most quoted scripture passages in Christian history: “For God so loved the world…” “[N]o one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”

The writer of John tells us that Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a teacher of the law, and a leader of the Jews. He knows authority when he hears and sees it. He has public credentials and a role of power, but sees in Jesus something he knows he does not possess. Humble and yearning for truth, he wants to meet Jesus
But Nicodemus gives mixed signals. Apparently he wants to keep this meeting private, thus the night meeting. At least that is the usual connotation. But we learn that Nicodemus, as with other leaders of the Jews, studied at night because it was believed the Koran was best studied at night to glean its meanings. So perhaps Nicodemus gave up some of his precious study time to come to talk with Jesus. We know he represents other Pharisees because he says, (“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God…” [emphasis added]), but he and his colleagues are cautious. Do they prefer darkness to light? We are left with the questions.

Jesus is not intimidated by the Pharisee’s power and position. He seems surprised—shocked that this teacher of the law does not understand what is basic to a relationship with the Divine. He is disappointed, perhaps even angry, that those in positions of leadership have not been grasped by essential truths about the longed-for reign of God upon the earth.

We learn from what Jesus says that no one can see the kingdom unless they are born of the Spirit, unless they “are born anothen.”This Greek term has a double meaning often lost in the English, French, or Spanish translations. It means “again” or “anew.” As well as “from above”. The double meaning must be kept in mind in verses 3 and 7 to discern Jesus’ meaning and the nature of Nicodemus’ misunderstanding. To be born anothen speaks of a time of birth (again) and the place from which the new birth emerges. This new birth gives new access to God.

Pneuma (spirit/wind) can be felt and heard, but it cannot be controlled or predicted. It is a mystery beyond human knowledge. Jesus seems to be saying, “These are the basics. How could anyone be a religious leader without understanding that? Open yourself to this uncontrollable but trustworthy Presence of God.”

The Gospel writer yearns for readers to have their own encounter with God through this recorded event. To do this, like Nicodemus, we must go to an unsettling place. We must let go of what we know and what makes sense to be reborn through the example of the alternative life of Jesus, a life of service. We approach the text knowing that we also do not yet know what it is about. As with the writer, we also have assumptions and certitudes that must be set aside!

This birth in the Spirit is not about physical rebirth (Nicodemus’ quandary), nor is it only about an individual’s private moment of conversion (a common interpretation). Being born of the Spirit “envisions a new mode of life for which there are no precedents, life born of water and the Spirit, life regenerated through an encounter with God”. To be fully human we are invited to ground our life in God’s Spirit.

We make this encounter in many different ways. Sometimes it may come as an “aha moment”. Or it may come in a moment of crisis. But however it comes, it is a new realization that God is with us….beside us and supporting us in the moments when we need that support the most. We encounter a new strength…a new resolve that comes from anywhere but from within ourselves. That resolve strengthens and even embraces us. It is God’s Holy Spirit. In that moment, we have been born anew.

So, like Nicodemus, we yearn to find that special spirit and we approach God to ask for it. But it is apparently not that easy. To actually receive God’s special spirit, we learn, as Nicodemus did, that we must have a vision of the reign of God. It doesn’t involve just us. It must include others. One does not enter or even approach the reign of God alone. It involves community. And it involves this new vision. That vision, like that of Jesus, involves approaching God’s reign in the company of others. It involves service to others…caring about others and attempting to help meet their deepest needs. And we are unable to do that on our own. We need to be born anew. We will not live fully unless we open our lives to receive new life through God’s Spirit, which is beyond our control or understanding….like the wind.

We misunderstand the message of Jesus if we think our salvation in this life or in an afterlife is entirely through an emphasis on changing ourselves. That was the message of John the Baptist. The special transformation we seek comes as we immerse ourselves in community…..relationships with others. Transformation comes through encounter with God and others. That was the message of Jesus.

This story offers us a gift. It leads us into a deeper understanding of mission. It asks us to reform ourselves from our self-centeredness. It asks us to look at our personal salvation with new eyes and realize that our salvation is a corporate encounter. It doesn’t have as much to do with the afterlife as it does with this life. God’s reign, as Nicodemus learned, is not accomplished alone.

