A New Life
Sunday, May 30, 2021
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier
It was early December, and my daughter Stina was four. After picking her up from preschool, I decided to swing by the grocery store to pick up a few needed items. There she was, little pigtails sticking out of her head, excited for whatever free samples we might encounter. As I lifted her up to put her into the shopping cart she suddenly blurted out,
“Mom, Jesus was always alive in heaven, right?”
“Yup” I said, somewhat distractedly.
“BUT then how did he get so small that he fit inside of Mary?”
Full Stop. WHAT?! A man getting a cart next to us smiled at me with raised eyebrows, like he was saying “Good luck with that one mommy!”
Nicodemus in our gospel lesson for today had a very similar question for Jesus. He was “a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews,” and a member of the Sanhedrin. An educated holy man with a righteous reputation to keep.
So, he comes to this renegade rabbi Jesus under the cover of NIGHT.
Night, in John’s gospel, is more than night. It is ignorance, confusion, and seeing without understanding. Nicodemus was in the dark – literally and figuratively.
Which is odd, because Nicodemus is a man who knows. A Lot. He is a teacher who knows the Mosaic law inside out and the scriptures backwards and forwards.
In fact, “We know …” are the first words out of his mouth. We KNOW. Of this he is confident, secure, certain.
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher from God because of your works.”
“Actually, Nick, you don’t know” Jesus responds, because nobody can see or understand God’s kingdom without being born again.
What? Jesus, you are not making any sense. He blurts out incredulously–
“How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
Now, we have to give Nick some credit here.
The Greek word – an-o-then – has a double meaning. Anothen can mean ‘from above’ such as ‘born from above’ but it also means anew or again, as in ‘born again’.
Nicodemus obviously heard the more literal meaning, and marveled like my daughter Stina about how a grown person could get fit inside their mother to be born again? Ridiculous.
But being born from above…. Now, that makes a bit more sense.
This new birth is SPIRITUAL, not a physical thing.
“What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit, Jesus explains”.
And the Spirit, like the wind, moves of its own accord: You don’t know where it comes from or where it goes; all you can see are the effects. It bends trees, it moves clouds, it sails the ships, and it lifts the eagle’s wings and lets her fly. We can’t see the wind, can’t see God’s Spirit; but it’s there. He concludes by saying, “… so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Jesus speaking on a spiritual level, but Nicodemus is stuck on the concrete, and physical. In the same way, Nicodemus’s relationship with God is largely external, involving rules and trying hard. (Hold up fists.)
But for Jesus, it is spiritual, involving trust (Hold up palms,)
For Nicodemus pleasing God meant knowing and keeping the law. It meant fasting, praying, giving alms and temple sacrifices. (Hold up fists.)
But Jesus is talking about pleasing God by trusting and receiving a new life through the Holy Spirit. (Hold palms up.)
Titus 3:5 reads, “God saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
And Ephes. 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Nick strove for righteousness by getting it all right, but Jesus offers righteousness as gift from God.
How can this be? Nicodemus asked.
Jesus said: “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”
Some things in life – especially spiritual things — are hard to believe or even explain through observation, measurement or proven facts. They can only be experienced.
Imagine you have a friend who a rock-climbing instructor who has taught scores of people how to climb and repel down towering cliffs in the Rocky Mountains. Based upon her character and the photos she shares – you totally believe that she is a competent rock climber. That belief is an intellectual assent to something you ascertain to be true, but it does not really interfere with the way you live your life, right? It is a belief in your head.
The kind of belief that Jesus is referring to here is more experiential, visceral. A belief that has skin in the game.
Imagine now, that instead of just looking at photos, your friend invites you to go repelling off the side of a cliff with her. After checking your harness, the knots and the safety line running through your carabiner – she assures you that you are set. Behind you all you see is air – and miniature rocks and trees 300 feet below. Trust me, she says… Just lean back and over the edge you go.
At that point, your belief has moved beyond “I believe you” to “I believe in you.” You’ve gone past a simple intellectual assent to trusting your friend with your life.
That was Jesus’ dare to Nicodemus. Trust me. Not your efforts. Trust me. Not what you KNOW. Believe IN me.
That kind of belief. That kind of trust can be hard.
But when we do it; when we finally let go and let God… What a ride! God’s Spirit is always there, to catch us and hold us; to be born in us and carry us into perfect freedom.
Into a new life. A heavenly life – from above – that never ends.
That’s the journey Jesus invites us to.
To Let go, to catch the wind, be born from above –and experience the ride of a whole new life.
The question he has for you is: (Fist to Palm)
Are you willing?