Genesis 12:1-4a – God calls Abram at 75 to leave his country and kindred. “I will bless you to be a blessing.”
Psalm 121 – I lift my eyes to the hills. My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. The Lord will be your shade. The sun will not strike you. The Lord will keep your going out and coming in forevermore.
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 – The promise rests not only on the adherents to the law, but to those who share the faith of Abraham.
John 3:1-17 – Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night. Born again.
Historically, in some places, enrollment for baptism at Easter Vigil began on the first Sunday of Lent. Today this is called the catechumenate. If you do this, consider enrolling all who are joining the church, even if they’re not being baptized but undergoing affirmation of baptism. These candidates should be prayed for weekly during Lent in the prayers of the church.
The Gospel readings for Lent in Cycle A of the lectionary are the traditional texts that catechumenates studied in preparation for baptism:
- Lent 1: Matthew 4 (The Temptation in the Wilderness)
- Lent 2: John 3 (Nicodemus) or Matthew 17
- Lent 3: John 4 (Woman at the Well)
- Lent 4: John 9 (Healing of the Man Born Blind)
- Lent 5: John 11 (The Raising of Lazarus)
This week, Lent 2A, in John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Unless you are born of water and the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” The text ends with the familiar John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” This is the perfect text for the preparation of baptismal candidates because it proclaims salvation in Christ, with the sacramental sign of baptism.
Next week, Lent 3A, in John 4, Jesus will tell the woman at the well, “The water I give will become a spring welling up to eternal life.” The woman responds, “Sir, give me this water always.”
The following week, Lent 4A, in John 9, Jesus heals a man born blind by telling him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. Again we have a baptismal theme. It is in the waters of baptism that we see the world clearly, for Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”
Finally, on Lent 5A, our Lent texts climax with the raising of Lazarus. The waters of baptism lead us through death and the grave into the resurrection of the dead.
I have written previously on these texts.
A few years ago I approached this text from a border-crossing perspective. Here is the text of that sermon:
A Border-Crossing Church
We follow a border-crossing Jesus, who calls us to be a border-crossing church.
A border-crossing church is a church that does what Jesus did: breaking through barriers in order to reach out in love to the neighbor across the artificial human borders that we set up to keep others apart – boundaries of race, class, and gender identity, for example. Paul says in Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Barriers of race, class, and gender identity are irrelevant because of Jesus.
In the story of the Good Samaritan, a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What do you think?” Jesus replies. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” “Correct,” Jesus says.
But wanting to justify himself, Luke tells us, the lawyer asks Jesus, “Ah, but who is my neighbor?” Who, precisely now, is it that I must love? Who is in this circle called neighbor?
It’s a great question. Is someone of a different race my neighbor? Is my someone of a different religion my neighbor? Is my neighbor someone who lives next door? How about three houses down? How about in the next neighborhood or across the world?
In true rabbinic fashion, Jesus answers the question with a story. A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho where he is beaten and robbed and left for dead. In time a priest goes by and does nothing, as well as a Levite. All the people who should respond don’t. And then along comes a Samaritan.
Samaritans were Jews in Samaria who had long ago married with other races, clans, and religions. Today some would call them mestizos: half breeds. Jews despised them. They called them dogs. It was forbidden to talk to them, touch them, shake hands, and make eye contact. They were untouchable.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus uses a Samaritan in this story? Jesus intentionally chooses someone he intuitively knows will make his listeners flinch. He knows that for them the term “Good Samaritan” is an oxymoron.
Christian spirituality is not ethereal. It is earthy. God is not found in rising above humanity, but in encountering humanity grounded in human suffering. In Jesus’ spirituality, God is encountered through the least of these.
For Jesus, it is impossible to love God without loving neighbor. They are simply two sides of one and the same coin. John says, “Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God and everyone that is loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love. (I John 4:7-8)
The Lenten Journey
In these 40 days of Lent we hear stories of a border-crossing Jesus.
