Sunday, March 30, 2014

“Damn if You Do, Damn if You Don’t” (John 9:1-41)

One of the great frustrations I have in life is being doubted.  I once borrowed the family station wagon when I was in high school so that a group of us friends could go to a movie.  As was the usual procedure, my father gave me the strict lecture about responsibility and not doing anything stupid . . . like going out and hot rodding, or drinking and driving.  The usual lecture that made me feel like Charlie Brown listening to his teacher . . . yada, yada, yada.   In one ear and out the other.

So the adventure began.  I picked up my friends—who all happened to be members of our church’s youth group—and proceeded to the movie theater.  After the movie we headed out for some pizza before heading home.  So far there was no hot rodding . . . no drinking and driving . . . and, then a flat tire.  The tire just suddenly went . . . whop, whop, whop.  Three of us hopped out, changed the tire, and threw the flat into the back.  I dropped every off and headed home. 

The house was dark when I got home, so I went straight to bed.  A couple of hours later my father barged into my bedroom demanding to know what in the world I was doing the evening before . . . was I out there hot rodding around in the family station wagon (Now, you tell me, how much hot rodding can one do in a station wagon?) . . . had I been partying, drinking, and then driving?  In my drowsy state I said, “No.  Just got a flat tire.”  He did not believe me.  He was sure that I had done something.  I told him to call my friends . . . he just laughed and said something about a collaborative story.  Nothing I said . . . nothing I produced . . . could change his mind.  He was certain that I had been up to no good.  Even twenty-five years after the fact he still believed I had done something he told me not to do. 

