Are you born again?

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John 3:1-17
Second Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Shera Nesheim, D.M.

“Are you born again?” She asked me. I held my breath. How was I supposed to answer this? What’s the right answer? What is she really asking me? My thoughts were racing and I felt the weight of what my answer might mean, not only for her, but for me. Maybe some of you have been asked a similar question. Maybe some of you have asked it to others. It’s not my job to tell you how to answer it, but the gospel paints a picture of what being “born again” might mean for Nicodemus and perhaps, for us.

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. There’s a game called, “Soularium.” In this game, the instructions are for you to look through a pack of 50 cards, each with different pictures on them. In the game you pick 3 out of the 50 pictures, that you would say reflect or describe your life right now. Here are some similar images to the ones on the cards in the game.

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Let’s pretend we’re playing the game. In your mind, take a moment and think about what 3 images or symbols can you think of, that might represent your life right now?

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In the book of John we get 3 slideshow pictures into the life of a man named Nicodemus.  He was a Pharisee, a religious man, a follower of God, who came to visit Jesus in the night. And Jesus tells him about being born.

Nicodemus - John 3:1-21

In fact, the word born, is mentioned 8 times in just 6 verses. Jesus tells him that in order to see the kingdom of God one must be born from above, to enter the kingdom of God one must be born of water and Spirit, one must also be born of the Spirit and not just of the flesh. Other translations of this text use words like “born again” and “born anew.” So with all this repetition of the word, born, Jesus must believe that how we are born is a big deal, right?

Nicodemus is trying to understand what Jesus is telling him, but is still in the dark. He thinks being born is a literal thing, and he can’t imagine anything but going back in the mother’s womb to be re-born. Nicodemus is a Pharisee and to him, being in relationship with God means he has control over following the law or set of rules to do the right things in order to be “right” with God. But what Jesus is trying to help him understand is that he is talking about a re-birth of a person in the spiritual sense, a birth that he cannot control or make right all by himself. By the end of their conversation, Nicodemus doesn’t understand and asks Jesus, “How can these things be?” (v. 9).  Again, he’s still in the dark.

Sometimes we’re in the dark, too. Grace is a hard truth to be okay with, and we often feel like we must have to do something to earn some sort of standing with God. It would be convenient to know what the “right” things to say or do is so that we can enter heaven. Whether we follow every law and be perfect or choose not to, it would be easy to know if we’re in or we’re out. Believing the “right” things or going to the “right” church would be easy. Yet, how many times have you said to yourself: tomorrow I’ll do better… I promise that I’ll never do that again. We strive and we try to do the things that are right, and no matter who we are, we simply cannot. So we end up feeling condemned and judged and a failure.

The second time we hear about Nicodemus it’s tense.[1] The Pharisees, including Nicodemus are gathered and talking about this Jesus character and how he is making trouble.

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As they plot to arrest Jesus and find him a criminal, Nicodemus seems to slightly hesitate. He brings up the point that maybe Jesus is due fair justice, but the rest look at him like he’s crazy. He says no more, and isn’t willing to stick his neck out for Jesus, a guy he barely understands.

The next encounter Jesus has with Nicodemus, comes as much of a surprise. Jesus has died.[2]

St Joseph of Ariamathea NFrangipane

A guy named Joseph takes Jesus’ body from the cross to be prepared for burial in a tomb. None other than Nicodemus joins him, bringing really expensive myrrh and aloe. Together they gently wrap Jesus’ body in the spices and linen cloths, anointing him in the Jewish tradition. Jesus was an unexpected part of their life, and now they are now an unexpected part of his holy death.

We don’t witness some glamorous conversion moment for Nicodemus. We only see a man who’s changed. Nicodemus risks his stature in the eyes of the Pharisees, he humbles himself and responds to what Jesus has done in his life: He tenderly cares for Jesus’ dead body, revealing his love for Jesus and the ones who followed Jesus.

From his very first encounter, Jesus was trying to help Nicodemus understand, as well as you and me, that our faith journey is not a smooth, easy, one. Sometimes we have moments of illumination, and we are converted, or baptized, or we feel close with God. But that feeling doesn’t always stick. God’s promise sticks, but not always the feeling. So often we’re left feeling disappointed, frustrated and hurt when things don’t go right, or when we mess up. Or even in those moments when Jesus doesn’t feel present, or we think we’re absent from God.

Nicodemus’ relationship with Jesus was a complicated one, but in the end we have the hope that Jesus changed Nicodemus’ life in very powerful ways. And Jesus promises us in verse 17, which is often left out when people quote John 3:16, that says, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world [the whole world] might be saved through him.” Jesus saves us by giving us a new birth. It makes sense, we cannot physically give birth to ourselves. My mom deserves all the credit for pushing me into the world. So, too, with our spiritual birth, God is pushing us into the world, to live out our messy and clumsy and confused faith journey. Where there are no “right” answers and a whole lot of complicated relationships and Jesus encounters.

We have the promise and the capacity to be changed and born anew by our Creator. Imagine, even solid rock over millions of years, is changed and carved slowly, by a tiny trickle of water. A trickle of water that slowly became the Colorado River. And that river sometimes gently flowing on soft summer days, and sometimes chaotically during spring floods, chiseled one of the most spectacular breath-taking sights you can see:  the Grand Canyon.

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And perhaps as we look back on our life, we realize there were trickles of many saving moments that changed us, renovated us, transformed us, making us into the people we are and will become.

 

most pictures are from photobucket.com a free open picture sharing website
Jesus and Nicodemus pictures are from http://www.textweek.com/yeara/lenta2.htm


[1] John 7:50-52

[2] John 19:38-42