I speak to you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Amen
Are you Born Again?
When were you Born Again?
Have you ever faced these questions?
What was the situation, when you were asked either of these questions?
Is it part of the Christian language that you speak and understand… or does it bring up images and situations that are uncomfortable to you?
Born Again Christians…. or Fundamentalists… or Orthodox
These are terms that carry with them a lot of baggage
Maybe more south of the border, but still, here in Canada, these terms carry with them a certain understanding
They have been used in some pretty awful ways, often-times to sort out groups
They can be a short hand for a certain kind of religious fervour
And can be a used by some as a way of determining who is in… and who is out, of their ‘real’ Christian group
“Are you born again” – can be code for “are you saved, like us”
It can also be derogatory, used in a way to describe a certain type of Christian
- Possibly, are you ‘crazy like them?’
Fundamentalist and Orthodox – were once positive terms for many, now shares with ‘born again’ many of the same challenges
At its core a fundamentalist is about taking value of the foundational beliefs – the fundamentals - how could that be understood as anything but good pedagogy? A good approach to learning
And Orthodox means ‘right beliefs’ – isn’t that the goal of all disciples (students) of Jesus?
The first thing that I need to do is to muck out the stall, clear the air of stereotypes – in order for Gospel reading to be heard anew today – and believe me, it is a fresh, new and challenging word for the Church of any era
I would like to start out by saying that “I am Born Again Christian….
And I believe that all of us are too” - But I will get to that in time
Secondly, I often find myself very uncomfortable when I am in the company of ‘Born Again Christians’
I remember three years ago while on vacation in Florida and enjoying the hot tub, one person started in on the ‘born again’ talk
It certainly cleared out the place, including myself and Jackson
What is it about the term “born again” that brings up such strong feelings?
Well, thirty to forty years ago, there was a movement in the church which could only be described as charismatic, the work of the Holy Spirit, it was a fresh wind of the spirit and a great blessing to the church
It got people engaged and excited about their faith, and as always happens when someone is excited about something, whatever that may be, they share it with others
In church language we call this ‘evangelism’
The thing about this new work of the Spirit in the church was that there became a greater understanding that we, each of us, are only a prayer away from God
There was a shedding of the long established institutional ways of the church – and a growing awareness of the individual’s immediate and personal connection to God
People experienced God in spiritual ways that were deeply intimate and exciting
Preachers, also moved by the Holy Spirit told testimonials of their own lives, and encouraged and called on others to witness and share their experiences of when God came into their lives in a different way, than felt before
This deeply personal and experiential moment was new – it was a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit
Since from the beginning of time people need to name things in order to better understand and relate to others
And planting this experience in a biblical understanding – as all Good Christians are aped to do, it was easy to look to Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus as a perfect fit
Jesus answered [Nicodemus], "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)
It is, as I said, a perfect fit for those that have experienced this work of the Holy Spirit in their lives in this new and profound way
Many people can tell you of the time in there life – to the exact date, when they accepted Jesus in their life and became a ‘born again Christian’
For them, they likely prayed a prayer and Holy Spirit worked a miracle in their life
They were transformed spiritually from what they were… TO a follower of Christ
And I, for one, am glad that they are
This notion of being ‘born anew’ or ‘born from above’ or ‘born again’, completely falls into place with the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus
And in fact through-out the whole of the New Testament and Old Testament, there are a multitude of other examples, more than I can hope to count,
Whereby Jesus or other writers speak of God working something new in us
The prophet Jeremiah in chapter 31 speaks of a new covenant that will be written on our hearts.
And St. Paul succinctly writes in Galatians 6 “the new creation is everything”
So it is understandable and in fact, using a poker term, it is the table stakes for the game, it is simply just part of what it means to be a Christian
To be a Christian means to be striving for the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven
To transform our homes, our workplace, our culture… everything… to something new spiritually than what the world has to offer
And that is why I say that I am a ‘Born again Christian… and why if you are a Christian – there is only one type and that you all are ‘born again’
Jesus doesn’t leave us any other options
5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ (John 3:5-7)
Jesus says “do not be astonished… but many scholars will tell you that through-out this exchange Jesus speaks with a great deal of humour and does so to help cushion what He is declaring
Humour is needed because Jesus knows that what He is saying to Nicodemus… and to us… is very astonishing
It is a new fresh wind of the Holy Spirit and it is astonishing each and every time
So I hope that the stall is mucked out a bit better now…
For me this is one of the great encounters of the Bible. It has deep and essential things to teach us about ourselves and about the way God deals with us
And just as an aside it is the single longest conversation between Jesus and another in the entire Bible – therefore an exchange well worth paying attention to.
