The Second Sunday in Lent | The Rev. Linda St. Clair
Updated: Mar 12
Genesis 12:1-4d | Psalm 121 | Romans 4:1-5. 13-17 | John 3:1-17
All journeys, be they outer physical journeys like business trips, holidays, relocations, or inner journeys like silent retreats or exploring within us meanings motivated by religious seasons as Advent or Lent, or a combination like a pilgrimage — all begin with some acceptance on our part that says Yes, I will step out and go forth or Yes, I will step in and go down deeper. In John O’Donohue’s Book of Blessings, he writes in a work titled For the Traveller
A journey can become a sacred thing. Make sure before you go, To take the time To bless your going forth, To free your heart of ballast So that the compass of your soul Might direct you towards the territories of spirit Where you will discover More of your hidden life; And the urgencies That deserve to claim you.
We have clear examples from our lectionary readings today from each category. The beginnings of what seems to be primarily an outer journey, comes through Abram. He essentially said yes to embarking on a journey that would separate him from the safety and security of his kith and kin because he accepted God’s call to go forth to a new land that would be shown to him. Nicodemus, the Pharisee, embodies a movement toward an inner journey, as he seeks to encounter Jesus, who he declares comes from God. This meeting has the potential of great spiritual risk. This could call him to leave the safety of his own self knowledge and beliefs which he has spent a life time acquiring by studying.
What binds those two stories together for me, comes most clearly through Abram’s reported encounter with God. Unlike the story of Nicodemus and Jesus, this is not a dialogue. Here we have Abram listening to God’s plan for him and for those that will go with him. We find a persistent and patient God promising through Abram, a series of blessings: God will bless Abram God will bless those who bless Abram and through Abram, ALL families of the earth will be blessed! That was clearly an offer that he couldn’t refuse, nor would he. For as we learned from Paul’s letter today, Abram was seen as righteous in the sense he was in a right relationship with God because he had faith in the goodness and love that God still had for human creatures, in spite of all the mistakes made as reported in Genesis. Courage comes from such a trusting relationship.
The word blessing could not be ignored by me, not only for today’s homily but for my own Lenten journey. We are now about 10 days into Lent already but I have added the practice of exploring and expanding my “blessing activity.” Now being a Five on the Enneagram, and given the recent workshop held here, led by AJ, I am aware that I could easily spend my time reading and studying about the concept of blessings — chasing down root meanings from Hebrew (B-R-K) to Greek (eulogeo) to early English (bledsian) and turn this into an exegesis exercise rather than take action. But resisting that urge, I am staying with John O’Donohue’s book Benedictus (Blessings) that I quoted from earlier. This book was published in 2007, the year before he died and my notes from his last retreat that year with this book are all I needed to renew this important art of blessing for my Lenten practice. It is time to refresh my blessing activity. - O’Donohue asserts that kindness is the root of blessing and intimate kindness holds sway and is the heart of blessing.
- Our intentions to offer ourselves as conduits for grace and peace through offering blessings (said or thought) for another, not only impact them but ourselves. - Journeys, he writes, cross thresholds and they are more than transitions (root word is to thresh) and that can move us to more radical and powerful and potential painful moments too. Therefore, they are occasions for needing the help of blessings, calling out from our deep self across time/ space and seeking those on a journey, offering our intercessory blessings. By inserting the world May...as we seek the Divine’s support, O’Donohue suggests — for example. May you go forth with a strong heart and hope ... this moves us into a blessing mode.
- Our acts of blessing comes out of our acceptance of being blessed ourselves. When I renew that part of Examine, the Jesuit practice of reviewing each day which includes reflecting on the blessings we received and are thankful for— this daily reminder moves us to gratitude for all the gifts we have been given and recognizes our need to share! - O’Donohue claims that just being here ... here on earth is the first blessing we received!
A source book of Celtic blessings, Camina Gadelica, (collected by Alexander Carmichael in the late 1800 and published , circa 1900). demonstrates that the indigenous peoples, the remnant of the Celts in the highlands and islands of Scotland—blessed comings and goings, babies births, lighting the fire, milking the cows, the seasons and elements of nature ... 24/7 that is a heritage to be claimed by all peoples!
We find in our sacred scriptures and stories and in our prayer books, many forms for many occasions in which we are to praise/bless God and to seek the Divine’s blessings for ourselves and for others. The Psalter all by itself is a store house filled with calls to bless and be blessed by God and to bless God.
In today’s psalm the opening lines set the very important first steps — seeking God’s help first, which includes being humble, knowing we need help from the very source of our being. The psalmist assures us that this help is near and always ready. The Lord will keep your life, we are told and will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. That feels like a blessing to me!
Finally, let us turn briefly to our gospel report on the dialogue between the Pharisee Nicodemus and Jesus. Is there anything in this interaction that speaks to Jesus being a blessing or blessing Nicodemus? In John’s gospel, Nicodemus initiates the dialogue by asserting that we/he knows that Jesus is a teacher that comes from God, for no one could do what Jesus has done (signs) without the presence of God,
Jesus accepts his words as sincere and declares that no one can see the Kingdom of God unless born from above. If Nicodemus if here to learn more about Jesus’ ministry, Jesus is going right to the heart of the matter.
This response seems like an unexpected twist for this Pharisee and a series of Q & A follows. Repeatedly, Nicodemus appears not to understand, or is at least not to let himself understand what Jesus is explaining about the differences between spirit and flesh. It seems like we just have a more formally educated Peter on our hands..or rather on Jesus’ hands. Even when Jesus uses the analogy of the wind coming and going as something we cannot literally see but know it exists, Nicodemus doesn’t seem to get it. And this would be basic Torah 101 for a Pharisee.
Jesus is patient and does throw up his hands but he persists and hangs in there with him. His patiences and persistence mirrors what the Lord has done throughout the stories in Genesis and that is a gift/blessing. Jesus is offering what he knows as truth and that wisdom would be a blessing if Nicodemus could get rid of what O’Donohue referred to as the ballast, the extra weight of a limited interpretation of the Torah and Prophets. If he could just throw those overboard his soul might find new territories of the spirit. We only own half of any circle in a relationship and the freedom to choose is one of the gifts the Divine has given human creatures. We don’t know if Nicodemus truly received the wisdom blessing that Jesus offered. The closing lines of this story gives what Martin Luther describes as the gospel in miniature. We can hope that if Nicodemus didn’t understand or accept Jesus teachings that night, then perhaps over time if would become clear: 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.
May we discover this Lent the many blessings we have received and in turn accept opportunities to be blessers of God, of other humans and ofall of creation...the more than human.