“What Does It Mean To Choose Life?”

This was the title of the September 23rd sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church by Senior Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen. Below are photographs of the late 19th century and 21st century entrances to the church.

 

 

 

 

 

The Scriptures

Deuteronomy 30: 15-20 (NRSV):

  • “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

John 3: 1-10 (NRSV)

  • “Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 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.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 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?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 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.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”

The Sermon

“If we glide through . . . worship on Sunday morning or evening and never have any qualms or second thoughts or doubts, either we’re not paying attention or we’ve missed the point altogether. Christian faith, when taken seriously, should be difficult. It should be demanding. It should be challenging. This is deep stuff; it matters. . . .”

“We’re all working on something – understanding Jesus or the Holy Spirit or the Trinity, or struggling with personal challenges or systemic injustice. None of us has it all figured out, but we’ve decided to cast our lot with this band of pilgrims called the Christian Church to find our way forward together..  . .”

“Nicodemus, the Pharisee in the story from John’s gospel this morning, is . . . honestly facing his questions about faith. But . . . Nicodemus isn’t willing to air his questions publicly. Instead, he sneaks out to visit Jesus late at night. He doesn’t want to be seen by those who think they have religion all figured out and buttoned down, and for whom Jesus is not relevant. . . .”

“The particular point Nicodemus wants to talk about with Jesus is the teaching that we all must be “born anew,” or “born from above.”

“Just how is that supposed to happen?” the pragmatically-minded Pharisee asks . . .  .“We’ve all been born once; shall we all somehow go back into the womb? . . . “

“Nicodemus brings his questions and asks Jesus to explain faith in a way that makes sense to him, that meets him at his points of doubt. But Jesus looks beyond the immediate questions and tells Nicodemus that faith is not explicable, not empirical, not observable, not something that can be – in our terms – scientifically proven. It’s like trying to control the wind, Jesus says, which blows when and where it will.”

“ Faith is a matter of the Spirit at work in our lives, bringing new life, a second chance, a starting-over, the experience of being born anew, if we embrace it. . . .”

“Faith is a gift given by God that we’re free to receive, or not. It’s the same decision the writer of Deuteronomy describes centuries before this gospel text.”

“’Today,’” God says in Deuteronomy, ‘I have set before you, life and death, blessings and curses.’ This is the deciding point.”

“Choose life.”

“What does it mean to choose life?

“For the writer of Deuteronomy it means deciding, deciding to follow God, to live with others as God would desire, to pursue God’s commandments. Centuries later, that same text is burning in the mind of a lawyer who asks Jesus which of those commandments is the greatest. Jesus responds by saying there really are only two, from which all the others hang: love God and love neighbor. “

Choosing life means choosing to love, deciding to put God and the well-being of others at the very center, practicing generosity and kindness to all, and trusting in a higher purpose, a greater good, an unnamable source of light beyond us.”

“Choosing life is not only an individual decision. It’s the choice of the community of faith to love God, together, and to love neighbor, together.”

“Nicodemus the Pharisee went to Jesus under cover of darkness, trying to find his way home to a God who would love him so fiercely, so completely, so unconditionally, that his life could begin again. Born anew. Turned around and starting over.”

“He trusted that Jesus could lead him on that path. What, or who, do we trust like that?”

“In the 19th century in Denmark Søren Kierkegaard argued with those who insisted on a strictly rational approach to life that rejected the notion of any source beyond observable reality. He used the phrase – now commonly known – leap of faith to name what we take when we choose to trust God. We span the perceived gap between human reason and faith in a God we can never fully know. . . .”

“But you’ve learned something valuable about Christian faith along the way, something each of us would do well to remember: faith is a gift – the wind blowing – our response is what matters. What do we decide? What do we choose? . . .”

“Together we have chosen life.”

Reflections

I too continue to work on understanding Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Trinity, personal challenges and systemic injustice. I have not figured it all out, but have decided to cast my lot with this band of pilgrims at Westminster to find my and our way forward.

I concur that faith is not explicable, not empirical, not observable, not scientifically provable. instead it is a matter of the Spirit working in our lives, bringing new life, a second chance, a starting over.

This sermon provided another answer to the question, “What Is Jesus for Us Today?” that was posed in the sermon on September 9.

Therefore, everyone is faced with an opportunity to choose life, deciding to follow God, to live with others as God desires, by loving God and neighbor.

 

 

 

 

 

Published by

dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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