Damn if you do, damn if you don’t.
I cannot think of anyone who enjoys being doubted . . . enjoys being questioned when telling the truth . . . likes being called a liar . . . being told that they are wrong when they are clearly in the right.  No one! 
Which brings us to our scripture reading this morning . . . Jesus healing a man who had been blind since birth.  As Jesus and his disciples are walking along they encounter a man who is obviously blind.  The disciples pose a question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  That is a fairly legitimate question considering the mindset of the times . . . the mindset that calamity, disability, and even hardships were caused by sin . . . sin either by the person or the relatives of the person.  The disciples had inquiring minds and they wanted to know, is this man’s blindness due to his own sin or the sins of his parents?
Jesus answers them bluntly . . . neither.  Then he proceeds to spit on the ground, make some mud, smear it on the man’s eyes, and tell him to go and wash the mud away.  The man does as he is told and suddenly he can see.  Filled with great joy at being able to see, he heads home.  His neighbors don’t believe it . . . it must be someone else, but the guy insists that it is him and he can see.  He tells them the whole story . . . every detail . . . and, he tells them that it was Jesus who did it.  He tells them that it was an act of God . . . a miracle.  They don’t buy it.
Because they don’t believe the man, they haul him before the local Pharisees to get down to the facts.  Again, he tells the story . . . word for word what he has told his neighbors.  The Pharisees don’t believe him . . . tell him that it could not be because no person—especially a holy person—would do such an act as this on the Sabbath.  They don’t buy it.  They demand that the man’s parents come and prove that this is their son . . . the son who had been blind since birth.
The parents come.  They vouch that this is their son.  They do not quite understand what is going on, but they tell the Pharisees and all those gathered that this is their son.  Then they state that he is of age and can speak for himself—ask him if you don’t believe us.  And so, the man was brought back before the Pharisees again, questioned again, and stood by his story.  He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know.  One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see!”
From there is turned into a mess.  The Pharisees started calling the man all sorts of names.  They started putting down Jesus.  They lectured the man about his affront to their senses . . . told him, how dare he lecture them since he was a sinner.  Then they threw him out.
Tell me . . . is this not a good example of:  “damn if you do, damn if you don’t”?
Frustrating, isn’t it?  Frustrating when you know . . . when you know deep down in the deepest reach of your soul that you are right and telling the truth . . . and, no one believes you.  We encounter this in our daily lives, and we encounter this in our spiritual lives . . . people who doubt the truth that guides our lives . . . and, it is frustrating.  Nothing we present, nothing that we say, will sway the doubters to believe us or believe that we are saying.
Yet, we are called to carry on. 
Imagine how that man must have felt after sharing the greatest thing in the world happening to him . . . gaining his sight after a lifetime of blindness . . . and no one wanting to believe him.  Imagine how that man must have felt when his own parents, not wanting to rock the boat, basically abandon him to fend for himself.  Imagine how that man must have felt after being grilled by the neighbors and the local religious police, being ridiculed and insulted, and then throw out into the streets.  I do not know about you, but if it had been me, I would have been pretty low.
And, he was . . . but, the story didn’t end there.  Jesus caught wind of what had happened to the man, and came to visit the man.  The two of them talked . . . Jesus confirms him, and the man affirms his belief.  The man is on the right track whether anyone else believes him or not . . . Jesus believes in him.  Overhearing the conversation, a couple of Pharisees do not care for what Jesus is inferring about those who think that theirs is the only way.  They ask Jesus whether or not he is referring to them as being “blind”.  Basically he tells them that if the shoe fits . . . wear it.
We are called to carry on.
The season of Lent is a time of exploration of our spiritual lives.  It is a time of delving into understanding who it is that God created us to be.  It is a time of intimacy in the presence of God and discerning what claim . . . what promise . . . what call God has placed upon our lives.  It is a time of standing before the truth, accepting it, and living it.  And, as we all eventually discover . . . it is a time of frustration as we embrace this gift and share it with others.  We hear questions.  We hear doubts.  We hear ridicule.  We hear laughter.  We hear denial.  No one believes us when we share that we are going to live our lives as God has called us to live them. 
The result?  The honest result?  Is that we begin to doubt . . . doubt ourselves . . . doubt our call . . . doubt our God.  With such doubt it is difficult to carry on.  Then suddenly we find ourselves in that nexus between “damn if you do, damn if you don’t”.  That, too, is a part of the adventure of Lent . . .
Well, I can assure you that I never lied to my father whether he believed me or not.  I cannot change the truth and if he went to his grave believing that I had done something I shouldn’t have done that night to cause a flat tire . . . well, that is his issue to grapple with.  In the meantime, I carried on the best that I could through life.
Same goes for the man who received his sight after a lifetime of blindness.  He experienced the truth . . . he shared the truth . . . and, if no one believed him; well, that is their problem.  The question Jesus raises is who is really the blind in the story.  That is an issue that they must grapple with.  All the man could do is to carry on with what was God’s call upon his life.
That is all that any of us can do . . . we carry on.  Sure, it is no fun being doubted . . . no fun being stuck between the rock and the hard place of “damn if you do, damn if you don’t” . . . but, that is what Jesus wants us to do.  Here in the season of Lent we have this opportunity to step before those who doubt us . . . to step before ourselves with our own doubts . . . and to affirm God’s call upon our lives . . . to carry on.
Jesus asked the man, “Do you believe?”
The man responded that, yes, he believed.
Then carry on.  Amen.

Friday, March 28, 2014

"If Christ Asks Us to Love Him" (John 4:5-42)

Have you noticed that there is a new grocery store across the street to our north?  It’s called Luckys.  According to the newspaper it’s doing quite well---especially the meat department.  Luckys is best known for its bacon.  Yes, you heard me correctly, its bacon.

It’s not just any bacon.  It’s nitrate-free bacon.   That’s good news for persons who love the flavor of bacon because nitrates have been linked to cancer and migraine headaches.  Now you can have your bacon and eat it, too—in moderation.

I wish there was the same good news for chicken Mc Nuggets because I LOVE them—and the new habanera ranch sauce offered on the side. I am a trusting individual, and a visual individual, and when I see a picture of a chicken nugget I assume that it’s a piece of fried chicken.  However, when I dug a little deeper I discovered that there’s a lot of stuff going on in a chicken nugget and it’s NOT chicken.  Did you know, for example, that a McDonald's Chicken McNugget is 56% corn?

