“Born of the Spirit”
John 3: 1-17
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
March 12, 2017
“Listen with an open heart to these words from the gospel according to John, Chapter 3, verses 1 thru 17.”
1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “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. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
“Allow the Spirit of God to take your understanding of this scripture passage to new levels!”
There are a multitude of questions I would want to ask and things I would like to discuss with Jesus, if he were standing here with us this morning. I suspect that most of you could come up with a question or two yourself as well! But what if we could only ask one or two? When a reporter asks questions at a political press conference, that one reporter seldom gets to ask more than one or two. As a group, sure a few more are asked, but, you want your important questions answered first! In order to ‘kick start’ a conversation, it is important to ask probing questions and or to put forth open ended thoughts. Hopefully, a question that will start a conversation on a topic you really want to explore. So, if you are called on early in the discussion, where would you want Jesus to focus on? Remember, this is your one shot at ‘kick starting’ this conversation into a discussion on the topic that you want to hear about.
“What do you make of Nicodemus’ question, (and his opening remark)?” /Janet Hunt/ Nicodemus “He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” /John 3:2/ To me, Nicodemus seems to waste his opening remarks, he simply put forth a closed statement and not a question. ‘He states that Jesus comes from God, and the signs he does can only come from God, and to do so you must be in the presence of God.’ /John 3:2b/ This is not a question, but it is a statement which begs of Jesus to simply state that he/Jesus is of God! Then in total ‘Jesus fashion’ Jesus redirects his answer to speak of something else which he turns into an opportunity to teach yet another lesson. In essence, Nicodemus wasted his moment or at least it would appear so. The lesson, which Jesus introduces, of course, is what we shall focus on.
Jesus clearly wants to turn our attention toward being born again, born anew in the Spirit! As we delve into this discussion we need to set aside any preconceived ideas we may have about being “born again”. For many have adopted this phrase as an initiation into Christianity, and this does not resonate as to how Jesus operates or teaches. Nothing about the man Jesus speaks of exclusion or expelling his followers for not literally doing exactly as he says. No, Jesus was and is all about love and inclusion not exclusion! Therefore, we, you and I, we need to look at this in a new way. Perhaps this is not the conversation we were hoping to stimulate this morning. Yet, we shall endeavor to glean what we can from this dialogue, this teaching.
This discussion is about the ‘Spirit.’
Unfortunately, the world ‘Spirit’ is often improperly intertwined with the concept of spirituality, which leads to conversations about being enlightened. With this in mind hear this simple rendition which prayerfully and playfully, helps one to grasp a piece of its meaning.
Being enlightened means being ‘open-minded’ being ‘free-thinking’ ‘informed’ ‘educated’ and ‘rational.’ So, the question is: how enlightened are you? Consider this: “If…. If you can live without caffeine, If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains, If you can resist complaining, If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time, If you can take criticism and blame without resentment, If you can ignore a friend’s limited education and never correct him or her, If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend, If you can face the world without lies and deceit, If you can conquer tension without medical help, If you can relax without liquor, If you can sleep without the aid of drugs, If you can honestly say that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion, gender preference, or politics… then you have almost reached the same level of spiritual development as your dog!” /Author Unknown/ The author of this piece clearly has a sense of humor.
Understanding the ‘Spirit’ is crucial to understanding the words of Jesus’ lesson today.
First, let us clarify what the Spirit is not. It is not made of flesh and blood! Therefore, our human bodies, of themselves, are not of the Spirit! When we are baptized, we are baptizing / cleansing our bodies with water and calling upon the ‘Spirit of God’ to come upon and into the one being baptized, which clearly suggests the Spirit is outside of the water and outside of our bodies! Many believe that when we are baptized we are welcomed into the fellowship of the ‘body’ of Christ. Meaning, that before we are baptized we are outside the realm of Christ; we are outside not inside. When we are baptized with water we are cleansed and when we are baptized with the Spirit of God, the Living Spirit of Christ, something profound happens and we are “filled with the Spirit!”
The ‘Spirit’ we are speaking of is the third personality of our Triune God: The Father/the Creator, the Son/the Redeemer, and the Spirit/the very Breath of God! Breath is understood as that which gives life. Without breath in our human lives we would wither and quickly die. Jesus has presented to Nicodemus a formula for understanding how one is to be ‘re-born’ in the Spirit! That is to say, using what we have already learned about the ‘Spirit’, one must be immersed into the fullness of God through the ‘Spirit.’ Since “Spirit” is not of the flesh, the foolish comments and questions from the mouth of Nicodemus only confuse this conversation! Rather, we must not worry about our bodies, we must simply allow ourselves to stay open to the winds of the Spirit coming into our lives. Thus, allowing the very ‘Breath’ of God, to awaken us to a deeper awareness of God’s presence!
