The Second Sunday in Lent (March 20, 2011)
Lessons:Genesis 12:1-4a Psalm 121 Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 St. John 3:1-17
Prayer of the Day: O God, our leader and guide, in the waters of baptism you bring us to new birth to live as your children. Strengthen our faith in your promises, that by your Spirit we may lift up your life to all the world through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
3.1 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.”
St. John 3:1-17, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Born Again / Born from Above
“Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.” So begins what I find to be a very intriguing story in the Gospel according to St. John. Nicodemus is a trained religious leader, living at the same time as Jesus. He is a member of the inner circle in Jerusalem, and is present when the other members of that circle decide that Jesus is just too dangerous to be left alone. As they begin to plan ways to do away with Jesus, Nicodemus begins to plan ways to meet with Jesus, and discover what he is all about.
He doesn’t dare be seen with Jesus, but his curiosity gets the better of him, and one night after sundown (when he is less likely to be seen) he makes his way to where Jesus is. He addresses Jesus as a teacher, as someone who is sent from God, and as someone who is able to perform signs — miracles that identify him as an agent of God. But before he can even get his first question out, Jesus answers him (a familiar pattern for those of us who studied Matthew’s Transfiguration account this year…).
Jesus tells Nicodemus that these signs are intended to get him interested in the kingdom of God, and if he really wants to do that, he will first have to be born from above. Nicodemus misunderstands Jesus. The Greek word for “above” is “anothen,” and it can be translated either “above” or “again.” Nicodemus thinks Jesus is talking about what he has to do to be right with God, and he can’t figure it out. “I have to be born again? I have to re-enter my mother’s womb and experience physical birth all over again? What is this man talking about? How can I possibly do that?”
It is here that we see the most profound difference between Nicodemus and Jesus. Nicodemus is interested in what he needs to do to fulfill his religious obligations. He wants to understand what it means to live in a way that is obedient to God. What does this new rabbi have to offer that can help him to do what God wants him to do? Nicodemus wants a few pointers here. He wants to be better at pleasing God, and is hopeful that Jesus can suggest some things that might make him a more effective believer.
But Jesus is interested in something entirely different. Jesus is interested in helping Nicodemus see that the life of faith is not a life of obligation – it is a life of grace. It doesn’t have to do with religious ceremonies and religious observances, as if the more religious a person is the better placed they will be to get into heaven. Instead, it has to do with dying to one’s desire to accomplish it alone, and being born anew to God’s desire to touch and shape our hearts with love. It has to do with God’s desire to make a whole new beginning in the believer’s life – a beginning that comes as a gift, from above. For Nicodemus, that was a change equally as dramatic as being born all over again.
So too for us. As the Holy Spirit blows into our lives, we also experience new beginnings. New direction. New Strength. New hope. New purpose. Lent is a season of heightening our awareness of needing these new beginnings. Easter is a season of celebrating that with God, there is even hope for broken, sinful, flawed human beings like us. Thanks be to God for these seasons. May we experience them in their fullness. May they give us the gift of new life.
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- What does it seem that Nicodemus wanted to know about or from Jesus?
- What did he learn in his brief evening conversation?
- How did his audience with Jesus change the trajectory of his life?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- What, in me, cries out for a new beginning?
- How might God become part of that new beginning?
- Who might guide me or encourage me, as seek to stay open to where the Spirit is leading me?