What else is in a McDonald's Chicken McNugget? Besides corn, and to a lesser extent, chicken, there are also thirty-eight ingredients that make up a chicken nugget  including two chemicals used to make silly putty.  These two ingredients stop the oil from rising to the surface of the chicken nugget, and they also cause disturbing physical symptoms including nausea and ringing in the ears.

As disheartening as it is sometimes to discover that our food supply is either contaminated, or even false, what worse is to keep eating food that deprives us of the minerals and vitamins and proteins to keep our body healthy OR to continue to ingest toxins, right?  Because what’s at stake?  It is our physical body and our over-all well being. 

As a human being, I understand that when it comes to my well-being that something else is at stake OTHER than my physical body and that something is relationships.  Not only are we physical beings, we are also social beings.  Tips to social health are a little more difficult to find than guidelines for maintaining my body, but they are around. 

My mother was a Dear Abby and a Dear Ann Landers fan.  These two newspaper columnists—twin sisters to be exact—took on the difficult questions of real persons such as “I suspect my spouse is having an affair, what should I do” and “My niece’s children are so disrespectful of my house when I invite the family over, and I’m tempted to quit inviting her.  However, if I don’t invite my niece and her children, my sister won’t come.  What should I do?”  Relationships with family and neighbors MATTER, and we’re often challenged by what’s in front of us.

Over the years I’ve turned to personality indicators to understand human relationships.  Some of my friends have turned to counselors.  How do you address the social you—the YOU that longs for a few significant relationships in your life in order to feel like the day is worth getting up for?  What’s at stake?  It is human interaction and our over-all well being.

Some years ago a pediatrician taught me that a good metaphor for the human being is that of a three legged stool, with the goal being balance.   All three legs equal in length.  I’ve named two of the three legs; physical and social.  Do you know what the third leg is?  The third leg is SOUL, or our spiritual leg.

Soul is a lot trickier to define but we’ve got to try because the soul is the topic of conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well.  We will get to that in a minute.

In his book CARE OF THE SOUL, author Thomas Moore writes, “Tradition teaches that soul lies midway between understanding and unconsciousness, and that its instrument is neither the mind nor the body, but imagination.  “Soul is not a thing, but a quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves.  It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance.”

Let’s consider some examples of soul this morning.  Some years ago I was at the National Art Gallery in Washington, DC.  Every time I rounded a corner there was another glorious painting; Monet, Manet, Renoir, and Picasso.  Just last year I was at the Yellowstone Art Museum.  Every time I rounded a corner there was another lovely sculpture or evocative painting—and even a Monet! Since I have an art background I could have, if I had wanted to, focused on the technique or the history of the art, but I did not.  Instead the use of color and the scene or objects in front of me elicited a response from within—and I was overcome by their beauty—the wonder, you see, of it all.

I sometimes experience the same thing at a Mustang game.  Sure, there’s the physical experience of the game—especially the need for dinner and an iced tea.  And there’s also the social element—I look around to see if I know someone one so we can catch up.  But eventually the whole experience of the game of baseball—the players, the stats, the hand-squeezed lemonade, the persons cheering—hits me at a deeper level and I am simply amazed by the miracle of the game; the BIG picture of a simple night at the ballpark.  

I often will ponder, “Who or what is this that is so amazed?”   Who is the “I” behind the eye?
Some years ago when I was grieving, when life had lost all of its flavor and the sunrise and the sunset held not joy for me, I dared to share how I felt with a friend.  “Oh,” she said, “You’ve been cut.”  What an interesting comment.  If you had looked at my face, or my arm, or my leg, you would not have detected that anything was wrong—no blood, you know.  What she was talking about was my soul—that “thing” on the inside--my soul had been injured.  After that conversation I started saying to people, “My soul hurts” instead of “my heart hurts.”  My physical heart was still intact.  Something much, much deeper was not.

When our physical body needs care, we go to a spa, or a physician, or even a nutritionist.

When our relationships need care, we go to workshop on personality types, and to marriage encounter weekends, and to counselors.

But when our soul needs care, where do we go?

