In the Name...
One Sunday, a minister went into the pulpit and delivered an absolutely amazing sermon. Everyone was deeply moved. They laughed, they cried, they were filled with awe. The next Sunday, the minister went up into the pulpit and delivered exactly the same sermon has he had the week before. Again, people were impressed, but, some looked confused and wondered why. Still, they didn't say too much.
On the third Sunday, the minister once again gave exactly the same sermon as he had on the first and second Sundays and this time there was widespread consternation. The elders immediately called a meeting with the minister and asked him, "Pastor, the sermon you've been preaching is really great, but, this is the third time we've heard it. Can't you do another one?'
"Of course", he said, "I'd like to." "Well then," replied the elders, "Why don't you preach one next week." "Well, I'll do the new sermon", the minister replied, "when you start living the old one."
Well, today I have a new sermon, but, I also have an old message. It's the message of life after birth. Not life after death. Life after birth and especially in the Gospel passage we heard this morning where Jesus says to Nicodemus, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again."
It's possible some of you may have had, at one time or another, the reaction of Nicodemus when he heard those words. "Born again? I've never heard of that before." Or, you may have problems with the phrase because you have heard it before from those door-to-door or TV evangelists who get in our faces and shout about it.
That's why a lot of people become defensive when they hear that question, "Are you born again?" And that's too bad because it's really a good question. It's just often asked in the wrong way.
A few years back, I met a fellow who belonged to an outfit called "Highway and Byway Evangelism". That title comes from the Parable of the Great Banquet. A king has his servants go into the highways and byways to bring people in to the feast he has prepared. Kind of clever.
Well, this fellow asked me the question and I replied, Yes, I've been born again. But, he then launched into a series of questions to challenge my answer. "Well, when did it happen? How did it happen? What did you say to invite Jesus into your heart? Did you speak in tongues?, etc. etc." It was pretty obvious this guy had a sermon to preach. He had his own idea of what being "born again" meant and he was determined to prove to me that I wasn't.
But, it's true that, by the grace of God, I have been born again. I am filled and empowered with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. God is my Father and Jesus is not only my Lord and Saviour, he is my brother. And what's really amazing, what really floors me, is that it's true for you, too. Imagine that.
A few weeks ago, I said the baptism of Christ marked the beginning of his public ministry and that our own baptisms marked the beginning of our own ministry as Christians. Baptism and being born again are the same thing. When we are baptized, the Holy Spirit performs a miracle not only in making our souls immortal, but, in giving us a new set of relationships with God, Jesus, and our fellow human beings.
And, that's really what being "born again" is all about - relationships. When we're born in this life, we're born into a whole series of relationships, we have parents and grandparents and some have brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, and cousins, nieces and nephews, and friends and neighbours, and as time goes on the Christmas card list grows no matter how hard we try to cull it.
In last week's Scriptures, we heard the story of the Garden of Eden, and the most important thing mankind lost by the original sin of disobedience was its special relationship with God. And that's what Jesus came to restore. Relationship.
God wants us to relate to him personally as one who is able to guide us in our daily affairs; as one who is a father to us; as one who teaches and nurtures us; and as one who brings us into a new relationship with people who don't look like us or talk like us, but, who share more with us than any man-made or natural difference. People who share God-made, super-natural, eternal life.
In this morning's Old Testament reading, we saw Abraham at the moment, if you will, of his born again experience. No, it wasn't a water baptism and it wasn't speaking in tongues and it wasn't even inviting Jesus into his heart. But, it was Abraham at the beginning of a new relationship with God which would have consequences far beyond his wildest imagining.
You see, being born again, in 2017 B.C. or in 2017 A.D. isn't an end in itself. Birth is an event, but what follows – life - is a process. There is a beginning, there is the event, but, more importantly, there is life after birth - especially the second time, and it's something to be developed and cherished.
And, in this second, this new, this spiritual life you can experience a peace which is not of this world, you can feel confident for no earthly reason, you can be humble without losing your self-esteem and be pleased with yourself without being prideful, you can love those whom you do not like, you can bless those who curse you, and you can be free to do what you like and yet set that freedom aside to serve others.
Any life is a journey, a process of growth and development - first or second time doesn't matter. It's the journey that Abraham made. It's the journey we make.
Yes, it's great to be born again, but, it's the life after the second birth that really counts. Live it well.
In the Name...