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Four Simple Phrases

The Rev. Laurel Hart, Deacon

Scripture: John 3:14-21



I love that our denomination follows a liturgical calendar with all the beautiful colors representing each season. The fact this gives Rev. Sara a good excuse to go shopping for shoes to match the colors of the church season is one of the added benefits for her. I need this orderly passage from Advent to Christmas then to Epiphany to ground me in my religious practices. Now we have moved into the season of Lent which gives us a special time for repentance and reflection. Then at last the 40 days pass, we get to experience the joy of the new light and the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter. Add in all the various Holy Days and then Ordinary Time which encourages us into time for spiritual reflection and give us the opportunity for the continuing maturing of our faith. The church seasons with our celebration of Christmas in the Winter and Easter in the Spring are truly one of the foundations of my life. I often think of my cousins born and raised in Australia and their sunny Christmas Day at the beach and Easter just as Fall is drawing close. It feels upside down to me – but my life probably feels the same to them.


But there is a season of life many of us here are currently living in and it is - the final season of life. I ask the indulgence of people under age 60 who are in attendance in person or on zoom today. You may not be in the final years of your lives, but I know you have parents, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors who are at this season and maybe there are some reflections here for you also.


This 3rd chapter of John opens with Nicodemus’ visit with Jesus - under cover of dark. Nicodemus is a learned man, and he is puzzled by the teachings, the wonders of Jesus’ ministry and wants clarification. Some scholars think this passage is poking fun at Nicodemus who questions the meaning of being born again literally – “from my mother’s womb again he asks”? But doesn’t Nicodemus represent the confusion that all of us sometimes feel about what various scriptures mean? We are being taught in this text that the son of man does not just offer life; the son of man offers eternal life. We heard in this gospel passage the frequently recited verse 3:16 “God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Sometimes ears and hearts are dampened to this verse - even thinking of it as a cliché. Perhaps these words can be viewed in the light of a call - to join in the creation of an open community in which God's love is regarded not as being in short supply, not just opened only to those who have seen and confess Jesus, but rather as poured out upon the entire world?


I recently had the opportunity to engage separately with two individuals, each who’d received the news that they were nearing the end of their lives due to illness. One of these people told me that they had been “saved” as a youth and considered themselves a lifelong Christian having been a regular church attender. The other person had never been taught much of the Christian story as a child and revealed that as an adult they’d never attended religious services. Yet each individual had basically the same question. Can I be forgiven for my sins? Will I find the gates of heaven opened to me? Do these questions sound familiar to you? I’m not the only person who may have thought after a particularly bad day – will I be forgiven? Don’t we all have questions about life eternal – about what going to heaven might mean? We hear speculation about the pearly gates and the possibilities of streets paved with gold. Many people long for reunion with loved ones who’ve gone on already. I’d sure like to see my mom and dad again. I haven’t met anyone living who can give us a factual report from a person who’s already gone to heaven. Yet unless one of you has been to a séance – anyone who might be able to give us a report, just raise their hand. Sadly, we are left to wonder and speculate.


I love what Yehuda Halevi wrote: “I sought your nearness. With all my heart I called you. And in my going out to meet you, I found you coming toward me, as in the wonders of your might and holy works I saw you.” This verse leaves me with a hopeful vision of finding heaven here on earth when the grace of God meets our hearts of faith.


My mother told me many times that she’d found her heaven on earth with the love of her husband, my father, and with the gift of the children they’d been given. Truly, I want to be part of creating some portion of heaven here on earth, with my family and friends, with this church community and in the world outside those red doors. I believe that having heaven on earth means accepting what is: for me that means letting go of closely following our country’s current political turmoil and leaning into what can be, which is to have faith in what we as a community can be as followers of Christ’s examples. Sara has been teaching us this Lent, presenting the vision of a more loving way of being one with humanity. I’ve heard her use the words AT ONE MENT. This is a reality; we each can be part of creating AT ONE MENT by following Jesus’ teaching to love one another. Heaven can be lived daily here and now when people learn these four simple phrases “Please forgive me – I forgive you – thank you - I love you” and to say them frequently to each other no matter where they might be in the journey of life together.


“Please forgive me – I forgive you – thank you - I love you”. Amen.

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