In our scripture lesson today Jesus tells the woman fetching physical water at the well of Jacob, her ancestor, that in JESUS she meets the source of her spiritual sustenance.

Oh the conversation starts innocently enough.  Jesus is physically thirsty and approaches the Samaritan woman for a cup of cool water.  Obviously he doesn’t have any money.  The woman is curious because Jews and Samaritans are more inclined to express disdain for one another than kindness--citing religious differences.

But we already know that Jesus doesn’t buy into the world’s disdain for one another along any lines—gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and so on.  Jesus DOESN’T discriminate.  He stays in character here in this story.
However, as the woman stays on the subject of the physical world as she knows it, the one where people are physically thirsty and physically married (sometimes more than once) and socially ostracized and socially organized as religious people who seek physical places to experience Divine Life such as a synagogue or a mountain—Jesus begins to draw her in on the subject of what she really needs as a spiritual person; a person with SOUL.

And what does she need? She needs a living friendship with our living God, the “living spring within” says Jesus, “pure Spirit.”  “Take the water I give,” Jesus says to her.  What Jesus is doing is inviting the woman to accept his friendship; his leadership.  Jesus is inviting the woman to love him.  It’s the most important invitation she will ever have.

It’s obvious to Jesus that the woman’s physical experiences haven’t delivered what she’s really thirsty for—someone who knows her which also means someone who can help her with her REAL strength and weaknesses and not simply the ones she THINKS she has; someone who loves her enough to not give up on her; someone who has her best interest at the core of their very being.  The other day I saw a coffee mug for clergy women.  It said, “Does this pulpit make my butt look big?”  Women are known to ask, “Does this dress make me look fat?”  A real friend would tell me the truth no matter what.  Jesus is like that.  He’ll let you in on a lot things you’d rather forget, such as your hard-headedness, and an imbalance between the rational you and the emotional you—and the number and quality of your relationships.  The goal is to give you life.

A mountain can’t do this and neither can a temple.

A marriage can’t do this.

A cup of water from a physical well can’t do this.

However, the source of our life CAN and DOES.

“Give God your undivided, un-distracted attention,” Jesus says to the woman, “Your whole self in devotion and you will, in turn, be whole or spiritually reconciled, or spiritually well.”

 In his book The Desert In The City, author Carlo Carretto tells the story about how he redirected his energy as a religious person from the HEAD, or knowledge, to the SOUL, or intimacy with God.

“I put a chair in a quiet place, and a Bible,” he says, “and sat there, listening, a little bit in the morning and a little bit in the evening.” Carretto was listening for the God he loved him spirit to spirit—the God who has his best interest at heart.

So often we think it is in God’s best interest that we spend time with God—which is what Jesus invites the woman to do. “That’s not true,” writes Carretto, “It is in our best interest to love God.”
I liken the experience of the living God to Mother Goose’s nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty”—we have one great fall after another, and God keeps putting us back together again.

Just like blueberries, real blueberries, release wonderful vitamins and minerals to the bloodstream, contributing to longevetity in the body…

Just like time with a counselor helps us sort through the traps in our relationships, contributing to meaningful friendships…

So does friendship with God expressed in a variety of ways, especially silence, and loving what God loves, contribute to peace and tenderness in the soul.  The goal, remember, is three even legs…

Did you notice the woman at the well left her water jug behind?  Why do you think that is?  Could it be because everything she needed to be spiritually healthy was on the inside?

Let us pray:  Loving God, if we have neglected our spiritual self, teach us again the joy of being creative—of observing, of moving paint across a canvas or capturing pattern on Instagram, of sitting quietly in your company, of celebrating the miracle of a baseball game.  Our souls are thirsty for your Divine Life within us.  Let us taste your holiness on the inside!  Amen. 