But we also know that encountering God’s Spirit is not easy. Nicodemus also learned that. It’s not something we can learn directly from another. Transformation comes through encounter. The less we are absorbed with ourselves, the more likely we will encounter that for which we are searching.

What the writer of John is offering is a new way of seeing reality. The experience of “being born again” is to see in a new way. And it is not a once in a life time event. We continuously need to change our perception. It marks a new way of life where we see that there is a reality that enlivens all of reality, and it is the novel influence of God in every nanosecond. There is no dualism of spirit and physical, religion and secular, but there is a unity where we experience within our secular reality the will of God.

Being born again is to see this inner reality to life - to see our world as holy. The earth is full of the beauty of God, and our job - our project - is see this inner reality and to work with it. And when we see this is the truth about life, we are energized to care for all around us. It is to see the world as full of meaning. It is to learn from others and honor their insights about this inner truth - that life is inspirited. We turn around and now treat the world, and those in it, as having something to teach us. Encountering this spiritual truth has the power to transform our thinking about the nature of life, to moves into solidarity with others, to join with others as our brothers and sisters, and thus to create a new reality - a new way thinking about life - we are in this together and we need one another to heal our broken unity.

From Section 164 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we hear, “When your willingness to live in sacred community as God’s new creation exceeds your natural fear of spiritual and relational transformation, you will become who you are called to be. The rise of Zion the beautiful, the peaceful reign of God, awaits your wholehearted response to the call to make and steadfastly hold to God’s covenant of peace in Jesus Christ.—Doctrine and Covenants 164:9b

…when you are truly baptized into Christ you become part of a new creation. By taking on the life and mind of God, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective. Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of God.”

Our encounter with God’s Spirit can be a gift to our family, our community and even our congregation. It invites us to mission…personal mission as well as corporate mission. The story of Nicodemus invites us to the search. It invites us to turn from personal absorption to service to others. The search itself may lead to the personal transformation or we may encounter it when we least expect it. . But we do know that as we immerse ourselves in mission, it can lead us to the answers we seek.

Fun Saturday

This has been a fun Saturday. Bob A. and I went to Joplin and ate lunch at Olive Garden. Then we walked around the mall. He bought a new belt and I bought nothing new.

I got home and went to get milk at Braums and then went to the antique mall and killed another hour just walking around seeing what there was there to buy. When I got home I fed the animals and will try to watch TV tonight if I can find anything to watch.

Bob is good company and we are probably good for one another. We are just friends and will remain just friends. He is married to my sister who is in a nursing home in an Alzheimer's Unit. I am not interested in any other relationship but being just friends. I think I cheer him up and I know he cheers me up. It is good to have a male friend with whom to do things and with whom to go places.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Major Earthquake Hits Japan

Last night a huge earthquake hit Japan. It was a 8.9 quake and afterward, of course, a huge tsunami hit. The same tsunami is due to hit Hawaii and the west coast of the US, as well as 17 other countries. They are evacuating folks along the coast from California to Washington and Oregon.

This will be a major evacuation as they are expecting 7 to 8 foot waves.

More later...

I went on to work and tried to keep my mind on my work. After I finished, I went on home and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Then I went to Bartlesville to visit my friend who is in ICU. She couldn't stop coughing last Sunday evening so she and Pete left church early and she said she needed to go to the emergency. There they discovered that not only did she have pneumonia, but they discovered that she had two bad heart valves and was very sick. They transferred her to Bartlesville hospital where they are treating her pneumonia. She is a very sick woman. They will decide on Monday if they can proceed with surgery to repair the two heart valves. I can't see that they can but, of course, I'm no doctor. I'm afraid they would lose her on the table.

Her husband and son were there. Her daughter had just left to go to their home back in Coffeyville. I stayed about twenty minutes.

Then I went out to the mall and walked around. I got home about 5:00. I will go back on Tuesday. I hope she will still be with us on Tuesday.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Very Busy Thursday

Wednesday was strained. I felt a little better and my jaw no longer hurt. I tried to carefully brush my teeth and then went on to work. Luckily my supervisor was out of the office so I had the director as a supervisor. She kept me busy but not terribly busy. When I got home I was still kind of zapped. It's amazing how zapped I was after just an extraction. Maybe it's my age.

