I’m going to ask you to do something a bit different this morning. All of us, sit here for a moment, quietly with our eyes closed. Just for a moment. Now, as you sit, think about what’s going on in the air around you. Atoms colliding, bouncing off of each other, air flowing. Maybe you hear someone breathing. Now, think about the space between you and the person sitting closest to you, or between you and me. What’s filling that space, what makes space, space?
Now, think of the activity going on around you. God is present, God is moving, God is still, God is all around you. Even inside of you. Now, think of your body, your breath, your heart pounding. God is moving deep inside of you, flowing through your blood, flowing through your heart…think of your breath, you are breathing God in and out, God is everywhere.
Now, think of the passage in Isaiah where he has a vision…Isaiah is in the vision. He sees a world that he hardly ever notices, a world that is going on around him in even when he’s not having visions. It is a passage in the Bible where Isaiah is in the back of the room…there are seraphim, cherubim, angelic beings flowing around…and, at one end, there is God, the other end, Isaiah, hiding behind a pillar.
In this vision, he experiences being in the presence of God. If you are there, in this passage, in this room. Where would you be standing, what would you be experiencing? The voice of God calls out for someone to step forward and share God’s love…Isaiah gives that famous reply, “here I am, send me.” Then, this angel comes and touches Isaiah with a burning coal. It burns, yet it also purifies. Change happens, Isaiah experiences a cleansing if you will, a purification. He experiences an intense love that causes him to respond to God’s call to go anywhere.
Now, open your eyes. This drama is happening every day, we catch glimpses of it, those are called moments of transcendency. Yet, often we are in the dark, we can’t always see what’s happening around us.
New Testament Readings
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesusby 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, ‘Youmust be born from above.’ 8 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.” 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.
Our new testament story happens in the dark. It probably wasn’t pitch dark, but we think it was at night, or dusk. Nicodemus, a religious scholar who was interested in the words of Jesus came to Jesus at night time. I’m not sure if there is much significance in the time of day that Nicodemus came, but he came and possibly the author had him come at night to symbolize Nicodemus was able to see some shadows, but he couldn’t see clearly, he was in the dark.
What Jesus shared with him was much like trying to explain what was happening with Isaiah. There are things happening all around us, a deeper reality, that we only catch glimpses of…we are in the dark, yet, we have been given a light to see through Jesus and the inner and outer workings of God as being 3 in 1 persons, the Trinity.
Jesus and Nicodemus had this conversation, and there were probably others around. Jesus, as a rabbi and Nicodemus as a scholar, both had disciples, and those disciples were always around. Jesus said everything out in the open, he was pretty transparent, yet, different folks maybe heard different things, even if they were around him. One of the things that I’ve learned over the years as a leader and as a pastor, you can say things, a lot, even over-communicate, but folks are probably going to hear from their perspective. I’m the same way. We all are. Jesus’ disciples were like that, they heard a lot, yet they had so many different ways of hearing what Jesus was saying. It really is an amazing miracle, and a testimony to the power of God’s Presence that eventually led the disciples into a place of unity.
Nicodemus had some very good questions, he may have been timid in asking them, or afraid of what others thought, or simply curious and not sure how to ask them. Yet, he came to Jesus and asked.
He wanted to know how to enter the Kingdom of God, how to be in God’s Presence just as Isaiah was. Jesus tells him that he has to be born again, or anew, or afresh. That phrase “born again” used to get a lot of press, but really means a sense of seeing and experiencing things in a new way, with a new perspective or change of heart.
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.
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?
Nicodemus doesn’t quite get it though, and begins to think linear, or binary. He can’t see that there’s a metaphor being used of being born anew. But, he stayed in the conversation.
Jesus goes on to say that entering the Kingdom, or recognizing that existence of a deeper reality of God’s presence required water and spirit. That God is like a seed being planted in this world and that the Spirit is like water causing it to grow. It’s also symbolic of an old life being buried in water and rising again to being something more than it was before.
This is an ongoing process also. I’ve been born “from above” or anew often…even in the 3 1/2 years that I’ve been here as your pastor. I’ve asked a lot of questions, I’ve been curious, I’ve shared fully who I am as best as I can. I’m amazed of so many of these discussions have shaped me and us together. Our hopes and dreams here at Fleming Road UCC are starting to come into view by many of us, it’s still a bit fuzzy, but we all seem to be asking the same questions. Yes, we’ve had to figure out some things and we are still in that process, but as we share and have conversations…sometimes even in the dark, many of us are experiencing what it means to be born anew, to have new life, new beginnings, and to dare to dream some awfully big dreams together as we work on relationships.
That’s the essence of what John is sharing in the third chapter. God’s nature is relationship. God’s desire and character is relationship. The trinity is a relationship. God the father honors the Son the Son honors the Spirit and vice versa…no particular order, they mutually indwell in each other. Out of that relational force, the beautiful relational physics of it all, we, and the earth were created, we were saved, and we are sustained.
This 3 in 1 God is one with us, we are not God, but God brings us up into the communion or relationship of the trinity through the Son. Jesus is both divine and the one true human. We related to Jesus, he is our brother…our redeemer kinsman who brings the full force of the relationship of the creation, death and resurrection, and rebirth and sustainment into our lives, into humanity.
Then we come to the last two verses…we know John 3:16, we see it on the TV almost every time we watch a major sports event…someone is holding up a sign with those words on it. That’s great, but I wonder if that person realizes the world that is unseen that’s at play. We are called to believe in something unseen, yet experienced deeply. It’s also a message of Jesus not coming to condemn as it says in vs. 17, but to save! The world! All of us! And it gives us the message of life, real life. When the bible talks about eternal life, it’s talking more about the quality of life, not the quantity.
Here’s what I know, I’m willing and I’m experiencing that same willingness in this church with you…and in this community. It’s happening, we are all being born again. God’s Spirit is moving, drawing us into the relational and loving character of God, while reshaping us and the world around us. Let’s live into that eternal reality…which, in Christ, is not only quality, but it truly is forever.