(This sermon is from the Reverend Dana Keener of Central Christian Church, Billings, Montana.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

“The Cup and the Waterfall” (John 4:5-42)

Fill my cup, Lord;
I lift it up Lord;
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.
Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more.
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Reverend Richard Blanchard’s classic gospel song, “Fill My Cup, Lord”.    The year that he published the song it became the number one gospel song in America knocking off another favorite “How Great Thou Art”, and it would sit on the top for the next twenty years.  Even today it is still one of favorites of many people.  What is it about this song that resonates to people?  Is it the tune?  Is it the lyrics?  What makes so many people love this song despite it being “over the hill” by today’s generation?

I imagine that it is a combination of those things.  Yet, on the other hand, I think that all of those things thrown together capture the essence of the spiritual journey.  The Reverend Blanchard captured in music and words what many of us feel . . . what many of us long for . . . we want to be spiritually filled to the point that we no longer yearn to be filled . . . that we are satisfied in who we are, in whose we are, and that we are one with the God who loves us.  Every so often someone comes along and captures the mood of the people across all generations . . . even today’s generation.
So, let us say “happy birthday” to this classic gospel song, but let us also admit that it still speaks to us and expresses what many of those seeking God still feel . . . that longing for relationship with the Holy.

Our scripture reading this morning is quite simple.  Jesus and the disciples come to a Samaritan town called Sychar . . . they are in the land of their adversaries . . . and, it is an uncomfortable situation as they are hungry and there is no food to eat.  So, beside a well—known as Jacob’s Well—Jesus rests and sends the disciples into town for food.  Shortly after they leave a woman approaches the well for water.  Jesus asks her for a drink, and the woman is appalled at the request.

The woman is appalled for several reasons.  First is the reason that Jesus is a stranger addressing her to do something for him . . . this is not proper etiquette.  The second reason is that she is a Samaritan and Jesus is a Jew . . . these two groups are not on the best of speaking terms with one another . . . they are despised by each other.  Again, Jesus does not display the best etiquette.  Third, Jesus gets a little personal with the woman as they converse back and forth with one another.  She is surprised that he knows such intimate details about her life . . . surprised and a little embarrassed because it has not been the most upright life so far.

The bantering between goes on . . . and, it centers on water . . . living water.  Jesus speaks of living water . . . a water to quench the soul . . . to satisfy the heart . . . to throw open the gift of eternity.  The woman wants this water . . . we all want this water.  In chorus with the woman at the well we plea to God:

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more–
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!

Yeah, don’t we all wish!

Wouldn’t it be nice if it were so easy as lifting up a cup, allowing God to fill it up, and life would be wonderful?  Yet, if we have eyes to see--as Jesus says, we know that this longing runs deep within all of our hearts and souls.  So what is it that is keeping us from having our cups filled to the overflowing love and grace of God?  What is it that keeps us from this eternal bliss that Jesus is offering the woman at the well?  My answer . . . well, my answer would be that it is us . . . we are.  We are the barrier that is keeping us from this “living water”.
Life is pretty busy.  I think everyone here this morning would agree with that statement . . . life is pretty busy.  We rush to and fro all of the time.  It feels like there is not enough time in the day to do all that we have to do . . . and, it keeps piling up . . . thus we rush to and fro all of the time.

Life is difficult.  That is a fact of life . . . life is difficult.  The problem with most of us is that we do not want to admit that life is difficult, but it is.  Author M. Scott Peck, in his book The Road Less Traveled, states that life would get easier for people if they could just accept the fact that life is difficult.  All of us can attest to the fact that life is difficult.

Life is busy and it is difficult.  These two and others keep us distracted with actually living life.  Author and Pastor John Killinger tells of the time that he came to this realization while on a business trip.  Flying home from business he was traversing across a dreary airport on a cold and snowy day.  The weather was depressing . . . having to hurriedly get to the gate for his next flight . . . he did what everyone else was doing . . . he put his head down, avoided eye contact, and moved rapidly to his destination while mumbling and grumbling about his situation.

