Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Born Again?

This past Sunday, I heard our guest preacher, The Rev. Winnie Varghese, tell the congregation that they shouldn't let Christians who like to talk about being born again as if it were a test of true faith take that language from us. Being born again is too important, too beautiful of an image for salvation for us to allow it to be stolen from us. I like that.

There is no such thing as a Christian who is not born again. And why is that? Because to belong to Jesus Christ requires us not only to figure something out, not only to see the world in a new way, but to live and move and breathe and think and love and act in a way that is foreign to this life--a way of being that requires us to be children not of the flesh but of God. And how in the world can any of us obtain that totally new life? As Winnie put it, by being born again...and again and again and again and again and again.

In John 3:1-17, Nicodemus comes to Jesus and says, "Rabbi, we know that you have been sent here from God because no one could do the amazing things you do apart from God." In other words, Nicodemus isn't trying to figure out whether Jesus is the real deal or not. He already knows that. He can see that. He trusts that. But something is missing. Something isn't quite right. Something doesn't add up. Did you notice that Nicodemus didn't actually ask Jesus anything at the start of their exchange? All he did was say that he and his colleagues--the other religious leaders--knew that Jesus had come from God. And that recognition was enough to get things started--to get Nicodemus' foot in the door--but Nicodemus needed more than that.

"If you want to see the kingdom of God," Jesus said to him, "you must be born again--you must be born from above." Nicodemus is confused, and well he should be. "Can an adult climb back into the mother's womb and be born a second time?" he asked Jesus. "No," Jesus replied, "if you want to see the kingdom of God, you must be born of water and the Spirit--you must be born again not of an earthly mother but as the child of God."

I bet all of us know the insight Jesus gives Nicodemus near the end of this encounter: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." What does that mean? What does Jesus mean when he says that God sent God's Son into the world so that eternal life might be given to those who believe in God's Son? Believing means more than saying the right prayer with our lips or doing the right thing when other people are looking or going to church our whole lives. It means giving all our hopes, our dreams, our plans, our efforts, our relationships, our love, and our lives to the one who reconciles the world to Godself in Jesus. And how do we do that? How do we stop trusting in our efforts, our jobs, our bank accounts, our investment portfolios, our retirement accounts, our resumes, our families, our friends, ourselves? We must be born again.

Eternal, abundant, overflowing life is given to those who put their whole faith in God through Jesus Christ, but Jesus teaches us that we can't do that even if we want to. You can come to Jesus the way that Nicodemus did and ask him to explain it again and again and again, but that won't help you figure it out. Faith doesn't work like that. It's not about what you think or say or do. It's about who you are. You must be born again. In the same way that your earthly birth was all about you and yet had nothing to do with your conscious choices, be born again. See within yourself the new life that God is giving you through Jesus Christ. Embrace the identity that has been given to you as a child of God, born again of water and Spirit.

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