Genesis 12:1-4a/ Psalm 121/ John 3:1-17
Pilgrims of God’s Reign
Journey as a Metaphor
Today’s keyword is “journey.” We use the word ‘journey’ in both literal and metaphorical senses. We often speak of life as a journey. Throughout my life, I have been to a lot of different places, both literally and metaphorically. When I look back at my life so far, it was full of drama, both good and hard, and I recognize that God was always with me. When I was a student pastor in New Jersey, I learned an activity from my church’s youth group. We used to share how our week has been, identifying the high and low points of the week and where God was in both places. I learned to recognize how God has been present in my life through good times and bad. I believe I stopped complaining to God ever since I started recognizing God’s constant presence in my life. Life is a journey with or without physical travelling involved.
Abram (Abraham)’s Journey
We read about Abram receiving God’s call to move to a land prepared for him and his descendants. We learned about it during our story time. He was old and the idea of hitting the road at his age, especially without airplanes or cars, would have been scary. The promise of a good future gave him hope and anticipation on top of the fear. He obeyed with faith and hope. In Romans chapter 4 that we didn’t read today, Paul explains Abraham’s faith. What he received from God was by faith. The fear of obeying God, or not wanting to do it, is something relatable to us. Abraham set on a journey of faith and hope, which is what we are called to do in our life as Christians, and during the Season of Lent.
God’s Protection on the Journey
Today’s psalm is called “a song of ascents.” Jewish scholars generally believe this psalm to be about the Jewish pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem, which was their duty. Then this psalm is a song/ prayer of a Jewish pilgrim on their way to Jerusalem or on their way back. During the pilgrimage, the pilgrim praises God for being the source of help and protection. “God will not let your foot stumble. The One who protects Israel will not slumber or sleep. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. God will protect you from all evil. God will protect your going and coming, now and forever.” Recognizing God’s constant protection is the source of our faith. Our goal is to be able to sing and pray like this psalm.
What It Means to be Born Again
Today’s gospel reading must be traditional Christians’ favorite part of the Bible as they love quoting John 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.” A lot of Christians love quoting this verse, but it may not mean what they think it means. In this scene, Jesus meets a Pharisee called Nicodemus who comes to see him at night. He had to come at night because, as a Jewish scholar, he shouldn’t be seen talking to a “lowly” traveling preacher.
Jesus says that one cannot see the kingdom of God without being born from above and explains what that means. Being born again is a phrase that Christians love using, but a lot of them understand it as a fast and easy solution to go to heaven when one dies. They think that believing in Jesus as their personal saviour will give them access to eternal happiness in heaven. If one spends all their life doing bad deeds but repent on their deathbed and receives Jesus Christ in their heart, they will go to heaven; believe it or not, I have been taught this somewhere in my childhood. Now let’s take a look at what Jesus says in John chapter 3.
Verse 5 says, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit.” The key word here is “spirit.” Being baptized or professing our faith in Jesus Christ is not enough if we are not transformed and renewed by God’s Spirit. Those who are transformed by the Spirit don’t use bigoted and judgmental language or hurt others. They don’t satisfy their greed while not caring about the suffering of others.
The point of John 3:16 is actually in verse 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.” It is not our job to judge and condemn others. If we see Christians who judge and hate minorities, we will know that the Spirit of God is not in them. It is not our job to judge. Our only job as God’s people is to love one another and speak out against injustice that cause people to suffer.
Our Lenten Journey
The Season of Lent has started again and we embark on another spiritual journey closer to God. Our journey is to become more like Jesus, to have the heart of Jesus. We do whatever it takes for our spiritual renewal: praying, fasting, being involved in works of charity or activism. All these activities that I mentioned are for our spiritual training. However you spend Lent to get closer to God, the important thing to remember is that our goal is to be more like Jesus.
Jesus came to save the world, and our job is to love others as Jesus did, as God loves us. We are spiritual travelers. We are pilgrims who belong in God’s reign that is defined by compassionate love and justice. Let us keep our eyes on the teachings of Jesus as we journey through this season. Let us pray to be more like Jesus. Let us pray to be lovers and fighters for justice.