“Starting Over All Over Again” March 5, 2023
“ Starting Over All Over Again”
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Ah Nicodemus. I know it’s not a good thing to openly have favorites, but of all the Bible characters that I know- from King David to Ruth And from Peter to Paul, Nicodemus is right up there in the top 10.
As John tells us Nicodemus was a pharisee and leader of the Jewish people, but I can’t hold that against him. The fact but he was a member of the Sanhedrin tells me of the risk Nicodemus took on this night. If the elders had found out that he was sneaking around in the dead of night to speak with this troublemaker; why, things would not have went well for our friend Nic. yet there he was, willing to risk it all for an audience with the son of God.
At this point you might say, “Yea, But who wouldn’t put themselves at risk to come face to face with the true Messiah? I imagine most everyone in this room, that’s who. But the thing is, Nicodemus had no way of knowing with absolute certainty that Jesus Christ was from God. At this point, it would seem that he was acting on a strong hunch, that’s all. But whether he was prompted by the spirit or a new found courage from his convictions, we don’t know. We can simply be grateful that he did, for it was to Nicodemus that Jesus taught one of the most important theological principles of the Christian faith: (Jn 3:16)
“ God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
This is, after all. one of the core principles of our faith. God so loved the world that he gave; he gave the one thing that none of us would be willing to offer up. and through the giving of his only son, God almighty gave us a path to salvation; he gave us a shot at eternal life. Nicodemus, who was well versed In the ancient writings of the prophets, Just might have found himself a bit overwhelmed By this Jesus guy.
I mean, think about it: Nicodemus seeks out the Lord and is happy to tell him that they know; they are convinced that he is the son of God. And that was quite an announcement, really. He didn’t run this idea by the legal experts or the high priests. But I imagine there was a note of pride in old Nic’s voice when he said, : “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
See what I mean? “We know. We have this thing figured out.” and at this point, we might expect Jesus to acknowledge the fact: that yes, he is of God, that he is the Messiah that the ancient prophecies foretold. we might expect Jesus to respond lots of different ways. but instead, Nicodemus is completely befuddled when Jesus tells him: “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.” Or, to quote a more familiar translation: “ “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
It was at this point that Nicodemus, the Pharisee, well respected by the Jewish people, with a seat of leadership in the synagogue did not have a clue how to respond except with the somewhat ridiculous statement: (vs 4) “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?” that’s what I like about Mr. Nic. Instead of trying to seek out the true meaning of this somewhat baffling teaching. he overstates the obvious and misses the mark completely. That’s what I like about Nicodemus: He reminds me of so many of the people of faith Who seek salvation by working so hard to change what they do, but not so much who they are. that’s what I like about Nicodemus: he reminds me of me.
Those of us who were raised in the church undoubtedly spent a good deal of time in Sunday school. It was there that we learned the stories: the stories of David and Goliath, Of Abraham and Sarah, Of Samson and that crazy one about Jonah and the whale. And because we were just kids we found them fascinating. It was in Sunday school also, that we learned about Jesus and with that open and accepting heart that children have, we believed every word. But later as teenagers or young adults we began to question. How could a whale swallow a full grown man? I mean, come on now. whales eat little things: things like plankton and krill and shrimp. This makes no sense. “ We all know the drill and we have all played the part of Nicodemus by trying to clarify and justify every detail of the writings that we accept as the word of God. We are so wise, so learned, so astute if I dare to say so. But here’s the thing. the message that Jesus speaks to Nicodemus is meant for us as well: you must be born anew if you want to see the Kingdom of God. How are we supposed to process that.
The problem lies in the fact These words have been transformed into a rallying cry By so many that We have gotten a little head shy.
I still remember the first time that I heard a wild eyed preacher practically shout to the congregation, “You must be born again.” He repeated it at least 20 more times in the course of the sermon for emphasis. I guess. This was backed up by a bunch of Bible-speak along with threats of damnation and tribulation to the point where I didn’t know what in tarnation he was talking about.
But to be fair. to tell someone that they must be born all over again is a tough pill to swallow. There are those who will tell you that being born again is an extreme emotional experience, a life changing event, and I am inclined to take them at their word. But what about those of us who aren’t real keen on the charismatic style of worship? Do we simply miss out? Once again, I’m reminded of why I like Nicodemus. So let’s back up just a bit and look again at what Jesus had to say. (vs 5) “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
A few months back at our Bible study here I asked if anyone would care to define righteousness. Come to find out, that is a really tough question. Likewise, if I were to ask all of you to define God’s spirit And perhaps how that same spirit guides you in your everyday. What might you have to say? Yes you are right: another tough question.
But here’s the thing, I would venture a guess that everyone can recall a moment when the spirit’s presence was felt. It could have been a moment in a worship Service or even a wedding or a memorial service. It could even be a surprise feeling of peace or contentment or joy that came from the reading of a scripture that just spoke to your heart. What I mean to say is that if we seek out God’s spirit, the spirit will find us. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” could it really be that simple?
We have been born of the flesh: that’s obvious. Could it be that being born of the spirit is little more Than becoming That child again Who can’t stop thinking about how cool and wonderful and stupendous it is that our God loved us so much that he sent his only son to live here amongst us. And what’s more, he sent his son, not to judge us, not to belittle us. and not to promise some sort of punishment if we mess up. There is a peace and a joy in the promise that who so ever should believe and walk and commune and worship this, the son of God – That person shall not perish but have eternal life. To be born in the spirit Is to believe, yes that’s true. But to be born in the spirit Is also to live in the light and the love Of Christ in ways we never have done before. you might say that to be born in the spirit is to start every day with the words. “Come, Holy Spirit, come,” and every time that you speak these words, it is as if for the first time. it is as if you are starting all over again.
today is the second Sunday of the season of Lent. a season devoted to the practices of repentance and of self-sacrifice. it is a season devoted to the practice of prayer, and if we are looking to be born in the spirit – somehow or some way- rest assured, it will be through prayer. Adam Hamilton, from the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, likes to tell of how he begins each day with prayer. and Mr. Hamilton is old school. He kneels by the side of the bed and every morning asks that God use him that day for whatever he sees fit. Well. my confession to you here today is that I have taken up the same practice lately – without the kneeling, of course. I didn’t plan this out ahead of time- it just sort of happened. but here’s The funny thing: every time that I ask the Lord’s blessing and offer up my gifts and my service I can’t help but throw in some kind of remark like, “Use me Lord even though I’ve been through a lot and I sure don’t know how much I have left;” every time I offer up my busted up self, the answer is always the same: the power of the spirit. I can’t really explain it and probably never will, but this, to me, is what it is like to be born in the spirit. It is tangible, it is reliable, and I feel like I have known this helper, this advocate, this power of the spirit…. all my life.
Once again, verse 16 reads: “16 “For God so loved the world,[i] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” To be born again? To be born anew? How about We put this being born business on the shelf And consider What it means to wipe the slate clean and start fresh in our relationship with God almighty; Start over. to start over all over again. Isn’t that what being born is all about? Amen and Shalom.