Sermon: Lent 2 March 16, 2014
The Good Life: Underserved but Given
John 3:1-17 God so loved the world that he gave his only SonNow there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He 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.”3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]”4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[d]9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.[e] 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”[g]16 For 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
We have been speaking about the Aussie “Good Life” this Lent and how in various ways to varying extent, we all want to live a good life. We all have our dreams, or goals, our values, our ideas about what the good life looks like and should be. We all pursue these things to a lesser or greater degree.
We have been pondering the notion that in Australia, as with all Western democracies in the 21st century, we are living in what seems like a golden age with great medical technology, communication and information capabilities and the like and how this has created what some sociologists call the “Utopian dream”. We know that we are very lucky to be living in the lucky land because we see over the fence that the rest of the world is not living like us and so if anything we are finding that people in our workplaces, families and local community are going harder at trying to acquire the things of the “good life”.
Into this we have been asking what is it to “Have the same mind as Christ…. Who emptied himself and became a servant to the point of death on a cross….” (Phil 2). In the good life, what is the mind of Christ?
I recall the now Treasurer of Australia, the Hon Mr Joe Hockey, while in London giving a speech to the institute of Economic Affairs In April last year giving a name to the recent age we in the Western democracies have been living – “The Age of Entitlement”. He in fact suggested that we in the West and so, in Australia, at least under his government, that we come to the “End of the age of entitlement”.
“Years of warnings have been ignored but the reality can no longer be avoided.
Despite an ageing population and a higher standard of living than that enjoyed by our children, western democracies in particular have been reluctant to wind back universal access to payments and entitlements from the state….
Let me put it to you this way: The Age of Entitlement is over”.
(Hon Joe Hockey, (http://www.joehockey.com/media-files/speeches/ContentPieces/100/download.pdf)
So, Joe used this term in an economic sense and suggested that for economic and political reasons, as well as for the health of democratic nations and democracy itself, there needs to be a winding back of entitlements to millions of citizens in this country. Good luck Joe!
But Hugh Mackay uses this term a little differently to name an attitude that seems to have grown up in the last 25 years in Australia that comes from what we called the Utopian Complex.
Here’s how it goes.
We are in a golden age of technology, communication, transport, food supply and etc in the West.
We are also aware that this golden age or the good life we live is not lived by everyone.
Our response to this is to go harder at trying to live the good life and attain the symbols of the good life we are striving for.
Add to that a general attitude among Aussies that happiness is our default position. We all should be happy all the time and pursue what makes us happy without apology.
“all that everything we do is – perhaps even should be – calculated to maintain a chirpy disposition and a state of perpetual wellbeing” (The Good Life, Mackay chapter 2 page 1)
Then add to that a never ending chorus of advertising telling us that we deserve this, we need this, you can have this stuff. “Life will be good if you have this. You can have a better time of it if you have this. You can be a healthier and happier person if you jump on this wagon” and etc, and we have an irresistible environment of entitlement.
The age of entitlement we speak of is this: I deserve to be happy. The government should make me happy. My husband should make me feel happy. My wife should always make me happy and never challenge me. My pastor should always make me happy. My job should be making me happy….God should make me happy!
Oh dear. Should he? Is our personal happiness God’s highest goal for us?
You have got to give something to the opponents of Jesus. At least they were not focussed on endless feelings of happiness and their own well-being all the time. The Pharisees were certainly not striving for individual rights or freedom or wealth and definitely not viewing the word of God in terms of their own happiness. They had much higher and deeper goals than that.
They were seeking the coming of the promised kingdom of God. They were seeking the presence, enlightenment and blessing of God for a nation. They were seeking the promises of God given in ages past. The problem was that they were seeking these high things by the wrong means, like we do in our way.
They believed that we can have the presence and blessing of God through keeping the law – bring very, very good.
We seem to believe that we can have the presence of God through gaining the symbols of the good life – or, being happy.
But some of Jesus’ earnest opponents heard something new in Jesus and were sparked into action to seek out Jesus – people like Nicodemus.
2 He 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.” Jesus responds, “Nic, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again”
What is Jesus saying to a man who has been seeking the presence of God not only for himself but for his country, his people and the generations before and after?
“Nic, you cannot receive the gift of God’s gracious saving love unless you are re-born into it. You cannot achieve God’s kingdom by the pursuit of moral perfection – by being very, very good. You can only receive God’s grace by being re-born, re-created again, starting again from scratch in God’s new way”.
Feeling happy and gaining the good things of life as you see it will not be long enough, deep enough, complete enough for you to truly live fully as a creature of the Creator.
Same for us as we live in an environment where we are urged and exhorted and even manipulated to seeking the good life. We cannot achieve the wellbeing, the health, the success, the control, the influence, the high ideals we aspire to by merely by trying harder, working longer, paying more, even sacrificing more for our kids.
Seeking all these things for ourselves and even our children is misguided and futile anyway.
People of God,
….the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”[g]
Ah. Hear it? We don’t need the symbols and status and experience of the “good life” as our western democracy defines it. We need God’s life. We need the life of the one who was lifted up on that cross for the forgiveness and hope of the world.
And we have it. It is ours now. We are living in it. You are here because of it and you are invited today to grab it again and receive wit with thanks to the God of love in whose presence we sit now.
Why can you be so confident of this. Why can you leave here knowing you live in much more than the age of entitlement, trusting that you actually not entitled at all to God’s life and hope and love but that you have them anyway? This is why…
16 For 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Who really needs the entitlement that comes from having lots of symbols of the good life now?
Friend, the good life you seek most fully and completely comes from a God who has not got the goal of condemning us but embracing us, giving us everything we really need – things that you cannot earn or buy – things only to be received – holy things, pure things, life-giving things – water and word, bread and wine and word, a gospel word proclaimed, a brother and a sister’s word shared in this community.
The age of entitlement is over. The new age of the new creation begun and continually given by Jesus is now.
Friend, go with him and all of us to dark Gethsemene and watch and wait for his light there.
As Easter morn breaks, the life you seek is there and it is underserved but given.