Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

March 5, 2023

Texts: Genesis 12:1-4a; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

They say that curiosity killed the cat. But is it true? Cats are curious, but they’re also smart and cautious around new things. Curiosity may have killed the cat. But who are “they” that are so certain about the cat’s curiosity? Was the cat’s demise was due to something, or someone, else?

As it turns out, we need not fear for the cat’s safety. There’s more to the story. In 1912 a newspaper, the Titusville Herald, printed an original proverb. Only part of it is remembered now. The whole thing said, “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.”

So, curiously, (may we say) this quote which some may even consider an aphorism, is not a dire warning about the dangers of curiosity for cats, or for humans for that matter. Instead, it says quite the opposite. If curiosity about something is just killing you, go after it! There’s something about curiosity satisfied that gives us life!

Well, this is certainly a good thing. And for what it’s worth, our scripture texts today would seem to be saying something similar. It comes down to this: wondering is a good, healthy thing.

Genesis 13 is a story of human migration. A band of people left Ur, in the lower basin of Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. They may have been part of a significant shift of human population that occurred around the second millennium B.C.

A man named Terah left with his son Abram, daughter-in-law Sarai, and grandson Lot. After a length of time in Haran Terah died. Abram and Sarai packed up and departed with all their possession and “the persons whom they had acquired in Haran.” (Genesis 12:5)

Who are the people who leave their homelands and all that is familiar and loved? It may be a matter of desperation; because of violence, or famine, or need of a better future. Who wouldn’t take themselves and their children out of harm’s way out of such hope, no matter what the cost?

Some people, sadly, are compelled to relocate. We can only hope that those “acquired” by Abram and Sarai had some choice in the matter. We can only pray that this was not evidence of enslavement and human exploitation. Raising the issue is simply being willing to acknowledge that even revered ancestors in our spiritual narrative may have taken advantage of other people.

But part of the impetus for wandering, is also wondering and curiosity. Among creatures, among primates in particular, humans have a remarkably extended period of development before maturation. Children exhaust parents with curiosity about anything and everything. It is human to wonder. What is at the top of the hill or over the horizon just beyond sight? How can things be different? Why are things this way?

In Genesis 12:1 God spoke to Abram for the first time. The text does not reveal how Abram knew God. But he listened to God’s directive: Go…from country, kindred, and paternal house. Abram didn’t question God. But that doesn’t mean that he and Sarai too, didn’t wonder. A lot.

Who knows what went on behind closed tent flaps! All we know is that they left there and spent many lively years wandering. And what unfolded in their wandering and wondering with God was that they, along with their children and “acquired persons”, came to have abundant life.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans today, the apostle argues passionately that being righteous in God’s sight is not a matter of keeping the commandments with dull exactitude. Trusting and believing in God’s love and care first, gives us the freedom and confidence to be curious about God’s law. So we can approach the law with lively faith wondering what is at the heart of the law, and how it may be kept in ways that lead to life rather than death.

In Romans 7:6 Paul wrote, “But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.” Through faith we produce God’s good – which in turn makes people curious to know the Spirit that is in us. What more could God want than to become known in this way? Paul’s example of such faith was Abram and Sarai. It is the difference between dead faith and lively faith.

It was in lively faith that Nicodemus approached Jesus. The Pharisee was consumed by curiosity about Jesus. He had questions, and came by night to see the teacher, which may mean he was concerned about being seen associating with a person of questionable status. It could also be an inference that Nicodemus was still “in the dark” about Jesus.

Nicodemus had observed Jesus doing “signs” which would include changing water into a large quantity of fine wine at a wedding and overturning the moneychanger’s tables at the temple. He suggested Jesus was “from God” which sounds like flattery. But it left open the question of how, exactly, that might be. In what way was Jesus authorized by God to do these things?

Jesus responded, “No one can see the reign of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus was confused but still curious. This led to a conversation about being a mortal child, and being a child of God’s Spirit. One leads inevitably to death, the other to eternal life.

Jesus invited Nicodemus to let his heart, mind and spirit wander and wonder with God. It’s something that we also are challenged to do. God’s people thrive through curiosity and questions, trust and hope.

Where to start? Prayer of course! And fearlessly exploring new things. People are talking about a book called “I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times” by Monica Guzman. It could be worth a look.

Because faith should lead us into new things. Closed minds are the enemy of faith, fearing rather than trusting. Let’s go with Nicodemus on this. Let’s get out of the shadow of fear to wander and wonder more faithfully. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat. Jesus did not come to condemn.

Nicodemus’s faith would continue to be challenged. But he kept faith with Jesus. John’s gospel tells us that Nicodemus boldly showed up to help when Joseph of Arimathea claimed the crucified body of Jesus from Pilate. They anointed and wrapped the body of Jesus and placed it in the tomb. And then, a very curious and satisfying thing happened three days later.