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Worth the Risk

A Life Worth Living - Sermon #01 - Worth the Risk

Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • April 23, 2017 • Donnell Wyche, Senior Pastor

 

Is the Risk Worth the Benefit - Upset the equilibrium - Oops!

I bribe my kids to behave and cooperate with my requests, I mean, my demands. “Clean this up, put away your toys, stop bickering, and I will give you a reward or surprise,” I offer.

 

Initially this worked like a charm, the kids were excited to get a reward, they cooperated and complied. Parenting, check.

 

Then my 5 year old figured out that the reward wasn’t always worth the effort, which started the questions,

 

“What kind of surprise?”

“Is it something I can eat?”

“Is it sweet?”

“Are you giving it to just me or do I have to share it?”

 

You get the picture.

 

As you come towards my five-year old you may assume (correctly) that he was doing, what we would call, “a basic cost-benefit analysis,” asking the question, “Is the unknown reward really worth the task?” We all make choices and are faced with thousands of decisions both small and significant. How do you want your eggs? Cream or sugar in coffee? Do you want a car wash with your gas? Having to process all of these choices can be overwhelming, it can fill us with what the existentialist philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard calls, “the anxiety of freedom.” The anxiety that is produced by freedom has two possible outcomes, fear or creativity.

 

In the garden, Eve succumbs to the “fear side” of freedom. She trades trust for fear. In spite of being provided for by God, she’s uncertain about the future, instead of placing this fear, uncertainty, and doubt before God, Eve accepts the false report of the serpent. This is where we enter the story of the first humans because just like Eve, we have fear, uncertainty, and doubt and just like Eve, we refuse to place our fears before God. This refusal often results in our attempting to “go it alone.”

 

The serpent tempts Eve (and us) by suggesting that Eve doesn’t need God.

“You can do better.”

“You don’t need God, you can become God. Just eat from the tree that God commanded you not to eat from.”

 

The serpent casts God as petty. “God is so petty. God is threatened by you. God wants you to be dependent, not independent.”

 

This is the sin of self-actualization and self-autonomy, the sin of thinking and believing that we don’t need God. I become my “best self” when I do it on my own. Yet, that’s not the way that God designed it. God said imitate me in every way, except one, “Don’t try to be me.” Be you. Be you in relationship with me. Be you dependent on me. But don’t try to be me. Draw life from me, which requires us to become dependent on God for life.

 

Dependency is risky.

 

Because we all want a sure thing. (Analyzing the Discrepancy Ugh!)

 

1Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night. (John 3:1-2)

 

Jesus and Nicodemus meet under the cover of darkness. There’s something about the assumed protection of the darkness that allows us to be a little more daring, to take a few more chances, all because we falsely believe that the cover of darkness will protect us.

 

And here’s Nicodemus walking quietly through the streets to where Jesus is staying. He is hoping nobody recognizes him. Just like Eve in the Garden, Nicodemus is afraid. He has a lot to risk, but unlike Eve, he takes a step forward, albeit at night. To be seen publicly with Jesus would unhinge everything that Nicodemus had built, everything he worked for. His life, his prestige, his power and status would unravel. Nicodemus was a law-abiding Jew, but he was drawing his life not from God, but from who he was.

 

Jesus reveals what God is like. I love that Jesus engages Nicodemus right where he is. Make no mistake, Jesus will challenge Nicodemus, but first Jesus welcomes him and his questions.

 

2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2)

You Have to Be Born Again - Disclosing the Clue to Resolution - Aha!

Jesus replies.

 

3Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” (John 3:2-3)

 

On the surface, it seems like Jesus is just being Jesus. He seems to be talking in riddles. He’s not making any sense. Nicodemus is a grown man. What could Jesus be talking about? What does it mean to be born again?

 

4“How can anyone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4)

 

As American Christians, we have picked up on this phrase, “You must be born again.” and we use it as we try to package the Gospel. We tell people that they need to be born again, and honestly, I don’t think we really know what we are talking about.

 

Nicodemus certainly didn’t. Nicodemus had no idea what Jesus was talking about.