Walking down the airport corridor he suddenly heard a loud shout. “Way to go, God!”  Startled and caught off guard, he stopped in his footsteps, and looked around hoping to find the source of this exclamation.  Then he heard it again . . . “Way to go, God!”  Then he saw her . . . a little elderly woman being pushed in a wheel chair by an airport attendant.  Then he looked out the widow behind the lady and he saw the sun busting through the clouds lighting up the sky in glorious colors . . . it was beautiful.  And there he stood . . . in awe.  He thought to himself, “Me . . . a minister almost missed the presence of God because I was too caught up in the busyness of life to look up and see it.  It took a little old lady to show me the light of

From that experience a book was born, The Cup and the Waterfall.  In this book Killinger writes that God’s love and grace . . . God’s desire to be connected to God’s creation and children . . . is like a waterfall . . . an abundant waterfall.  It flows and crashes with living water.  And, it is there for the taking.  He also writes that God gives us a cup through Jesus in which we can receive this living water . . . all we have to do is to dip the cup into the crashing water and fill it up.  It is that simple he writes . . . but, he also writes that few us take advantage of this opportunity.
We are too busy.  Life is too difficult.  We forget.  We try other things.  We get lost.  We get frustrated.  We quit.  We just do not use our cups to fill ourselves with the living water.  Some us cup our hands over it to keep the water out.  Others of us only allow a little of the water to come in.  Some of us just throw the cup away because we can do it on our own.  But the fact is, if the cup isn’t getting filled up it is not God’s fault, but our own.

Think about it.

We are now well into the journey of Lent.  In our journey we have been confronted with the story of the woman at the well.  We have been confronted with the notion that the water . . . the living water . . . is there for the taking, but that it is up to use to dip our cups in, scoop it up, and drink deeply of its love and grace to satisfy the deep spiritual longing we all have within ourselves.  It is up to us.

Again, our journey through the season of Lent confronts us with more work to do . . . to determine what it is that is keeping us to fully use the cup Jesus has given us for the living water.  Is it because we are too busy?  Is it because life is difficult?  Is it for any number of reasons we can come up with?  And, what are we going to do about it?  What are we going to do about it so that we may quench our spiritual thirst and become whole?  As always, those are only questions that we can answer as individuals . . . an integral part of Lent.

To close I want you to consider this when thinking about how much you utilize your cup on your spiritual journey: Each Sunday morning we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  On the table there sits trays of juice representing the blood of Jesus sacrificed for us to give us life.  On the table sits a loaf of bread . . . bread that represents Jesus’ broken body for us to give us life.  These elements will be passed among us and we will partake of them.  I am always surprised when the elements are returned to the table . . . not so much the cups as they are set up for individuals, but with the bread.  Rarely is there much of the bread taken in celebration of this life-giving gift that Jesus gives us.  The bread is gingerly pinched here and there . . . why isn’t anyone ripping into that bread taking huge chunks of this gift of life to fill themselves?

The waterfall of living water flows?  The cup is in our hands . . . how will we use the cup?  Will we thrust it deeply into the flowing water allowing it to fill up and overflow . . . or will we cover it and allow the water to trickle in?  Only we—as individuals—can answer that question. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

“Born . . . Again and Again and Again” (John 3:1-17)

Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again.  To be born again is an impossibility in the mind of Nicodemus . . . how can a full-grown man enter climb back into his mother’s womb and be born again . . . and, what woman would ever agree to such silliness.  But, Jesus said, “You must be born again.”  Being a “literalist” sure makes life interesting and difficult . . . ask Nicodemus as he is contemplating how in the world he is going to be born again.

Of course most of us know that Jesus is not talking literally here, he is talking metaphorically.  There is no second physical birth to be had . . . no, Jesus is speaking a spiritual birth.  A second physical birth is impossible, but a second spiritual birth is quite possible . . . in fact, I would venture out and say that it can happen again and again and again.

