4th Sunday of Lent
Deacon Tom Vert
Preached: March 14, 2021
“Help me Lord to get into the zone!”
Now I am sure that most of us have heard of this concept of being “in the zone”.
In sports it is the athlete who is in the zone and everything seems to click.
Golfers talk about when they are putting on the green that the hole seems the size of a bucket and they can see the path along the grass so easily.
Basketball players say that during a free throw they only see the basket and it is huge and the rhythm of the throw is so easy it goes in every time.
And for hockey players, I remember one goalie who was in the zone in the playoffs described the hockey puck was as large as a volleyball and he could see it coming “from miles away”.
This concept of being “in the zone” is one I think we are all familiar with and is in some ways I would argue what Christ is talking about to Nicodemus, and to us, in the gospel today.
Jesus says to Nicodemus one of the most famous lines of the gospel “For 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.”
Now traditionally, we interpret the words “eternal life” as our next life in heaven. We think Jesus is telling us that if we believe than we get to go to heaven as our reward.
But is this really what Jesus is telling Nicodemus and us?
As is the case many times in the scriptures, the translation of the Greek words here are not as good in English.
The Greek word used is “aionios” which means everlasting, it means never ending, but the word is in the present tense also, not just after our death.
It means the unending presence of God, now and in the future, as we live with God side by side each day as our companion.
This really changes the impact in our lives as it means that we can experience, be in His presence, or we can be “in the zone” with God each and every day right here and right now!
Being in the spiritual zone with God is not only possible, but it is promised.
And I think we all know this don’t we?
There are times in our lives if we look back that we feel God’s presence and closeness in a special way, and we know in our hearts that He is there.
This may be on a retreat weekend when we have shut out the outside world and can feel a special nearness in those moments, but it is also in the hustle and bustle of live isn’t it?
Sometimes we may be feeling a bit lonely or down, and suddenly a friend or relative calls or drops by and says, “for some reason I was thinking of you”? And God’s presence is felt!
We could wake up one morning and say, I really feel the need to bake for this person, or to make a lasagna for that friend. And when we drop it off it creates so much joy…and God’s presence is felt.
Josie Lombardi who teaches some of our seminarians in Toronto had this to say this week about coincidences and God’s presence: “Doing God’s will means doing the right thing at the right time and in the right way.”
I would say that she is right and when we do this, we are in the spiritual zone!
When you have love in your heart and are taking care of an elderly mother of father, you are in the zone.
When you have compassion and sit with a child to help with homework after online classes that can be hard to interpret, you are in the zone.
When you take the vaccine, despite being skeptical because you know that it will make our society and neighbours safer, you are in the zone.
However, if you are like me, then sometimes we aren’t in the zone. Sometimes we are tired, we are disconnected, we are self-reliant, and we can’t feel God’s presence in our lives.
Sometimes we are like the Israelites in the first reading who don’t even realize how far they have strayed until they are in Babylon singing the psalm today of how far they feel from God.
It is very natural to feel this way, and the important thing is to recognize it as soon as possible so we can return to the Father.
We know from the 2nd reading of what was written to the Ephesians and to us that God is rich in mercy…and we are brought close to him by His grace and His love as a gift of God. It is not something we earn but a love we accept.
And so how do we get back into the zone when we have fallen away? When we have lost our way after one week, or one month, or one year or even many years?
We follow Christ’s example when he also needed strength. How many times do we hear in the New Testament “Jesus went off to pray” or “after he was praying”?
Prayer is the tool that God has given us to open our hearts, turn to Him once again in humility and ask to be brought back into His arms.
Like the prodigal son story, the Father is already running to us with open arms as soon as we turn our heads and move toward Him.
I have learned as you probably already know, that when I am self-reliant it is easier to move off the path, but with a strong prayer life, and knowing that God is breaking down the barriers for us, is making every hill low and every valley straight, we can be confident to hear His message and mission for us.
So, this week, I ask you to do this…in one of your prayers to God, in the silence of your heart say these eight words “Help me Lord to get into the zone!”