Genesis 12:1-4a, John 3:1-21
Related hymn: Abide with me
In our scriptures this morning we hear from two characters, Abram and Nicodemus. I wonder what they have on their bucket lists. Join me for an interview with these biblical characters to learn about their bucket lists.
Sit in a row facing the congregation. Three tall bar stools serve well. Remember to speak to the congregation, not to one another.
With us today are Abram and Nicodemus. Welcome.
Abram, let’s start with you. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
As you heard in the reading from Genesis this morning,
I reside in the land of Ur.
I live in the house I inherited from my father.
From my home I look over the lovely Euphrates River,
just a stone’s throw away.
I am settled comfortably with my family, friends
and all that I love close at hand.
Abram, at this point in our Genesis story, what is on your bucket list?
On my bucket list…
I long to have a child with Sarai.
Sarai, your wife?
Later in the story God will rename her Sarah,
just as God will rename me Abraham.
But now she is still Sarai.
You want to have a child with Sarai….
So, why don’t you and Sarai just… “Do it!” as they say in the Nike ads?
Ah, there are some difficulties.
For starters, I am seventy-five years old…
Seventy-five years old…
Having a child at your age is, ambitious, shall we say?
I am old. That is bit of a problem…
Sarai is barren.
Ooh, that is an even bigger hurdle.
Sorry to leave you in your dilemma, Abram, but I also want to hear from you, Nicodemus, about your bucket list. But first, Nicodemus, tell us a bit about yourself.
Unlike Father Abram here, I live in the City of David.
Ah, the City of David, also known as… Jerusalem.
Right, I live in Jerusalem, where I am a Pharisee.
A Pharisee. What, exactly, is a Pharisee?
Pharisees are Jews who are very strict about the laws of Moses.
In addition to being a Pharisee,
I am a member of Jerusalem’s Sanhedrin,
the council or court that decides certain judicial matters.
So, you’re a bit of a bigwig. What sort of judicial matters do you decide?
Well, lots of things.
We. the Sanhedrin, rule on the Temple boundaries.
We determine the city limits of Jerusalem.
And, if the King of Israel,
or any pretender to Israel’s throne
does something wrong,
the Sanhedrin hears the case.
Hmmm… The Sanhedrin hears charges against Israel’s king or claimants? (aside to the congregation: Remember who gets taken to the Sanhedrin after being questioned by Pilate?… )
Nicodemus, you are a powerful man.
What is on your bucket list at this stage of John’s Gospel.
The number one thing on my bucket list
is to see God’s anointed.
I am just yearning for that day!
You want to see God’s anointed? They say Messiah in Hebrew, and Christ in Greek, right?
Abram, at seventy-five year old, you rest quietly and comfortably at home, yearning for a son to complete your bucket list. And Nicodemus, you are waiting for God’s anointed.
So, Abram, what happens?
I hear a voice from above speak to me.
I do not know if anyone else can hear it.
But I hear it as clearly as I hear you.
Remind us, what does the voice say?
The voice commands, “Go!
Leave your country and your kindred and your father’s house.
Go to the land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation.
I will bless you and make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing.”
Wow! So, this voice, the voice of God?
Yes, I believe it is the voice of God!
This voice tells you to leave home and set out for a land you have never seen?! Just out of curiosity, [to the congregation] how many people here have done that? Left home and set out for a land you had never seen? Let’s see some hands. … Quite a few.
Abram, what made you do it? What made you leave your beloved homeland?
What made me do it?
My family, my friends, my neighbours,
everyone thinks I am foolish,
hearing voices, believing promises and obeying commands.
In the land of Ur, at this time, most people believe in many gods,
many forces behind the things we see.
A god for wind, another for water, another for earth,
then fire, sun, moon, stars, and so on.
To me the list of gods seems endless, and mind boggling.
Yes, I imagine it would be. But I hear a hesitation in your voice, what about you?
Well, it’s different for me.
As the river water flowing by my house mesmerizes me,
as I watch birds soaring in the sky,
as I gaze at the star studded canopy on a winter’s night,
it seems to me that all these things are connected,
and that one God watches over us all.
Who or what that God is, I do not know.
But I sense the presence of this one creator-of-all,
one God abiding with us all.
So, when God commands you to “Go,” and when God promises to bless you and abide with you, you…?
I embark on the journey of a life time.
The first 75 years of my life seem forgettable.
Think about it. What does the Bible say about the first part of my life?
It is as if the sojourn I make with Sarai, Lot and the rest of my household
marks the beginning of my life.
For it is the beginning of my walk with the Divine,
or perhaps I should say the Spirit of the Divine.
Why do you use those words, “The Spirit of the Divine?”
Well, I never really see God,
at least I don’t think I do.
But God’s Spirit abides with me.
I know it.
We have our ups and downs, God and me.
And the Spirit’s presence does not keep danger at bay.
But whether on the mountain tops, in the deep valleys or on the level plains,
we always feel the Spirit’s presence.
We always know that God abides with us.
Thank you Abram. That is impressive.
What about you, Nicodemus? On your bucket list you long to see God’s anointed one. Tell us more.
Jesus comes to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.
He goes to the temple, the heart of the celebrations.
Seeing the money changers and cattle sellers there, angers him!
Jesus cleanses the temple,
by over turning their tables and driving them out!
Jesus’ strong faith seems to mirror your own. But… he is not a Pharisee is he?
But he amazes me.
For not only is his faith strong, his judgment is right.
Jesus is spot on!
The Priests DO run the Temple like a business, a market,
rather than a place to worship God.
Then, Jesus amazes everyone
by performing many signs of power,
healing people, driving out demons,
and teaching as one with authority.
The authority of God?
No one could do the signs that Jesus does
apart from someone having God in their life.
So you come to Jesus that night. Why at night?
I am a Pharisee,
and a member of the Sanhedrin, the city court.
In general, the Pharisees do not like Jesus
because he is not one of us.
Jesus makes the Sanhedrin wary,
because he threatens our power.
I go to Jesus at night
because if I am seen associating with him,
my friends and colleagues will cut me off!
And who do you think Jesus is?
I dare not believe it,
but I am thinking to myself,
“Could Jesus be The One?
Could he be God’s anointed?
The Messiah? The Christ?”
Your bucket list come true?
My bucket-list come true.
But, if Jesus is the Messiah,
he is not like the Messiah we have come to expect.
He talks about being born from above,
of water and the Spirit.
I am too overwhelmed by it all to understand it.
You come to him by night, and he says something about that?
As I said,
in this point in John’s story, I do not understand it all.
But later I will come to see.
That God so loved the world he gave his only son.
That we who believe these things will follow him,
not skulking and stalking in the shadows of the night,
but rather in the bold light of day,
trusting in him, as Abram trusts in God.
Eventually I do come to believe.
Let me summarize. Abram, your bucket list, having a son, is not realized at the end of our reading this morning, but a promise is made. And you, Sarai and Lot are on your way.
And Nicodemus, your bucket list item, seeing the Anointed, is realized.
But you do not know it!
Sigh. That is true.
Any final words to our congregation? Nicodemus?
Put your trust in Jesus.
No one could do the signs that he does
apart from one who abides with God.
Even when things do not seem to be going your way,
and especially when things get difficult.
Abide with the Eternal One,
and remember always,
Love Divine abides with you.
Pray with me.
Ever-present God, sometimes we are tempted to forget that you always abide with us. Inspire us through the witness of both Abram and Nicodemus to experience and trust your steadfast presence in our lives today, and each day. Empower us with this knowledge to courageously face each day, to be your servants ever working for peace and justice in our world. Amen.
Thanks! Please return to your seats.