Nicodemus was not your ordinary Pharisee . . . he had a sense of wonderment and curiosity . . . he had an inquiring mind that was open to possibilities.  When Jesus began making waves across the countryside with his miracles and teaching . . . gaining bigger and bigger crowds of followers, Nicodemus did not jump in step with the other Pharisees declaring Jesus a threat.  No, Nicodemus wondered . . . he wondered what this Jesus guy was all about . . . wondered whether or not there might be something holy happening . . . wondering whether or not, just maybe, this Jesus was the Messiah the prophets had talked about.  He wanted to know, but not enough to put himself in jeopardy with the other Pharisees; so he comes to Jesus directly during the darkness of night.  He wants the scoop straight from Jesus . . . and, Jesus tells him, “You have to be born again.”
For literalists and concrete thinkers such statements are crazy . . . but, Jesus is right . . . especially when it comes to the spiritual life . . . you must be born again.  As a young person, I never thought I would ever change . . . I thought I would always stay the same in my actions, thoughts, faith . . . in everything that made me . . . well, me.  Now, getting on up there in age, looking back with perfect 20/20 vision, I am amazed at how much I have changed in the course of my lifetime.  I have been born again and again and again. 
For example, let me explain about preaching.  Like a lot of preachers I use the lectionary to do my sermons.  The lectionary is a three-year cycle of scripture readings that cover each Sunday during that time span.  Every three years it repeats itself.  Thus in the length of my time of being a preacher I have gone through this lectionary cycle approximately eleven times.  That means that I have preached on most of these scripture readings at least eleven times.  Being a person who saves things . . . including sermons . . . I can safely tell you that the sermon you are hearing this morning has never been preached before . . . and, that it is a far different approach to this passage than it was ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago.  Why?  Because I am not the person I was then . . . I have grown . . . I have changed . . . I have been born again and again and again.
We all have.
In speaking with many of you over the years, I have been told repeatedly that none of you are where you were on the day that you made your confession of faith, were baptized, and accepted Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.  And, I have heard many of you also say, “Thank God!”  None of us might have thought of our spiritual growth as being a new birth . . . or being born again; yet, isn’t that exactly what has taken place?  We are a new creation.
This is what Jesus is wanting Nicodemus to understand.  Faith is not a stagnant concrete thing that never changes . . . faith is a living, breathing, constantly changing thing . . . constantly being born as a new creation over and over again.  Central to this change is the Spirit . . . the Spirit that moves us, challenges us, prods us, encourages us, and changes us.  God wants us to grow in our faith and in our relationships with God and one another . . . it is the Spirit that helps us do this.  And, Jesus wants this for Nicodemus . . . wants it for everyone.
From the individual grows the community.  Individuals drive the community to be what it is . . . and, if the individual changes, grows, and is born again . . . shouldn’t the community also?  This is the underlying factor that Jesus doesn’t speak directly to, but he alludes to when he speaks of being born again.  As much as the individual needs to change, so does the community of faith.  Nicodemus, though an individual in this story, also represents the community of faith as a Pharisee.  Not only does Nicodemus need to be born again, but so does the body of believers—the church—that he represents.
I truly believe that this is so.  The church that I was ordained as a minister to serve in is not the church that exists now despite how hard it fights against being born again.  The church is changing and I am not talking about the gimmicky stuff like contemporary worship services and coffee in the pews.  The church is changing from an inward sanctuary for the faithful to a presence in the lives of the community in which it exists.  Instead of waiting for the people to come to the door, the church is going out into the world, standing among the people where they are, and sharing the Good News of Jesus . . . letting people know that they are not alone in their struggles . . . that God is with them where they are.  The church is being born again . . . whether we like it or not.
We should not kid ourselves into thinking that this is the first time that the church has been born again.  Was the church not born again with those who followed Jesus in his life time and in the ensuing years?  Was the church not born again when ol’ Martin Luther nailed his demands upon the church’s door?  Even in our own history as a denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been born again and again and again.  We should not be surprised that the church is in major labor pains today . . . the Spirit is moving, a new birth is coming.
As it is with us as individuals, so it is with our churches.  When the Spirit moves us to grow and be born again as individuals, it is also prodding the church to do likewise.  During the journey through the season of Lent, we need to consider this birthing process as individual followers of Jesus and as a church . . . what does it mean to be born again?  And, again?  And, again?  Jesus calls us to life . . . ever-changing life with God.  Every day is a new day . . . may we grow with each gift of new life.  Amen.