Anyhow,I stayed up last night until 9:30. I had Slinky in the kitchen because it was 30 degrees outside. He woke me up three times barking. First he wanted out to pee. Then he wanted me to get up. It was 3:00 AM. I went in and bawled him out and gave him the option of going outside or going back to bed. He went back to bed. Again, he woke me up at 4:00. He wanted his breakfast. I put him out. It was cold but I was tired. I slept until 5:30. Then I let him back in. After he had His breakfast he fell asleep at my feet on his cushion. He makes such a mess of the kitchen though. Now only does he slobber all over the floor but he also drags in dirt on his feet. I hate to have him in the kitchen.

I felt a lot better today and worked until noon and then went to Wal Mart. I needed a few things and hadn't been there for a couple of weeks. Then I came home and put away my groceries and went back to town to get my ring. I had had the jeweler cut it off my right hand and then left it with him to be re-sized for my left hand. My knuckle on my right hand has grown too large to get the ring off. The left hand has not done that so much. So I picked up the ring and I am wearing it on my left hand.

Then I went to see Phyllis and Gerry. Phyllis was doing better. When I got there, she was napping in her bed. I went in and just watched her awhile. After awhile she woke up and I had a quaint conversation with her. She was concerned about the "intersection". The adults there and the children too. Then she said it was "too expensive". She began counting "sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety." Then she began to go over the days of the week. "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Tuesday". I don't think she knew what she was doing. Finally, she said, "do you want to buy it?" I said "yes, I do". Then she said "Tell Bob that you want to buy it". That kind of conversation went on for thirty minutes. At least she wasn't crying and she wasn't angry. Alzheimer's Disease is horrible.

Then I went to see Gerry. She had been in the hospital with her heart Friday and Saturday. I was there Friday and brought her the newspapers but she wasn't there. I thought she was at therapy. Gerry is 89. She will be 90 April 3rd.

Then I went to see Bob A. He had been in Independence to a caregivers meeting and to see his sister. We visited awhile. We will go to Joplin on Saturday. We will eat at Olive Garden and walk the mall. Then I stopped at Braums and bought a small chocolate chip milk shake. I had tried to eat some soup earlier but wasn't too successful so I gave it to Slinky.

I came home and cleaned the kitchen and ran the sweeper in the bedrooms. Tomorrow, I will clean the bathrooms and run the sweeper in the living room and dust. I had intended to do that Saturday but since I'm going to Joplin with Bob Saturday, I did it today and will do it tomorrow.

Tonight Slinky will sleep outside. I'm hoping it won't get too cold.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Rainy Day

Wouldn't you know it! It's pouring down rain today. I felt sorry for Slinky last night and let him sleep in the house. It really wasn't cold enough to bring him in. I regret it now. He woke me up at 4:00 and spent the next hour trying to get me to feed him by alternately barking and whimpering. I finally came in and opened the back door and ordered him out. He slunk over to his bed and curled up instead. That didn't shut him up though. Finally, I got up at 5:00 (my usual time) and came in the kitchen, fed both him and Missy and then saw a soaking wet Inky out on the patio. So I fed him too. Now Slinky is curled up here at my feet sound asleep, his stomach full of my morning oatmeal.

I work until 10:50 this morning and then go to the dentist for that hassle. This afternoon, I want to go see Phyllis and Gerry. I will have to take an umbrella wherever I go today. I did go to the library yesterday afternoon and fill out an application for a library clerk position but I doubt they're hiring and even if they were, I have interviewed for that position before to no avail. Oh well..

Today, I will go by Staff Management and see if they have any clerk positions. It seems awfully hard to find a part time job and I really do not want full time.

I watched PBS last night. They had a program on about the music of the 60's and 70's with Carol King. It was quite interesting but I couldn't make it past 9:30 so I missed the last 30 minutes.

Yesterday I worked on transportation forms and also applications for transportation. I checked the results of the count and filed the forms. It took until 1:00. That's fine though. That will make up for the hour I will miss today while I go to the dentist.

More later...

