THE 2ND SUNDAY IN LENT AD 2023
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.  And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan,  Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.  Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.  From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.  And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?  For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.  For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness."  Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,  just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."
 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.  For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,  as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations"—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him."  Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."  Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"  Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, 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 the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?  Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.  If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
As my son was sworn into the Royal Highland fusiliers this past week I was struck again by the fact that that we have a new King, Charles the third, who will be crowned in a couple of months at the beginning of May. Although King Charles has been waiting to be king for a long time, He didn’t do anything to earn the crown. Kings aren’t made after all, they are born. Kingship is not something you can work really hard to get, it’s a birthright. Rarely, does it have anything to do with how good a king you will be, it’s all about who your parents happen to be it’s all about royal blood. Even a king who comes to the throne without a royal father has to prove he has royalty in his veins.
As Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of night the Lord surprises him by telling him that the Kingdom of God works in a similar way. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Entry into the kingdom happens by birth and only by birth. This was a shocking idea for a Pharisee like Nicodemus. The Pharisees were all about how you lived your life. Good people belonged to the Kingdom. Bad ones were out.
And so he struggles with Jesus’ idea about new birth. If that’s the way to get in, how do you go about doing it? Remember Pharisees were all about doing. And so if being in the kingdom wasn’t about how you lived but a new birth he wants to know how you can be born again. How can a man be born when he is old? Nicodemus quickly realizes being born is the one thing we can’t actually do. Our birth is the one thing that we have nothing to do with, it is completely in the hands of others.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Notice how Jesus doesn’t go on to tell Nicodemus it’s really simple you just have to do A and B. His answer confirms the truth that we can’t decide to be born. Birth is something that happens to us, that is given to us. Birth into the Kingdom of God has to come from the outside not the inside. Birth has to come by water and the Spirit. New birth is a gift of God. No matter how much I may want to be king, think I should be king, I can’t be the king unless I’m born to be king.
As birth comes from the outside, there’s something else that God made to be a part of it. In the beginning God planned that every birth would be a gift of love - even if it is sadly not always the case now in our sin sick world. God’s plan in the beginning nonetheless was that love and new birth would go together. With the Kingdom of God Jesus tells Nicodemus that the same is also true. The new birth into God’s Kingdom is born of God’s love for us that made Him send His Son to be lifted up on the cross to suffer and die for us so that we could have a new life. The new birth we need will be the gift of God’s Son who will give up His own birthright as the King so that we might become royal children.
The Father sent His Son, beloved, to be lifted up on the pole of the cross for you to suffer and die for you, so that you could have a place in the Kingdom, so that you could have His place in the Kingdom. He suffered and died so that you could have a new birth as a Child of God through Holy Baptism. He suffered and died so that you could have a new birth - a royal birth by water and the Spirit into the Kingdom of God. Royal sons and daughters is what the Lord Jesus has made each of you to be, children of the Most High God and heirs of eternal life.
As we gather today the Lord wants to remind you of this truth. He wants to remind you of your birthright. He wants to remind you of who He has made you to be by His rich grace out of His great love. He wants to remind you because He knows what you’ve been through this past week. He knows what trouble and trials you have had to face. He knows the burdens that have weighed you down. He knows what’s gone wrong. He knows what sins you have committed. He knows what you’ve been thinking. He knows what you’ve been saying. He knows what you’ve been doing.
He knows that a lot of that has not made you feel very royal. He knows that some of it has made you feel pretty bad. He knows that some of it has left you in doubt. He knows that some of it has put some real questions in your heart. And so He wants to remind you of the truth through questioning Nicodemus. He wants to bring to mind for you again what life in the kingdom is all about - it’s all about a new birth born out of God’s incredible love. Your life as a child of God depends on God’s grace and on God’s grace alone. You might not have been the God’s best behaved kid this past week. You may have been His worst behaved kid, but you remain a royal child just the same, not because of what you did or didn’t do, but because of your birth - because of your Baptism.
To confirm this truth the Lord Jesus comes to share His flesh and His blood with us. He comes to give Himself to us, so that we would not doubt but believe that because of Him our flesh is truly royal flesh and the blood that flows in our veins truly is royal blood. He comes to renew us in our baptismal life, to renew us in the love that gave us life, to renew us in the forgiveness that made us God’s children, so that we might not doubt but believe that the Lord truly has given us a new birth, a new life and a new home with Him.
The Lord wants to draw your eyes here this morning, beloved, to the Son of God who was lifted up on the cross for you. He wants to draw your eyes away from yourself, from what you have done and haven’t done. He wants you to look to Jesus and to Jesus alone because He is the only one who can save you and truly has saved you, because He did not come into the world to condemn you but that you might be saved through Him. Amen.