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.

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