Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning, we are in John, Chapter 3. We meet Nicodemus, who comes to visit Jesus.
Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. I wonder if he did that because he didn’t want to have the other Pharisees see him. Remember last week, the story was of Jesus clearing the temple, driving out the sacrificial animals, and turning over the money changers’ tables.
So Jesus wasn’t exactly popular with the religious authorities. But Nicodemus does come to Jesus, and he greets him by calling him “teacher.” So is Nicodemus there to learn from Jesus? Or is he trying to get Jesus in more trouble?
When Jesus talks about being born from above, Nicodemus seems to intentionally misunderstand what Jesus is saying. Jesus corrects him, “You need to be born of the Spirit,” he says. But what does that mean, to be born of the Spirit? Jesus responds, “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. 17Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
But what does that mean? God loves us, and wants to be in a relationship with us. Throughout the centuries, God has been reaching out to humanity, trying to welcome us back into relationship. The problems started when Adam and Eve decided to go their own way instead of God’s way. Ever since, we read in the Bible of the many ways that God continues to reach out to us. God loves us and longs to bring us close, but we seem to keep wandering off to do our own thing. Finally, God decides to send Jesus, God’s only Son, to finally reconcile with humanity.
Here is “The Message” version of John 3:16-17. The Message is a slightly updated and more accessible take on the Bible which I think can add to our understanding of this passage: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”
Unfortunately, John 3:16 is one of those Bible verses we see quoted by some Christians as they ask someone if they have been “born again.” This question is usually about having a date and time that you can point to, a specific incident when you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
The Rev. Dr. Alyce McKenzie, professor of preaching and worship at Perkins School of Theology had an encounter that can help us understand what this looks in real life. “I was in the waiting area at our local discount tire store last week, waiting for my new tires to be put on my car. (I was reading a magazine, when) I became vaguely aware that someone had sat down in the chair next to mine. Then a leaflet was put in front of my face with the heading: ‘How to be born again’ and I heard a man's voice ask, ‘Wouldn't you like to read something of more eternal significance than some magazine? Have you been born again?’ She said, ‘I'm glad you asked that question. I've been reflecting on Jesus's words to Nicodemus in John, Chapter 3 and I don't think Jesus means 'born again' as if it were some emotional lightning strike that once it's over, we speak of our salvation in the past tense, like, that's done, now I have that checked off my to-do list. I think being born again calls for our participation, and I think it's a lifelong process. ’At that the man shook his head as if to say ‘Geez, lady, it's a yes or no question. How hard is that?’ He took his tract back and moved on.”
I bet that was not what that man was expecting! But I think Dr. Mackenzie is right! I have been talking to two families that would like to come to our church and have their children baptized. As we talked, I shared with the them the promises they and the Godparents would make to raise their child in the Christian faith.
Here are the promises:
to live with them among God's faithful people,
bring them to the Word of God and the Holy Supper,
teach them the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,
place in their hands the Holy Scriptures,
and nurture them in faith and prayer,
so that your children may learn to trust God,
proclaim Christ through word and deed,
care for others and the world God made,
and work for justice and peace.
We, as a congregation, make these promises too. Relationship with God is something
we nurture throughout our lives. And God is there through Jesus and the Holy Spirit walking with us. Amen.