Lent 2 2017 ~ Changing from Tomb to Womb

March 12 2017
Readings: Genesis 12:1-41 – Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 – John 3:1-17

How we think about things, how we understand them, is important because it determines the way we respond.  If we think a situation is hopeless then we tend to climb aboard the ship of despair and sail down that river.  But that helps no one.  As people of faith, we are called to look for the hope and new life that God can bring out of the darkest places.

Valerie Kaur is a Sikh lawyer, journalist, film maker and a civil rights activist.  She recently made a passionate speech at an inter-faith gathering, addressing the current situation in the U.S. and the fear and anxiety within minority groups. (Against Racism. YouTube (Trinath Rao Gundavaram), March 2017).

What struck me was the image she used to help folks reframe what’s happening – and bring hope into the situation. Valerie suggested that people think of this dark time in history not as a tomb, which implies the death of something, but as a womb that holds the potential for new life.

That simple reframing from tomb to womb helps people get off the boat of despair and begin to work together, to breathe, labour, then push new life into our world.  It is an image that is especially meaningful for us as we approach Easter, when we are reminded that God is always at work turning tombs into wombs for new life.

God brings life for all the Jews, Christians and Muslims in the world, through a man named Abraham. At 75 years of age, Abraham feels the magnetic pull of a God beyond his imagination calling him out of the security of his ordinary life into the promise of something new and more meaningful.  With nothing more than his faith, Abraham leaves behind the security of being part of a relatively wealthy family to follow this unknown God into the wilderness, with the hope of being blessed with land and offspring and the task of being a blessing to the world.

By the time Nicodemus roles around, the Israelites have had a long history and lots of adventure with this God of Abraham. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus is well versed in his faith history, the law and the prophets.  As a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council, he enjoys a fairly privileged life. Then along comes this man, Jesus, who doesn’t quite seem to fit the mould of prophet or priest or conventional rabbi; who seems intent on upsetting the apple cart. Yet Nicodemus sees something in Jesus that he just knows is of God. Having so much to lose, Nicodemus comes to talk with Jesus in the cover of night. And they a have a fascinating and confusing conversation.

As human beings, more than 80 % of our communication is non-verbal.  We pick up the message not so much from people’s words but from their tone and body language. Words on a page or screen are disembodied language, so we tend to project our own feelings into the story and react or respond from there.  So when we read the verbal exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus – some folks think its an angry exchange, that Jesus is annoyed with Nicodemus – then we allow the message to take on a judgemental, exclusive tone. But if we take into account what we know about Jewish humour and dialogue, it completely changes the way we read the passage. Then it becomes a friendly, good humoured kind of challenging and teasing exchange between two Jewish men.

When it comes to this passage and the idea of being ‘born again’, as one person put it this week, we are continually in the process of being reborn – over and over again – as we continue to adapt, evolve, be transformed into a more mature understanding of life, of God and our relationship with God and each other.

Not everyone is like Abraham, called to leave everything behind and go to an unknown land.  Most of us have more in common with Nicodemus and are challenged to make room  for growth and development in what we think we know.

Just as the civil rights movement in the U.S. is struggling to respond to this time in their history, Western Christianity is struggling to adapt to life in the 21st century. Some folks think that the Christian church is dying but if we know anything about our faith history, we know that that is not the way of God. Christianity was born out of Judaism and we have already survived at least one reformation and been the better for it.  And neither Judaism nor Roman Catholicism died as a result but went through their own re-formation.

The really good news is that the Spirit blows where it wills. And there is nothing we can do to stop or contain it.  So, if we can just resist getting on the boat of despair during times of change and allow ourselves to reframe our understanding – to move from tomb to womb – maybe we can even get excited about being a part of the birthing of a new way forward.

Our story doesn’t end with the crucifixion. We are people of the resurrection and we trust God to bring forth new life – even as we walk together into the unknown. This is the never-ending story of our faith in God and the way of Jesus the Christ.  It really is In God we trust.

Pat Martin +