Lent I: The Temptation of Jesus
After Jesus’ baptism, we are told the Spirit drives him into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by the devil. This is a border-crossing, from the relative comfort of home into the discomfort of the wilderness, from mommy to Satan, from the known into the unknown.
In the wilderness Jesus is tempted to be derailed from his ministry. Not by bad things. Satan does not tempt Jesus to give up good for evil. Jesus is not tempted to commit adultery or genocide. Instead he is tempted with good things, like bread, safety, and authority. We too are tempted every day to be derailed from our ministry, by things that might not be bad, but will distract us from the ministry to which God has called us. We too are tempted every day to choose the comfortable place rather than cross the border into the uncomfortable place into which God is calling us.
Lent II: Nicodemus
Then we hear the story of Nicodemus (John 3), who is told that he must be “born again” or perhaps “reborn from above” in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. The birth canal is another border from womb to world. Being born again is a border crossing we must take every day. As usual Jesus moves from the physical to the spiritual. This is not a physical rebirth but a spiritual one.
Nicodemus, you and I – we are called to leave the womb of his self-centered life and to cross the border into an other-centered, God-centered life. We are called to die to ourselves and rise again in Christ. This too is a border-crossing.
Lent III: Woman at the Well
Next we hear the story of the woman at the well, from John 4. This is a major border-crossing. Jesus sits down next to someone who has three strikes against her: She is a woman, and men are not to speak to women in public in Semitic societies. Jesus is breaking the rules. Second, she is a Samaritan woman. We’ve already talked about the fact that an orthodox Jew is not to speak to a Samaritan. Finally, this woman is a divorcee. A five-time divorcee who is living with her boyfriend. This Jesus who eats with tax collectors, prostitutes, outcasts, and sinners teaches us the church’s calling. Teaches us that the scum of the earth are the salt of the earth. And he calls us to be a border-crossing church! “I will give you water so that you will never thirst again,” Jesus says. But of course he is not speaking of our physical thirst, but our spiritual thirst. This is a thirst that can only be addressed by being “in Christ,” by making Christ’s faith our faith, by following Christ’s way of being in the world.
Lent IV: Healing of the Man Born Blind
In March, we hear the story of the man born blind. In this story, Jesus crosses borders of shame, disease, and disability. In the process he challenges the blindness of the religious leaders of his day to the truth of their own spiritual blindness. This Jesus walks into the face of leprosy and a host of other unnamed diseases, making him unclean. He crosses borders that the world call unsafe, unreasonable, unwise, and invites us to do the same. Many say the early church’s willingness to care for the sick and the poor made Christianity preferable to its pagan counterparts. The Emperor Julian complained to the high priest of Galatia in 362 A.D. that Christian virtues overshadowed pagan virtues. “They care for their own poor, and our as well.” There is great risk in encountering disease. But when the church chooses safety and comfort, it’s message is powerless. When we become a border-crossing church, the power of the gospel changes lives.
Lent V: Raising of Lazarus
Finally, we will hear the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Is not death the final border? Jesus, the Word of God becomes flesh for our sake, crossing the border from divinity into our humanity. Entering into our world, he lived a border-crossing life, showing us the way of justice and peace. Then he took upon himself the full weight of human sin, hatred, violence, and suffering on the cross. Rising again, he crossed the border from this world into eternity. Jesus became Christ. And he promised to come again. On the day when we take our final breath, he promises to come back and carry us across that final border. “In my Father’s house there are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am you may be also.”
This Lenten season, as we make the journey of the cross with Jesus, heed Jesus’ call to take up your cross and follow him. Let us be Christ’s body, his hands and feet in this world. Trusting in the promises of baptism, let us be the church that bursts through barriers of race, class, gender identity, creed, stigma, shame, disease, and disability. Believing in the resurrection of the dead, let us have the courage to walk into the darkness of this world and bring the love of God, the light of Christ, the joy of the Holy Spirit. Amen.