March 12th 2017 – EnjoyLENT, Week 2

Choosing Joy

John 3: 1-17

Call to Worship

For God so loved the world…

That God gave us Jesus, the only Son.  

So that the whole earth would see the glory and splendor of our God. (Isa. 35:2b)

For God so loved the world…

That God gave us Jesus, the only Son.  

So the weak would be made strong and the fearful would be defended. (Isa. 35:4)

For God so loved the world…

That God gave us Jesus, the only Son.  

All grief and groaning flee before him, leaving an overwhelming happiness. (Isa. 35: 10)

Opening Prayer

Holy One, you called your disciples to join you on the way to the cross. Since you first walked that road to Jerusalem, countless million have followed after.  And as we walk this path now, save us from a sense of false familiarity.   Fill us instead with wonder and awe as we follow your footsteps.  May our worship today strengthen this community of Lenten travelers and glorify your name!

Sermon

There was this Professor of Religious Studies at a small Christian college, who taught the required survey course in Christian Discipleship.  And although he tried hard to communicate the essence and beauty of the Gospel to his students, he found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery.  This frustrated him to no end.

Well, one year he had a student named Steve. Steve was a freshman, he was well liked, he had this unfailingly jolly presence to him, and… he also happened to be an imposing physical specimen (shall we say). Steve was the starting center on the school football team.

One day, the Professor asked Steve to stay after class so he could talk with him.

So, after class he asked,”Steve, how many push-ups can you do?”

Steve smiled, and in a rather confident tone he replied, “I do about 200 every night.”

“200? That’s pretty good, Steve,” The Professor said. “Do you think you could do 300?”

Steve’s cocky smile wavered for a moment, “All at once?  I don’t know… I’ve never done 300 at one time.”

“Do you think you could?” The Professor asked again.

“Well… I mean, I could try,” said Steve.

The Professor, with a rather challenging tone, asked again… ”Can you do 300 in sets of 10? I have a class project in mind and I need you to do about 300 push ups in sets of ten for this to work. Can you do it?… Steve, I need you to tell me you can do it.”

With a smile, and a characteristic shrug, Steve finally replied, “Yes, Professor. I can do it.”

On the last day of the semester, Steve got to class early and sat in the front of the room. When class started, the Professor pulled out a big box of donuts. He opened the box, and every one of his students seemed to lean in as they smelled a potential sugar rush…

The Professor walked up to the first desk in the first row (donut box in hand) and asked, “Cynthia, would you like one of these donuts?”

“Yes, please!” Cynthia said.

The Professor then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you please do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?”

“Sure.” Steve jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten.  The Professor then put a donut on Cynthia’s desk.

And he went on to the next person…”Joe, do you want a donut?”

A little surprised, Joe said, “umm…Yes?”

The Professor again turned to Steve, “Steve would you please do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?” Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the first row of students, Steve did ten confident pushups for every person before they got their donut.

And then on down the second row, until the Professor came to Scott.

“Scott would you like a donut?”

Scott’s reply was, “Well, can I do my own pushups? I am perfectly capable of doing them myself.”

But the Professor said, “No, Steve has to do them.”

Then Scott said, “Well, I don’t want one then.”

The Professor shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?” With perfect obedience Steve started to do ten pushups.

“HEY!” Scott said, “I said I didn’t want one!”

The Professor said, “Look, this is my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.” And he put a donut on Scott’s desk.

By this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little, and he just stayed on the floor between sets because it took too much effort to be getting up and down. As the professor started down the third row, the students were beginning to get angry.

The Professor came to Jenny, “Jenny, do you want a donut?”

Sternly, Jenny said, “No.”

“Steve, would you do ten more pushups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?” Steve did ten, Jenny got a donut.

The tone of the room was… uneasy… there were all these uneaten donuts on desks.

In sympathy, the students were all saying “no!” to the Professor’s offer of a donut by this point… and they continued to watched their friend Steve become a red-faced pile of sweat at the front of the classroom.

Now, due to the gravitational attraction between college students and sugar… more students from other classes had wandered over and were lurking in the doorway, some came and sat along the side of the classroom. The professor, of course, noticed this, and he did a quick count and saw that now there were 36 students in the room.  He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it. But still he went on to the next person and the next…

Around the 27th student, Steve asked the Professor, ”Do I have to make my nose touch on each one?”