Worst case scenario at the dentist. The bicuspid abutment tooth to my bridge was split down the side. Not only did I lose the tooth, but I also lost the bridge. Now I have a gap on my lower right jaw. I have the kind of wide mouth that shows every tooth (or lack thereof) in my mouth when I speak or smile. Also, to make things even worse, SEP cut our hours down from twenty hours a week to fifteen hours a week....permanently. The program funding was cut back. This is not my week.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Roof Repair

Bob A. and I met with a roofer at our church yesterday afternoon. We have a leak in the sanctuary ceiling. We've had it for years. It only leaks when the rain is accompanied by strong winds. The roofer climbed up there and found the leak. It was damaged shingles over a seam. He will order some shingles and repair it later in the week. We want to get that fixed before the spring rains hit. If we find that he found the leak for sure, we will have him back to repair the ceiling in the sanctuary. We have thought we had that fixed twice now and each time it is fine until strong winds accompany the rain.

Slinky slept outside last night. It was in the 40's and he can stand that temperature. But he wanted in this morning for the company. I fixed us (him) some oatmeal after he ate his dog food. Missy slept outside too. So I got a good night's sleep. I went to Living the Questions group last night. It was a small group but we still enjoyed it. It was Joyce's 60th birthday and we all took her cards.

I will work today. My supervisor will be in late and she was supposed to have left me time sheets to tally. I hope she remembered to do that.

Tomorrow I go back to the dentist at 11:00 so I will have to leave early. While I had my teeth cleaned last month, the hygienist found that my bridge was loose and the tissue around the neck of the tooth was inflamed. She's talking extraction but the tooth does not hurt and the inflammation is just around the neck of the tooth so I think I will have him just re-cement the bridge and see if stabilizing it that way will not clear it up. I think the crown has been impinging on the tissue at the neck of the tooth because the bridge is loose and it is rocking and pinching that tissue when I chew. If I can get him to do the conservative thing, he will probably re-cement it with temporary cement to see if my evaluation is correct and then have me back in a month to re-x-ray the tooth and see if that inflammation has cleared up. Then he may cement it will real cement. We will see. This dentist wanted to replace all my fillings with crowns and replace a chipped porcelain crown with a new one to the tune of thousands of dollars. I had to tell him how little money I have and that I am in maintenance mode at this point in my life. He has been pretty good about understanding that.

Tuesday evening I am going to the Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner from 4:00 till 6:00 at the Episcopal church. I bought a ticket from Fr. Jerry last Thursday.

Wednesday I have a hair appointment and afterward I will pick up Juanita and we will go to lunch. I haven't seen her in a couple of months...since the bad snows in January and February. It will be good to catch up.

Then I have nothing else on this week's calendar. Maybe I can get some housework/yardwork done.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Busy Sunday

This will be a busy day. Bob A. will come by at 9:00 and pick me up for church. Church will be over at 12:00 and a group of us will undoubtedly go to lunch somewhere. After that, at 3:00 Bob A. and I are to meet a contractor at the church. Every time we have a blowing rain, our roof leaks in the sanctuary. Last week following the rainstorm, Sue and John found pieces of the ceiling on the carpet up toward the front of the sanctuary where it has always leaked. We have had it repaired twice that I know of and perhaps three times. The last time, it was done so thoroughly that we were sure it was fixed. Once more we had the ceiling repaired and all was well until the first blowing rain. Then it leaked again and spoiled the ceiling again. So now we are going to have yet another contractor look at it.

Then I will come home and get my letters done. After that, at 7:00, I will go to Howard and Judy's for the Living the Questions group. I hope it's decent out because Slinky will have to go outside until 9:00 while I'm gone. I may have to put him in the garage. It was 21 degrees last night so I brought him in the kitchen for the night. He woke me from a sound sleep at 12:30 to go out to do his number and I really never got any sound sleep after that. I got up at 5;00 as usual. I want to go over my sermon once again this morning.

I will add Gene to the snail mail letter today. He doesn't do the computer. He will have a hard time adjusting without Carletta. She was the business manager for the farm. he lives in rural Independence so the only communication I will have with him is by mail. I hope he continues to attend church. I am afraid he will go, if he goes at all, with Steve, to Tyro Christian. He likes their peppy music and dynamic speaker. Maybe I can have him and Bob A. over for dinner now and then. That would give me an excuse to cook.

It will definitely be hard on Gene....poor Gene.

So it will be a busy day...