St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-27-2018

St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-27-2018

That Is NOT Why He Came

Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Just a few weeks ago I spoke of my friend and fellow minister who was assaulted by two evangelists at her congregation’s community dinner. In that story I related how one of the two grabbed her by the arm, pulled her down into the seat between them, and asked “What message do you preach?” Her response was that she “preached the Gospel; the good news of the love of God and Christ for all people!” to which they sternly responded “You’re wrong, if you’re not preaching damnation and repentance from sin, you’re leading this congregation straight to hell; and yourself with them”!

I’ve had similar encounters with such people; never as physical as this but I have endured the same kind of verbal abuse. Let’s see if any of these sound familiar to any of you:

When asking the question “What about “Love your neighbor?”” the response was “I do love you, that’s why I don’t want to see you go to hell!”

When raising a challenge to judgmentalism “I’m not judging you, (Bible thump) God is; see, it says right here…”!

When desperately seeking consolation in bad times; “You must have done something wrong for God to bring this tragedy on you”.

And its cousin “If you were right with God, bad things wouldn’t happen to you”.

And the time I was refuting the need for me to convert to another denomination; “the “only real Church” as my challenger called it; “Okay, if you want to go to hell it’s no business of mine”.

Or, maybe you’ve heard some of the things I’ve heard, not directed at myself, but at others:

Like: “It’s a shame, those [black people] all think they’re going to heaven; but they’re not God’s chosen”.

And there’s always those screaming “All those (insert whatever derogatory adjective) are going straight to hell!

Or how about this one; “God might forgive you, but I never will”.

And then there’s the one from today’s Gospel reading in other translations “You must be born again!” or as we heard it from the NRSV “You must be born from above!” so often said in a condemning tone to anyone whom the speaker believes is not a “Born again” Christian.

In the same manner, I have even heard the last few lines of this reading used in a condemning way: “…so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”; and “…in order that the world might be saved through him”; each said with the implication that the world is in peril of the wrath of God if they don’t “believe”.

Which leads to one more condemnation I have experienced personally when asking my opposition to explain to me their understanding of what it means to “believe” and, having apparently stumped them with the question got the response “You are of the devil you’re testing me, you’re trying to break my faith”!


Our Bible, as a whole, each book in it, and especially John’s Gospel are very complex. On one hand, we cannot understand each book, each chapter, each verse without considering the whole. Yet, on the other hand, we cannot insert our preconceptions derived from the whole into one verse, chapter or book.

Yes, it’s confusing, but that complexity is itself a part of the message! It reminds us of the complicated relationship between earthly life and spiritual life; it emphasizes the tension between human understanding and the ultimate wisdom of God; and it should bring us to the realization that what is applicable to one circumstance is not necessarily applicable to all of life’s situations

Addressing, now, today’s lengthy and complicated reading from John, but only as an example for my message today, I challenge you to show me where words of condemnation can be found in it. (Some come later, but not in this part of the story.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, highlighting the dimness of his understanding. But he doesn’t come to condemn Jesus; his first words are of praise saying “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Jesus’ response “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” is an offering of enlightenment, not a condemnation or even a degradation. And the rest of their conversation is of Jesus helping Nicodemus find the enlightenment he desires.

This part of the story ends without telling us if Nicodemus got the message that night. Later, it seems Nicodemus did get the message. When the Jews are trying to arrest Jesus he is there to speak in Jesus’ defense saying “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” And much later he appears again with about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes to prepare Christ’s body for burial.

What I ask you to take from all this, then is this; On the personal side: conversion from death to life; from darkness to light; the act of being “born again” doesn’t always happen in a brilliant flash. Sometimes, or perhaps more often than not, it happens over time; starting with a spark and growing to a raging fire.

And on the side of our actions toward others: patience is key; spending time to lovingly inform others without attacking their lack of understanding; offering them enlightenment rather than pushing them back into their darkness will bear more fruit than holding our self-proclaimed righteousness in contrast to their ignorance.

And, in both the personal and the interactions with others, we must all be willing to be changed; to seek and to accept new life, a new way of living, not on our terms but on Christ’s terms; being born anew each and every day.

Being a Christian means “believing” that Jesus is the only Son of God; believing in the Son of God means that we accept his words and his actions as the way of truth; accepting the way of truth means we walk, talk, and act in His ways, imitating his life in our life.

Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world and neither should we. Jesus came to save the world! There should be our focus also!



Isaiah 6:1-8
6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.
6:2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.
6:3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
6:4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
6:5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
6:6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.
6:7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”
6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Psalm 29
29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
29:5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
29:6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
29:7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
29:8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
29:9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
29:10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
29:11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Romans 8:12-17
8:12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–
8:13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”
8:16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
8:17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

John 3:1-17
3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.
3:2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
3:3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
3:4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
3:5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.
3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
3:7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’
3:8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
3:11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.
3:12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
3:16 “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.
3:17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.