John 3:1-17

Nicodemus Visits Jesus

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus[a] 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.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”[b]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?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c]Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born from above.’[e]The wind[f] 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.” 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[g] 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.[h]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.[i]

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.

What does it mean to be born again?  

One of my favorite songs is by the band “Over the Rhine” called “Born”.  Check out these lyrics:

Image result for over the rhine band

I was born to laugh

I learned to laugh though my tears

I was born to love

I’m gonna learn to love without fear

Pour me a glass of wine

Talk deep into the night 

Who knows what we’ll find

Intuition, deja-vu

The Holy Ghost haunting you

Whatever you got

I don’t mind

Put your elbows on the table

I’ll listen long as I am able

There’s nowhere I’d rather be

Secret fears, the supernatural

Thank God for this new laughter

Thank God the joke’s on me

We’ve seen the landfill rainbow

We’ve seen the junkyard of love

Baby it’s no place for you and me

I was born to laugh

I learned to laugh through my tears

I was born to love

I’m gonna learn to love without fear

In our gospel text this morning, the writer is telling us about a certain man. I believe he’s actually look for a conversation like the one in the song lyrics above…he wants to connect, to grow, and to understand this love that Jesus is always talking about. In essence, he was born to love and Jesus has come to remind him of his true identity. He was a Pharisee, or a teacher of the law and a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, coming to Jesus in the night with questions.  This question about being born again is a good one…we have all sorts of notions of what that may mean, but I do think it starts with asking questions and being in conversations like this one…

Now, we don’t know if it was actually nighttime, but the author could be saying that this man is a bit in the dark and he’s looking for some light in Jesus.  Or, it could be a night and this man is somewhat timid, coming at the end of the day when folks are relaxing.

It’s also interesting to note that this probably isn’t a private conversation, Nicodemus probably had some other Pharisees with him and the disciples were probably around as well.  But, it’s certainly not a formal teaching time for Jesus, and it’s a personal conversation.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus, giving him an address as teacher, Rabbi.  It’s a note of respect, but it’s probably interesting in that Nicodemus probably had formal training, had done all of the right things to achieve his position in society, as opposed to Jesus who had no formal training and wasn’t interested in achieving through the system or the world that he lived in, but was interested in how folks lived in community and in a sense of abundance and love in their lives.

Nicodemus points out that Jesus has done miraculous signs and wonders.  He had performed miracles, people were getting excited as they saw Jesus as a change agent.  Nicodemus even states that God must be with Jesus.  He didn’t quite grasp, yet, who Jesus was or who Jesus truly represented.

Jesus then goes on to say that in order to truly understand what Jesus was talking about, what the miraculous signs were pointing towards, one must be “born again”.  That phrase has certainly caused a lot of interpretation over the years, and many folks get confused about what it actually means and if this is an action that we can take, invoke, or is it something that God must do in our lives.  

The phrase “born again” literally translates into being “born from above”.  And Jesus goes on to say that this isn’t an action that humans can evoke, but that it’s a movement of God’s Spirit and Water.  Water in this case would be symbolic or a metaphor of a flow of love over us and through us, a cleansing, a making things new.  The Spirit is God’s action in our lives that gives us life and moves us towards a sense of God’s expansive love.  Nicodemus gets hung up on the idea of someone literally being born again, going back into the mother’s womb….but Jesus is using this phrase to literally say that there is a birthing, we have to go through a birth canal out of a protective mode of being and into the realities of life…and that God goes through the pains of childbirth along with humanity.

You know though, that’s a hard concept for us.  Birth is beautiful and filled with expectation and possibility.  But, we don’t want to leave the friendly confines of the womb.  We want to stay comfortable and in control, yet God moves us towards birth, towards maturity, towards a new way of living…and that takes risk and moving out of something familiar and comfortable.

Jesus doesn’t mess around with Nicodemus, doesn’t play games, he goes straight to a hard saying…and then says that God’s Spirit is also like the wind.  The Hebrew word for spirit is the same for wind, Ruach…it’s also Pneuma in Greek.  It blows where it pleases.  The question for the readers of this passage, do we have our hearts, our bodies, our lives towards God’s Spirit?  Do we try to bundle ourselves up in scarves or jackets of anxiety, control, identity in something, even church to shield us from the wind, or are willing to turn into the wind and let it carry us where God’s Spirit intends?

Friends, there is a message for us this morning in this text.  Being born from above, experiencing a new of being in our lives and even in our church, starts with us recognizing that God is giving us all sorts of signs that can lead us towards a new way of living and finding our being.  We can settle for doing and being as we always have, or we can listen to Jesus’ words and experience rebirth.  It’s given to us, it’s out there, and it’s in here…moving and shaping, but we have to pray for ears to listen to the wind blowing and eyes to see the signs.  I believe that as we become more community engaged as a church, that is also about looking for signs of God’s activity that we can join in on…in the neighborhood that will lead to change within us and within others.  

We may be timid at first like Nicodemus was, but Nicodemus changed…grew, sought out Jesus and asked deep questions.  And, Nicodemus was there for Jesus when Jesus was crucified and risked his reputation along with Joseph and helped to bury Jesus even when all of Jesus’ disciples deserted him.

In this discourse with Nicodemus, Jesus says that his life is the sign that the world is looking for, that he will be lifted up like the sign of the serpent that was lifted up by Moses in the desert for all to see…that we cannot avoid Jesus.  Really, to try to avoid Jesus is simply to try and avoid who we are…Jesus represents all of humanity and to try to live our lives without seeing the signs of God’s faithfulness to us, God’s movement, is to live without seeing ourselves as we created to be.

But, seeing ourselves and others with new eyes, to have the eyes of seeing that comes from being born from above requires some courage and a realization that being born from above is what we desire deep down, but it comes at a cost, we will live and love differently, we will strive for authenticity that will shine light into the dark places of our lives.  Nicodemus showed some vulnerability and we must do the same in order to have the new life that God gives.

In this process, we begin to realize again and again, that we were born to love…remember these words:

I was born to laugh

I learned to laugh though my tears

I was born to love

I’m gonna learn to love without fear

Jesus goes on to say that he has come to give life and to not condemn the world, but to save the world.  The world is a system that we live in…it’s different from creation or humanity in general.  We all live in a system that can be impersonal, yet the calling of Jesus is to live with purpose and with deep love and respect for others within that system…which is a seed planted that will eventually change that system….but, it starts with a seed being planted, growing, giving birth in our lives and knowing that God’s Spirit, God’s wind will carry us even as it saves us.  

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