Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5,13-17, John 3:1-17
As the people of Japan respond to the continuing crisis in their nation one of the big questions for many Japanese has been: Stay or leave? Do I stay home and risk radiation poisoning or disease or hunger or cold—or, do I leave? Some have no choice. Their homes are destroyed. Or, the government has ordered them to evacuate. Thousands are now homeless.
We hear stories of homeless people around the world. Like the people of eastern Japan, people of many nations at different times suffer natural disasters–hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods–and have no choice but to leave home. Others become refugees of war or political persecution and leave home in order to protect themselves and their families.
The Bible, too, is full of such stories. In fact, the oldest and most important stories for the Jewish people include stories of being forced to leave home. The story of Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden, the story of being taken from the land of Israel into slavery in Egypt, the exile in Babylon. The readings for today, the second Sunday in Lent, too, speak to us of leaving home.
Only, the stories for today are not about being forced to leave home. They involve choice.
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” At first, it seems like Abram has no choice. God commands him to leave his country, his family and his property.
But Abram was no different from us. Just because God commands something doesn’t mean we do it! Put yourself in Abram’s place. Here is a guy who has it all. He has a country, family and property. Later in Abram’s story (Gen. 13:2) we find that he was “very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” So–why would someone who has it all risk it all? Abram’s home was in modern-day Iraq; now he was faced with the prospect of crossing a dangerous and hostile desert, to Palestine–a place he’d never been–based solely on the assurance of a voice or a vision. We can understand someone leaving home because of war or famine. It makes sense for person to leave because of natural disaster. It’s harder to understand why a person would risk so much with so little assurance of a good outcome.
My wife and I have moved many times in our lives, both before and after we were married. Think of a time when you’ve left home. All of us have at least one such story, and maybe many. Some of you have made big moves. Like Abram and Sarai, you’ve moved from one land to another. From Denmark. Norway. Barbados. China. Mexico. Others have traveled from North Dakota, Texas, Colorado, Iowa, the South. Others—a few— maybe grew up in the Northwest. But even locals have stories of leaving home.
What was it like for you to move? Was it exciting? Scary? Why did you move? Were you forced to? Or maybe, like Abram & Sarai, you made a choice to leave home. Maybe for love. Maybe to go off to war. Maybe for a job and better opportunity. Maybe for climate? We don’t know why Abram and his family left home. All we know from the story is that God said, “Go!”—and Abram went.
Today’s gospel reading is the story of Nicodemus. The story of Nicodemus is also a story of leaving home. Nicodemus doesn’t leave behind his house, or city, or nation. He feels led to consider leaving behind his beliefs and ideas. That’s a different kind of “home.” Although Nicodemus isn’t packing his bags, he’s still a lot like Abram. Because– Nicodemus has it all. As a Pharisee he has power, respect, wealth, privilege and security. Who in his position would give all that up—unless they had the assurance of even more?
And yet, today’s reading from John begins: Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night. Did you catch that? Nicodemus is a powerful man, but here he is, sneaking around at night. Nicodemus knew that if his friends heard that he was hanging out with Jesus and that he was interested in his teachings that he would lose respect—maybe even his power and position.
Here is a man who had everything to lose by leaving behind his comfortable world of beliefs and ideas. But Nicodemus shows signs of risking all that. Later, after Jesus’ crucifixion, Nicodemus was the one who came with Joseph of Arimathea to ask Pontius Pilate for Jesus’ body, in order to prepare it for burial. Not even Jesus’ disciples dared to do that!
Think about a time when you left the security of your home base of ideas and beliefs. All of us have some such story. None of us here this morning carries with us the same beliefs that we had when we were the age of Otis, or Loren, or Kaitlyn, or Julia. And hopefully, none of us carries with us the same beliefs we had when we were 20, or 40, or 60, or even 80—depending on how old you are.
Because—the voice that Abram heard, telling him to leave home, is the same voice that speaks to each of us today. That voice says “Go!” And then, like Abram—like Nicodemus–we have a choice. We can stay home, or we leave home. But whichever choice we make, the invitation always stands. In this life we never arrive at a permanent home. To grow in faith and service of God means always to be in the process of preparing to leave home. Oh, we might stay in one place for a bit, but only long enough to discern God’s call to leave home again.
Maybe you have your doubts. Maybe you believe that finding a set of ideas that works for you is good enough. Just stick with those. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Maybe you have a bit of stability in your life and don’t want to let go of that. Maybe you don’t want to risk your life spinning out of control, or, spinning out of control more than it already is. Staying home sounds like a pretty good bet!
But once again, can you think of a time in your life when you chose to take the risk? What was the outcome? Even if the risk felt like failure at the time, is there some way in which years later you can see that it made you a better person, and more importantly, can you see ways in which other people were blessed by your risk?
As a congregation, you followed the example of Abram and Nicodemus years ago when you invited homeless men into our space each year. You left behind the safety of home to provide a home for those without. That was a risk! It was a risk that has blessed the lives of many. More recently, you “left home” in voting to become a Reconciling-in-Christ congregation. That, too, was a risk. But the invitation to leave home never disappears. It’s a standing invitation. God always says, “Go!” How now are we called to leave behind the comfortable, familiar world of beliefs and practice that’s so familiar? In what concrete ways is God calling us to build on our experience of leaving home?
The practice of leaving home was not invented by Abram, or Nicodemus. Christians practice leaving home because it follows the pattern laid down by Jesus himself! In today’s reading from John, v.13, Jesus says to Nicodemus, No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. The one who “came down”—or left home. And, 16For 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. 17Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. As God said to Abram, “Go!” and he went—so also God said to Jesus, “Go!” and he left his heavenly home of power and privilege, risking pain and even death.
We leave home for the same reason Jesus did. Our job, like his, is to save the world. Not from some hell in the next life, but from the hell on earth that humanity faces every day. We have no control over the life to come. But we do have the power to save our fellow human beings from misery and death in this world: from natural disasters such as the one in Japan, from war, from poverty, from persecution, from despair. This is saving work that we can do. This is our God-given work. By leaving behind our habits of belief, by opening ourselves to a new world of ideas that includes not just ourselves but the well-being of all God’s people, we build the kingdom of God on earth.
May God richly bless those whose lives we touch when we choose to leave home.
Lord God, you have called us to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to ggo out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.