How do we begin again?

This last Sunday we heard the Gospel of John, in which Nicodemus creeps out under the stealthy cover of night to ask Jesus questions.  There are so many things I love about this gospel, beginning with one of the most learned men of this time, an expert if you will, seeking further council. I love that Nicodemus, surely an aged member of his community, risks his personal safety and venerated reputation by slinking out under the shroud of darkness to do something that would be considered unheard of. What courage!

I could take the low-hanging fruit and talk about the piece of the gospel that we see plastered all over religious paraphernalia, football player’s faces, cards, tattoos, mugs, clothing, and all things that proudly declare of the wearer, “I am a Christian, and you should be too! God so loved the world!”  Yes, God loves us so much. And yes, Christ was a tremendous sacrifice so that we could live in that love, but so many of us miss what I consider to be the most important piece of this gospel: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.”

We worship and serve a God of love. In this love there is a call to leave sin and live in the saving grace of Christ. Just as we are born again when we are marked and claimed as Christ’s own forever, we are given new beginnings when we simply say, “I confess, I’m sorry and repent. I want to live in amendment to life, and with God’s help, I will.”

Too often we allow ourselves to believe that condemnation and guilt are where we must spend our time of repentance, that stewing in this place is proper “penance.” I posit that this inclination is not put upon us by God. In fact, the definition of penance is that it is voluntarily self-inflicted. If Jesus is not sent to condemn, then why would we take it upon ourselves to do so?  Perhaps this is rather a waste of energy that depletes us from what we are called to do and is an active barrier in forgiving ourselves and living as changed and saved souls.

This is what I love so much about Lent and our theme of seeking simplicity. To Jesus, it really is that simple. He loves us. He saves us from separation from God. It’s through His love and forgiveness we are both motivated and able to make choices that align with what God wants for us.

May we, with God’s help, model this same simplicity in love and grace towards others, and especially ourselves.