He thought for a moment, “Well, they’re your pushups. You can do them any way that you want.”

A few moments later, Jason, a recent transfer student, came in and was about to sit in one of the desks by the door… when all the students yelled in one voice, “NO! Don’t come in! Stay out!”

But Steve picked up his head and said, “No, let him come. Give him a donut”

The Professor ask, “Jason, would you like a donut?”

Jason, new to the room and a little oblivious said, “Cool, Free donut! Thanks!”

“Steve, will you please do ten pushups so that Jason can have a donut?”

There was this collective groan throughout the room!

But, Steve did ten pushups…slowly/ with great effort. Jason was handed a donut and sat down.  The Professor finished the fourth row, then started in on those visitors lurking by the door… paying no attention to the protesting shouts behind him!

Steve struggled to lift himself against the force of gravity. But, nevertheless he did all that he could to maintain good form and complete every one.

By the time the Professor reached the final row, the final two students.  The angry/ protesting energy had been sucked out of the room. There was no sound except Steve’s heavy breathing.

“Linda, would you like a doughnut?”

Linda, with her arms crossed in front of her and with tears running down her cheeks… said, “No, thank you. Not like this.”

“Steve, would you please do ten pushups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn’t want?”

Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow pushups for Linda.

“Ben, would you like a donut?”

Pushing at the sting in his eye lest he too cry, Ben said. “Why can’t I help him? Professor, why can’t we do our own?”

“Steve has to do it alone,” He replied.  “I have given him this task; he is in charge of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for a donut whether they want it or not…. When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book. Steve, here is the only student that really seemed to give this course 100%. He clearly studied for the tests, he never skipped class, he always turned in his assignments… Steve told me once that in football practice, when a player messes up he has to do push ups. So, I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes… Now, Steve, would you please do ten pushups so Ben can have a donut?”

Steve, faithfully, obediently, and very slowly finished his last pushup.  Having done 370, his body buckled beneath him/ he fell to the floor.

After a pause, the Professor turned to the room and quoting the Gospel of Luke, he said. “And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.” With the understanding that He had done everything that was asked of him, he yielded up his life. An effort, a gift, for each and everyone of us.”

Two students helped Steve up off the floor and into a chair.  He was exhausted, but still wearing that unfailingly jolly smile.

“Well done, good and faithful servant.“

Children of God, there is a donut laying on all of our desks.

The gift of God’s salvation- the gift of grace.

No cost, no catch.  Just ours.  It might not seem fair.  It might not seem deserved.  But there it is.

Nicodemus, in our Gospel reading today, came to Jesus under the cover of darkness. He came to Jesus in secret bearing a hopeful curiosity.  Yet, not quite able to believe in what was right in front of him.  Nicodemus had an inkling of the truth/ he had glimpses God’s love and glory in this man… but something held him back from embracing what God was doing in his midst.

So, Jesus told him to be “born again.”

Jesus urged him to see, to have the faith of an innocent child.  Unburden by skepticism, not yet jaded by this world.  Believe in him… free of the expectation of others, free of shame, free of all that hold us back and causes us to be hesitant. Be born again, Jesus says.

Again, there is a donut laying on each of our desks… will we ignore it, protest that it is unjust and undeserved?  That that cost was too high?…  Or will we savor it?  Will we respect that it was given in love because (for some amazing reason) God thinks we are worth it?  Will we rejoice?

It’s ours, either way.

“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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

I urge you, as Jesus urged Nicodemus… Choose joy.

Litany of Confession

(From Joyce M. Firth’s poem, “Move,” Says the Spirit)

“Move,” says the Spirit.

“and respond and grow,

leave the past behind you

there’s yet more to know.”

“Move,” says the Spirit.

“and begin to love,

you have worth and value

to the Lord above.”

“Move,” says the Spirit.

“to the rhythm of life,

work for peace and justice

and an end to strife.”

“Move,” says the Spirit.

“be alert and speak.

Give God’s gracious message

to the poor and meek.”

“Move,” says the Spirit.

“at your Lord’s command.

He give strength and power

for the work in hand.”

Lord, for those times when we are stuck and wavering, we ask for your forgiveness.

For those times when we ignore the Spirit’s invitation, we ask for your mercy.

Help us to “move” fearlessly when we hear your call, knowing that you are the source of life and joy.

Amen.

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