 

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? (John 3:10)

 

Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to experience the fullness of the kingdom of God, he has to draw life from God and God alone. His observance of the Law (the Torah) is not enough. Theologians and scholars have noted Nicodemus and the religious leaders of his day would have compared salvation to climbing a ladder, every act of obedience allowed you to climb a rung getting you closer to God. But there was a way to climb the salvation ladder that allowed you ignore the point of the Law. Take what Jesus says in Matthew 23 for example:

 

23“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:23–24)

 

The Teachers and Pharisees were so committed to tithing that they tithed on their spices, but they missed the larger point of the law, God’s heart for justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Nicodemus was one of the most righteous, upstanding, law-abiding people in the nation, and yet Jesus tells him that is not enough. “Nicodemus, you have be born again. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve accomplished. It doesn’t matter if you are a teacher, politician or spiritual leader. To enter eternal life, you have to be born again.”

 

Let me break this down for you.

 

Jesus is inviting Nicodemus and any other would-be follower to trust God for life.

 

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:2-3)

 

The invitation to be born again is a metaphor. We do not get a new mind or body. Many of us do not get a new set of parents or siblings. We will not get a new job or move to new a city when we decide to trust Jesus with our lives. And we certainly do not lose our cultural identity. We are transformed  step by step, action by action, surrender by surrender, as we offer ourselves as living sacrifices.

 

Back to Kierkegaard for a moment, he says that we won’t discover who we are until we fully commit. This is implicit in Jesus’s invitation to Nicodemus, commit by trusting me (Jesus) to reveal God to you. Put another way, we can read about love all we want, but we won’t really know love until we are loved or commit to loving someone. Jesus says, “God loves you so much that you can trust him with your life.”

 

16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

 

“Get off of your salvation ladder,” Jesus says. Instead of giving Nicodemus another ladder to climb, Jesus offers himself.

 

6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)

 

Nicodemus, instead of climbing a ladder to reach God, God is already here. God is being revealed in me. I’m here to show you the way, will you let me guide you? If so, start by discovering and trusting the deep and rich love of God, by freely giving up your agenda, plans, and your life. When you are able to live within this love, it fuels everything, including loving your neighbor as yourself. Learning how to develop empathy for others because you have been love, frees you to love. This allows you to develop self-awareness. This allows you to see yourself soberly, as someone who needed to be loved. Someone who is worthy of love. All of this allows us to see our lives as a time to grow and develop into the person that Jesus wants us to be, which will be actualized in the age to come, in the Kingdom of God. Jesus says, when you fail, which will you, do not be afraid. God still love you. Even more so, God has delighted to give you the kingdom. Admit your wrongs, your missing of the mark, your sins and repent, make amends where necessary and seek forgiveness aways. When you are wronged or hurt, don’t seek revenge, instead work to forgive, as you have been forgiven. Trust in God, seek humility, and be faithful.

 

This is what I think Jesus means when he says, you must be born again.

How does this happen? Through prayer both private and corporate. Sharing our lives with others, the confession of joy and our sins. Engaging the scripture through study, whether active regular reading of scripture or passive (listening to teaching and preaching) to better understand the call that Jesus places on us. Service and interaction with people facing challenges, so we can help them, and so we can also see our own lives in a more appropriate light.

 

Take a Step Towards God - Anticipating the Consequences - Yeah!

Both Nicodemus and Adam & Eve were afraid that God would not take care of them. In response, Adam and Eve took what did not belong to them, which resulted in them moving away from God. Nicodemus responded too, but he took a step towards God. Jesus challenged Nicodemus’ assumptions about himself, it is not enough to just observe the law, you have to let it renovate your heart and transform the way you live. You have to become who you were intended to be, an image bearer. You have to be born again. Church, I want what God wants for us, for us to come alive and live as resurrected people who are surrendering our fears.

 

15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:15-18)

 

James K. A. Smith, the author of Desiring the Kingdom says that we, humans, are desiring beings. We are what we love. I want us to love God so much that we trust God with our lives, our futures, our jobs, our agendas, our children, our partners, our success and our failures. I want us to be perfected in love.

 

Would you stand with me?

Would you open your hands a sign of your consent of God’s presence in this space?

 

Would you be willing to take a moment and surrender whatever fear you are carrying with you this morning?

 

And ask Jesus to forgive you, to heal you, and to lead you into trusting God more today?

 

Let’s take a moment and invite the Holy Spirit to reveal to us where we need to surrender, repent, and turn our back on fear and trust Jesus for life?

 

Over the next several weeks, we will consider together, “A Life Worth Living.”

 

And ask Jesus to forgive you, to heal you, and to lead you into trusting God more today?

 

Let’s take a moment and invite the Holy Spirit to reveal to us where we need to surrender, repent, and turn our back on fear and trust Jesus for life?

 

Over the next several weeks, we will consider together, “A Life Worth Living.”

 
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