Opening of the Lenten Parish Mission
March 13 & 14, 2021 at Saint Agnes Church in Naples, FL
2 Chronicles 36, 14-17, 19-23 + Psalm 137+ Ephesians 2, 4-10 + John 3, 14-21
A favorite and frequently recurring theme in John’s Gospel is the struggle between light and darkness. You may remember that Nicodemus first came to Jesus in the night, and as his faith grew stronger, he emerges from the darkness coming to Jesus again in the day for more and more instruction. He is drawn to the light. His experience and the struggle between light and darkness reveals the drama in every Christian’s life. We are all faced with an inescapable choice. We are constantly confronted with choices we cannot evade. We must choose and keep on choosing. Of course, the ultimate choice is to believe. Nicodemus made that choice, and we have too, or we probably would not be in this church. We also know that it is not a choice made once and for all, because time and time again we are tested by tragedies and plagued by doubts.
One of the most often quoted passages from the New Testament leaps out of our readings today. I can’t imagine anyone who has not been to baseball or football game and not seen it. It sometimes shows up on our TV screens when the cameras pan the crowd. Someone will be holding a homemade sign that simply says: John 3: 16. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” While I admire that enthusiastic evangelism, I also suspect that there is a serious misunderstanding about what exactly that “eternal life” means in John’s Gospel. In the language of John’s Gospel that Greek word: Zoe Aionios is not simply unending or posthumous life. This “ion-life” of John is “new life”, life with God that one enters with Christian Baptism. In other words, you don’t have to stop breathing to enter into Zoe Aionios.
I just gave you a preview of what you might experience and learn during the upcoming Parish Mission. I am going to talk about what this new life with God looks like, and what it is we actually become when we come to faith in Jesus Christ. We become Blessed. So, I am going to unfold the Beatitudes with you by paying close attention to the Greek words that Matthew uses in the Sermon on the Mount. Contrary to what many might want to think, his Beatitudes are not glowing prophecies or pious hopes of what shall be. They are exclamations of what is. It is not for some future world postponed either. Beatitude is the state in which a Baptized person has already entered. They proclaim the conditions in which people of the Covenant live. They are not about someone else or about some other time. They are about us. If you want to find out how to be holy? Internalize the Beatitudes. When you recognize someone who is holy, you have recognized the Beatitudes being live. So, that is exactly what I want to explore with you three nights this week: the Beatitudes that can lead us to a holy life just as they led Nicodemus to the light that was Jesus Christ.
The Beatitudes draw a strange and challenging picture of one who is blessed: they are poor and unimpressive, hungry and in mourning, trodden on yet able to make peace. Again, the Beatitudes are about me, now someone else. “Blessed are you” is the way it goes. It does not say “Blessed are those poor.” Nicodemus, a rich young man, and many others come to Jesus wondering what it is they must do to be saved. That question is asked by this world that always thinks you have must earn everything or deserve something because you did something. This is the kind of thinking that Jesus came to confront and challenge. With the God that Jesus reveals, it’s all about grace which is a gift not earned, but freely given. If it’s earned, it is a reward. That’s not grace. We must learn to live in the beauty of this grace and assume the attitude of someone who lives in the state of grace. When we feel ourselves poor, humiliated, desperate and all the rest of it, we will qualify for the label “blessed.” If you want to count yourself among the blessed and discover what it really means, come and join me this week.