If any character from the Bible can be regarded as representative of twenty-first century western world church members, it might be Nicodemus.
In many ways he is a sympathetic character. A successful and self confident man, he plays a leadership role in his community. He is spiritually open and curious, yet also rational.
He approaches Jesus directly and tries to figure out Jesus’ actions and social networks.
He is committed and curious enough that he makes an appointment to talk with Jesus face to face.
However, Nicodemus is not ready to go public with his interest in Jesus,
So he makes an appointment in the middle of the night,
When he can keep his faith secret,
Separate from the rest of his life.
His imagination is caught by Jesus, but he wants to compartmentalize whatever faith he has.
Nicodemus is not ready to declare his faith in the light of day, not prepared to let it change his life.
Nicodemus is a leader, a member of the ruling body of his country, the Sanhedrin.
He carries great responsibility. He has a brilliant mind. And he has resources to live very well.
He has every reason for being very secure and he wields considerable power.
Yet for all this, we know that there is something else powerful in his life. He has been awaken to a new understanding, in the teachings of Jesus and he wants to satisfy his curiosity
Now every one that would come to Nicodemus would likely have been nervous in the presence of his great power. But it is Nicodemus that comes to Jesus and he begins by first treating Jesus as he has been used to being treated, with respect and honour
But Jesus is not nervous as others are and it would likely have been startling for this leading Pharisee to realize that this rabbi was not in the least ill at ease.
Jesus is direct and honest and immediately challenges Nicodemus’ main tenet in his concept of religion
Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
This seems like utter silliness and contradicts the notion of studying ‘the law and the prophets’ and growing in God’s grace
The rabbi does not flinch from Nicodemus’ dismissal of the image He has offered.
There is no apology, instead Jesus requires this brilliant bureaucrat to consider things he has always avoided
Jesus challenges him to go deep down in the waters from which he came and discover elements in himself he has never allowed to come to birth.
All of us would be wise to sit for periods in Nicodemus’ chair at this moment in his life. – And in fact that might be the single best thing to focus on at this period in our Lenten journey
He knows that this is what he s being asked to do, and he does not like the prospect in the least. So he lashes out verbally.
Again Jesus presses him. This time Jesus offers a different metaphor for the way God impinges on the soul
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. (John 3:8)
The last words are hard on Nicodemus, because it is his business above all to know, to understand, to analyze, to explain, and thus to direct and to control.
This time, for some reason, he does not lash out
He has been gripped by something that he does not understand, but something that his intelligence and experience and instinct know to be true and powerful and significant
He realizes that he has been lead to see in a new way
Beyond human nature, beyond human experience and beyond his well entrenched religious ways
He has not journeyed here before
One can imagine from his lack of response that he is captivated by this new teaching
And that he might be wondering How can these things be???
Nicodemus enters into the picture, a powerful leader in so many ways, sure of his place in the world
Yet this encounter with Jesus transforms him
At what moment this new Nicodemus is born, we do not know.
But we do know that when our Lord’s Body was taken from the cross, it was with Nicodemus’ arms – It was Nicodemus that our Lord was brought from ‘the place of the skull’, Golgotha, a place where only the worst criminals were put to death… and brought into a new tomb, an honourable burial place
Nicodemus might have started out as the very model of 21st century western cultural church person
With life well secure – with power and influence
Where cultural norms push religion into the private sphere, positioning faith as appropriate for family and personal morality, but inappropriate for public issues.
Yet, like humanity through-out time there is a curiosity for truth beyond the comforts of control
Nicodemus represents a faith, unclear and seeking more proofs, which is based on signs,
And to him… and through him… Jesus declares that God loves and gives life to the world
16"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.(John 3:16-17)
How many of us might be Nicodemuses in twenty-first century clothing,
With compartmentalized faiths, that flourish behind the scenes, out of sight, away from the fray, essentially private? …
How many of us have room to grow in our faith?
To move from the darkness of private hidden faith and into the light
How many of us we when really look deeply into ourselves and dwell for a moment in Nicodemus’ shoes are asking “How can these things be?”
To all this – to our worldly desire to name things – control things – compartmentalize things…
Jesus came into this world for all – so that all might believe – and by believing have life eternal
Not a piece of life
Not for judgement to condemn
Not a Sunday only faith
But… eternal life
Born anew… Born from above… Born again
That the world might be saved through Him
Thanks be to God - Amen
 Feasting on the Word – Year A Volume 2 – pg 68
 The Word Today – Year A Volume 2, Herbert O’ Driscoll – page 21
 Feasting on the Word – Year A Volume 2 – pg 70
 Preaching the New Common Lectionary – Year A: Lent, Holy Week, Easter – pg 39