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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Lent 2, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
March 16, 2014

Genesis 12:1-5a; John 3:1-17

‘Busy being born’

At Thursday's Bible study we listened to Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind" as a song about the Wind, Breath or Spirit of God. "The answer, my friend," Jesus might have said to Nicodemus, "is blowin' in the wind". The answer to all manner of questions - issues of social justice, human rights and existential crises - depends on the movement and guidance of Spirit, on inspiration, on stopping to listen for the Word the Spirit brings, on connection to the Spirit-filled world (a world of slight breezes and mighty storms), on relationship in the Spirit, and so on. The question that most interests Nicodemus, however, has to do with rebirth. To borrow another line from the bard: "He not busy being born is busy dying" [Bob Dylan, "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)", 1965]. God be with you ...

Nicodemus' question is "How can an adult be born a second time?" Sometimes it's tempting to hear the question as a question from a fool. What a dolt, we think or say. He doesn't understand the metaphor. He doesn't comprehend the higher meaning. I've gone along with this kind of reading before.

It strikes me now, though, and in light of recent scholarship at the manse, that this kind of reading lacks respect - for Nicodemus, for Jesus, and for ourselves. Do I really think Nicodemus, a religious leader of some years and standing, incapable of recognising a religious metaphor? Do I really think of Jesus as delighting in the art of mockery? Do I really imagine the world in simple terms of timid fools and wise guys?

Our picture to colour-in presents a different view: respectful dialogue. Nicodemus has made a decision to go see Jesus. An educated and decorated community leader, a person with authority and security of tenure, an expert in the ways of religion and culture, ventures by night to visit with a wandering preacher and faith healer. Nicodemus is already busy being born.

Some scholars say he came at night for reasons of fear or secrecy. Others say it was a typical after-work gathering of theologians. There's no hint of disrespect or malice. Perhaps he is just curious. He acts on the strength of his genuine curiosity. He asks questions. He engages. He is open to hearing something new. He is open to change and growth. He is busy being born.

Perhaps that's the reason Jesus offers the metaphor in the first place. It's an apt thing to say. It's in keeping with the conversation. In other words, these two people of faith may be seen as offering mutual encouragement. Nicodemus certainly draws from Jesus a lengthy [Lenten] discourse on God's love for the world in need of saving (arguably the most well-known gospel utterance). And, reading ahead, Jesus certainly inspires Nicodemus to keep asking questions.

In chapter 7, Nicodemus is a lone witness among the Pharisees and chief priests in defence of Jesus whose downfall they plot and whom they disparage as a "Galilean", a hick, that is, a hillbilly/bumpkin/bogan. Nicodemus refuses to play along. "Since when does our Law condemn anyone without first hearing the accused and knowing all the facts?" he asks. Nicodemus, of course, has heard from the accused and knows at least some of the facts.

In chapter 19, Nicodemus joins Joseph of Arimathea to remove the body of Jesus from the cross. Nicodemus brings "about one hundred pounds of spices, a mixture of myrrh and aloes" so to prepare the body of Jesus for burial.

These public displays of affection, respect and loyalty evince a person very much alive to the presence and purpose of God - alive to the Spirit of God - a person, at significant cost and risk, amid hostility and death, busy being born.

He deserves our respect.

After all, he is not so unlike us. "How can an adult be born a second time?" It's actually a very good question.

How can we honour the wisdom and riches of a tradition, collectively and personally, and yet start again? How might we risk everything we know and have become in the name of a deeply respectful curiosity? Can I open my heart and mind - my very identity - to the strangeness of others? To change? To newness? To Spirit?

One Thursday-night scholar spoke of rebirth from an upper middle-class culture, a protected and protective culture, into another kind of culture: a "rawness and real-ness" of life with people unafraid of failure and celebration.

Lyn is joining Catholic friends this morning to worship at St Vincent's in Redfern Street. She will be welcomed there, yet may well experience some awkwardness in relation to parish history and liturgy. She won't partake of the Eucharist. Like Nicodemus, she is taking a risk in the name of a respectful curiosity - and in the light of one she believes is "a teacher come from God" and the very "power of God".

Most people, most of the time, go to where they are known - act on what they already know. A lot of the time we confuse respect and shows of privacy - keeping to ourselves and those we think we know best. A lot of the time we're just confused.

But sometimes we're inspired to embrace the awkwardness, to improvise, even to enact change. Sometimes a respectful curiosity - neither idle nor in thrall to idols - leads to newness, rebirth.

In July 2012 in Adelaide, the members of the 13th Assembly of the Uniting Church listened to members of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress tell stories about the effects of the federal government's "Stronger Futures" legislation (and the "Intervention" before that) on their lives and their communities.

The Assembly members were very moved by the stories of harm and exclusion and responded in two ways. The first was to "down tools" and make a silent procession through the streets to the South Australian Parliament to pray and sing in a public vigil of lament. The second was to adopt a resolution calling on the Church to engage in a week of prayer and fasting for justice for the First Peoples.

Miriam is heading to Canberra tomorrow as part of that promised week of prayer and fasting. Daily reflections and discussions will centre on: The Injustice of Dispossession; The Cost of Racism; Dignity Denied - The Loss of Health and Well-being; Losing Language; The "Stronger Futures" Legislation; Healthy Communities and Self-determination; The Time for Constitutional Recognition.

The Assembly is encouraging all congregations to dedicate next Sunday's worship (March 23) to the theme: A Destiny Together. We'll do that. Our Affirmation of Faith today comes from a set of resources prepared for that service. Let's complete the homily now by standing and saying these words together ... Amen.