March 16, 2014: Afraid to be seen with

Posted on : Mar 13th, 2014 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

I have to admit, one of the things I love about being a member of the United Church of Christ is that I am no longer embarrassed about being a Christian.

I remember one time dating a guy who was a P.K.  That’s an abbreviation for “preacher’s kid.”  This guy’s father was a minister in the Pentecostal “Assemblies of God” Church.  At one of our early “meet and greets” he explained to me in great detail the horror of growing up gay with an A.G. (Assemblies of God) pastor as his father.  Pentecostals are known for speaking in tongues and very spirit-filled worship.  They are “on fire for the Lord.”  My friend and his Dad had very spirit-filled fights, spoken in harsh tongues, and managed to totally burn any relationship they had.  For years they never even spoke to each other.  My friend’s anger, hurt and hate for the church was still outrageously intense.

So, after telling his horror story – which is not uncommon among gay folk – he turned to me and said, “So what does the Presbyterian Church think about gays?”  I always hated that question because what the Presbyterian Church said about gays and what our church, which at the time was a Presbyterian Church, said were quite opposite.  But hoping this conversation was not to be the last date we ever had, I gave the Presbyterians as much grace as I could possibly muster.

A few days later he called me and said, “I want to get together again.”  I was delighted and a few days later we met up for dinner.  As soon as I sat down, he exploded in anger and rage.  He said, “I went on the Presbyterian Church’s website and read their stuff and it is exactly the same hateful stuff as the A.G.’s (Assembly of God).

I was stunned, and for a moment speechless.  I finally said, “Are you sure?  The Presbyterian Church is much more liberal than the Assemblies of God.”  He reached in his pocket and pulled out a comparison of the two denomination’s policy statements.  Even I was aghast!  They were almost identical.  I tried to explain in every way I could, that West Hollywood Presbyterian Church was not “like that.”  It didn’t work.  The evening didn’t end well.  Soon we were as estranged as he and his father.

I know from shared conversations with so, so many of you, that it is just plain difficult to tell your friends that you are a Christian, especially in secular Los Angeles.  As soon as you say you’re Christian people look at you like you’re a hate monger or a judgmental jerk.

Personally, I am so thankful to be able to say that I am Christian, and I and my Church believe in the progressive values of Jesus including the inclusion of all people, the equality of women and men, that seeking justice and loving Jesus go together, and all those good things.  But it is still hard in secular Los Angeles to dare to say that you are anything more than “Spiritual but not religious.”

Nicodemus, whose story we will explore this Sunday, had the same issues.  He was an ultra-conservative Jew, a member of the Sanhedrin, (the supreme Jewish judicial, ecclesiastical, and administrative council in ancient Jerusalem before A.D. 70, having 71 members from the nobility and presided over by the high priest), but he also saw something he really wanted and needed in this radical rabbi, Jesus.  His story is really the story of so many of us.  He loved the ideals and values of Jesus.  He loved everything he stood for.  But…he didn’t want to be seen with Jesus.

Nicodemus and Jesus have a life-changing conversation.  In fact the words that Jesus shared with Nicodemus are among the most loved and well-known in all of Christianity:  “God so loved the world that God gave God’s Only Begotten Child, that whoever believes in the Christ may not die, but have eternal life.  For God sent Jesus into the world, not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved.”  (John 3: 16-17)

But Nicodemus still had to decide whether to “friend” Jesus.  Are you afraid to be recognized, to be identified, as a Christian in our secular world? If so, Nicodemus has something helpful for you to ponder.

Lenten Blessings,

Dan

~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

John 3: 1-17

Nicodemus inquires of Jesus about the transformation of his life.

A certain Pharisee named Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, came to Jesus at night.  “Rabbi,” he said, “we know you’re a teacher come from God, for no one can perform the signs and wonders you do, unless by the power of God.”

Jesus gave Nicodemus this answer:

The truth of the matter is, unless one is born from above, one cannot see the kindom of God.”

Nicodemus said, “How can an adult be born a second time?  I can’t go back into my mother’s womb to be born again!”

Jesus replied:

“The Truth is, no one can enter God’s kindom without being born of water and the Spirit.  What is born of the flesh is flesh; what is born of the Spirit is Spirit.  So don’t be surprised when I tell you that you must be born from above.  The wind blows where it will.  You hear the sound it makes, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be possible?” asked Nicodemus.

Jesus replied, “You’re a teacher of Israel, and you still don’t understand these matters? “The truth of the matter is, we’re talking about what we know;

we’re testifying about what we’ve seen –

yet you don’t accept our testimony.

If you don’t believe when I tell you about earthly things, how will you believe when I tell you about heavenly things?

No one has gone up to heaven except the One who came down from heaven – the Chosen one.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Chosen One must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in the Christ might have eternal life.

Yes, God so loved the world that God gave God’s Only Begotten Child, that whoever believes in the Christ may not die, but have eternal life.  For God sent Jesus into the world, not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved.

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