The architecture of Saint David's Episcopal Church in San Diego, California, is quite intriguing. From the parking lot, a long, winding path leads to the sanctuary, landscaped with trees and plants indigenous to the Holy Land. Walking through the olive trees and fragrant flowers, the first part of the sanctuary seen is a solid, cracked, unfinished concrete portico extending from the worship space. The stark brokenness of the entry is startling. Even more shocking is the support, or lack thereof; it appears to be held up by two massive concrete pillars, but when one looks closely, the pillars stop two inches below the overhang. It appears that there is nothing supporting the massive, cracked concrete structure. A wary guest recently asked, “Is it structurally sound?”
The answer is yes; it was constructed in full compliance with the state’s building codes. But the architects intentionally designed the real support to be invisible. The entry to that sanctuary represents all people as we come to Christ broken and unfinished, and although we have many visible and tangible supports on our Christian path, such as scripture, worship, the sacraments, and our faith community, that last “two inches” of our Christian journey is built on faith. Faith in things that we cannot see. To follow Christ requires faith.
In today’s reading from Genesis, we hear the story of God’s call to Abram. In this reading we hear God tell Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 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.” And Abram said yes to God. Abram went. And not only did Abram go, but so did his nephew Lot and wife Sarai. Picture how that conversation must have unfolded. One can only imagine the scene as Abram, a senior citizen, informs his elderly wife and nephew of his encounter with God, and that they are all to leave their country and head to the land that God will show them. While we are not privy to the conversation, we see that, in the end, the group must have together discerned that this was a call from God and acted with faith, despite their fear and doubt.
Abram’s response to God’s call teaches to us to have faith when we discern God’s gentle voice in our lives. We are to act with faith and go forward, even when it means embarking on a scary, unchartered course. Is there a new path, a new journey, a new way of being that God is calling you to this morning? Maybe you feel God calling you to a new ministry within your church, or a new vocation, or a new profession or workplace, but you have been afraid for some reason to act. Maybe you are passionate about something that is unjust in the world around you, but you have never been brave enough to be a voice or to act for transformative change. Or maybe there is something that you’ve needed to give up to fully live out God’s call – an addictive behavior, angry reactions, or other destructive behaviors. Lent is the time to both embrace new life and let go of those things that stand in the way of our fully following God’s call. Like Abram, if after careful discernment, our sense of call is affirmed, we are to trust in God and act in faith.
But sometimes it can be hard to hear God’s message. In this morning’s reading we hear the story of the Pharisee Nicodemus, coming to Jesus in the dark of night – a powerful leader who comes to a peripatetic preacher in the darkness of night for illumination. Clearly he senses God in Jesus, yet he seems to have tremendous difficulty hearing and understanding Jesus’ new teachings as their conversation unfolds. Perhaps he is too rooted in the world, and with those things with which he is familiar, to hear Jesus’ radical new message of love that paves the way to eternal life.
As followers of Jesus, are we like Nicodemus? Coming to God from a place of darkness, yet being unable to hear Jesus’ call to new life? Are we, for whatever reason, actually choosing to stay in a place of darkness, hands over our ears like children, chanting, “I can’t hear you,” over and over again?
Fortunately, God continues to call. This morning we hear Jesus illuminate the path to new life once again. In today’s familiar words from the gospel of John, we hear of God’s enormous love for the world, a love so great that the path to eternal life is opened to all. All that is asked of us is to believe. To have faith. Like opening the shutters to the morning sun, Jesus brings light to not only the darkness of our lives, but to the darkness of the world. “For God came not to condemn the world, but to save it.”
Did Nicodemus finally hear Jesus and act with faith? Or did he leave that night, and continue to live in the darkness? We really don’t know. But what we do know is that if we truly seek new life, Jesus has outlined the way. And like Abram, like Nicodemus, we have a choice. We can choose to retreat back to the cave of darkness, or we can hear God’s call and walk toward the light of Christ in faith, trusting that, like the church in San Diego, the broken, cracked overhang of our lives really is supported by unseen structures.