Now I know you have questions about this! If this was on open forum you would be waving your hands and trying to shift the conversation to what you really want to know! However, Jesus wants us to know that this can happen at any point along our journey! And it can take place in stages! Being ‘born again’ or ‘filled with the Spirit’ only denote the beginning of something new! Spiritual rebirth is an inside thing and it can take place in old things, like us folks who have bodies that are growing older every day, and in brand new things like our youth! It is important to realize ‘Spiritual rebirth’ can happen at any time and it can be upgraded periodically, like the software updates happen to our cell phones and computers. Often these updates happen without our requesting them and sometimes we are unaware that they have occurred! The Spiritual world is not of this human order of things which is easily understood. In the same manner, most of us do not fully comprehend what is happening when our computers are upgraded! Most of us do not understand how the Spirit of God is working within our very lives either!
“Jesus is pushing his followers to understand that new life emerges constantly from the old. God sends new life from above and thus new perspectives interrupt and alter our old habits into something new.” /John Allen – adapted/ At any moment, at any time of day or night, it happens without our asking: The Spirit gives us a boast – kind of like giving a car a kick start! William Loader, of Murdoch University, and a member of the “Uniting Church” in Australia, gives us this insight on our subject. “Being born of the Spirit is talking ‘not about a new mystical height of experience’ but about a ‘way of living’ out the life of God in the world. When you see like this, you see the connection between Jesus and God and you see God in Jesus not trying to compete for adoration in the market of miracle workers, but seeking to establish a relationship of love and community. The focus is life. The means is relationship. The motive is love.”
Nicodemus represents all of us who have questions, yet, struggle with asking the right questions. We do our best to form the question, yet, we know so little about the subject at hand and about things which are not part of the answer we seek. It is kind of like asking a question about advanced college math before you have learned how to multiply and divide in high school. We need a base of understanding before we can even begin to understand how to formulate the question. I learned this in my calculous exam in college. The professor told us it was an open book test. We could use everything we had in front of us. Yet, as I quickly learned, it is a lot harder than that! One must fully grasp the questions at hand in order to formulate the process to arrive at the solution. For math students who do not grasp which formula to use, on a question, the table of contents of the text is of little use. And this is how it is, with our efforts at seeking understanding of some of the spiritual world of which Jesus speaks! One must be immersed, totally wrapped up in and fully engaged in the love of God, at every level of one’s life! Without this understanding the “Spirit’ is like that math puzzle which is beyond our grasp.
Our scripture passage speaks very clearly, that we are to believe in Jesus ‘if’ we are to enter into the Spirit of Christ. Our lesson also clarifies we are to embrace the truth which proclaims our God is a loving God, not a narrow minded condemning God. When we hear someone or some institution putting a twist in this lesson, that feels narrow or condemning, know that it is not God’s words of which are being misspoken. Unfortunately, many are of like mind to Nicodemus, who asked, and continue to ask of Jesus foolish and misdirected questions, such as: “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” /John 3:4/ His questions were of the flesh, tied to the realm and scope of science and nature. The providence of God, the sphere of which our Creator has dominion over far exceeds the territory and field of our finite minds. When we limit ourselves to the restricted range of our human understanding, we limit our ability to join into the spiritual realm of which even the simplest of Mother Nature’s creatures understand, simply by instinct. Things which, yes, even our household pets like cats and dogs get.
The way forward? Relax. Trust God. God loves you and me. We need only make an effort to walk in the pathway of faith. God will be there by our side, even as the hills and valleys come and go along our journeys. The Spirit of God will give us the strength and the courage we need, when we need it. As our faith grows so shall our supply of ‘Spirit’ filled moments increase. When we speak of growth, we need to always remember that in the same manner, God’s love has no boundaries. God loves us, even with our warts, our wrinkles and yes, even our immature notions. The realm of the “Sprit’ has no limitations, therefore, such growth is limitless, as is our relationship with our God. Are we ‘born again? Yes, we are! Through our faith, we are reborn every day with new opportunities to walk in the light of God, hand in hand with the saving grace of Christ, empowered by the Breath of God!