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At St. Paul’s: “Our primary mission is to relate to, and minister to people who are living on the edge, who seek God’s will for their lives, struggling to find direction and purpose in a society that can be violent, insensitive and money-grabbing.”  

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To Be Born Again

March 16, 2014

Under cover of darkness, Nicodemus comes to Jesus and says: Teacher, you are a

Holy man. I have seen, with my own eyes, you heal the sick, lame and blind. You

speak with great authority.

Is Nicodemus hiding from the authorities? Is he being argumentative, or trying to

trap Jesus into saying a blasphemy or is he sincerely questioning? Is he in awe of

Jesus and drawn to him, or just flattering him in order to find a weakness in his

teachings? We know that Nic comes back for a cameo appearance a couple of

Chapters later in the Gospel of John, apparently changed by this covert encounter

--- he steps in to temper the judgment of his colleagues in chapter seven verse 51;

and then, after the crucifixion, in Chapter 19 " Nicodemus, who first came to Jesus

under the cloak of darkness, brought over 100 pounds of myrrh and ointments for

His burial. Together, he and Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body and wrapped

Him in linens soaked in essential oils and spices, according to Jewish burial

customs." Nicodemus in fact, had a conversion experience, one that leads him to

a more open heart and mind. But, first, he begins with stating his observation.

Jesus says to Nicodemus: you are intelligent. You are respected by your peers

and by the people. You, and your forefathers, have immersed yourself in the

Temple community. You have wealth, writings, scholars, priests all around you.

But this is not enough. You are doing alright, but there is so much more.

Nick – I still don’t understand what you are talking about.

Jesus – Let The spirit of the Lord come to you, healing you. The world is black and

white for you, but my world is so much more. You must learn how to open your

heart and mind to another way. You must learn how to think, feel, act differently.

Connect what is happening in your head with what is happening in your heart.

Nick – But how?

Jesus – You ask good questions. You are smart. But that is not enough. This is a

spiritual program and that takes a different kind of faith. You have to reconnect

yourself to the source of all creation. And that will connect you with God and with

people in a different way.

Nick -- But I cannot do it. I have never tried to live outside of the box that has

been created for me. My parents have raised me this way. I was born and bred

to be a Temple leader. This is the only way I know, the only thing I know how to

do. This is my destiny.

Jesus says to Nick – “You must be born again.” But you don’t have to do it alone.

Follow me and I will make you a disciple. Many of these disciples and people

coming to me and asking this same question are following me. They have found

the courage and wisdom to change. If they can do it, so can you.

Nick – them?!? why, they are nobodies! They have no position, no authority, no

education, they are worthless strangers. I can’t believe you give them equal status

to myself.

Jesus – Nick, you have so much to learn. Who was Moses when he brought the

Hebrew slaves out of Egypt? A slave. Who was Abraham when he fathered the

tribes of Israel? a nomad. Who were the prophets who told of God’s might? Who

do you think you are? Do you think you are better in God’s eyes than these, your

saints and neighbors and forefathers?

Jesus goes on: God loves you so much; God loves the world and the people in

it so much that God wants to reconnect with us. God has attempted to connect

with you in so many ways, and you have ignored it . . . worse, you have neglected

God’s attempts to communicate on a deeper level.

Release yourself from pious words, scrolls and theological writings. Let go of the

superficial world dominated by legalistic ideas and structured by man’s power. I

offer you a spiritual dimension. I offer the type of relationship that comes from

my heart to your heart. My heart is broken for you; for the world. My blood is rich

and powerful and full of love for you and for the world.

So here I am, connect with me: here I am, the Son of Man, and in many ways,

you are just like me. God created us in God’s own image, God created me to

teach you, not just heal you, but to show you how to turn this chaotic life into

something better, more spiritual, than you have ever done it before.

Let me give you an example.

I know a man named Patrick who was once very successful at business. He started

a taxi business with one car, and, by working day and night, he added another and

then another. He worked very hard, long days, seven days a week. He made lots

of money because he was smart and organized and efficient and careful. Every

day he would go early to open his garage, get the cars and everything ready. He

took great pride in the cleanliness, structure and effectiveness of his business.

Every night he would go and deposit his earnings in his bank account.

It was like he was a machine, doing the same good job over and over again,

getting up, going to the shop, making money all day, putting it in the bank,

coming home exhausted and plopping into bed. No time for much of anything

else because all his time, energy and money went into the daily running of the

business.

But, then Patrick got sick. Very sick. Human beings are not machines after all. His

internal organs shut down and he went into a coma and literally died. And the

doctors and nurses brought him back to life. And he lay in the hospital bed for

months, and his recovery took years. And his cars sat idle, and the drivers all left,

and with no money coming in, the bills went unpaid and the bank put a lien on

the building. And after a few years he finally realized that his life was ruined.

And all during his long convalescence, the main focus of his thoughts was this:

I have only myself to blame. I am a failure. I am weak. I couldn’t hack it. And

he blamed God, too, because God was supposed to give him the strength. How

could he believe in a God who let him down? The one thing that he was good at

almost killed him. He failed and his life was cursed.

And so Patrick the failed business owner prayed one day, that if there was a

God up in heaven, please give me a sign; please give me some understanding of

my situation, and God help me, because I don’t know if I even want to live any

more. He confessed to God that his living, breathing and all his thinking about the

business, this work which gave him so much happiness, this life’s work was in vain

and he didn’t know what was right and wrong any more.

And one day he came across a Bible that someone at the hospital had given him

and he opened it to Matthew 5, the Beatitudes, and he started reading: “Blessed

are the poor in spirit,” and he thought to himself, “that’s me alright . . .” and he

went on . . . “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And he thought to himself:

“what in the heck does that mean?”

And he went on: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” And he said to

himself, I wonder if I am mourning, because I am so sad all of the time. . . and I cannot find any

comfort in any of the things that I used to; nothing gives me hope; all of my old ways of enjoying

life are not working, and I am supposed to be blessed? Come on, God, this is ridiculous.” And

so he put the Bible down and forgot about it for a couple of weeks.

And in that two weeks time, it dawned on Patrick that he actually was poor in spirit and that he

was mourning the loss of his previous life and all that he held so dear. It was all gone and he had

to mourn it like the death of a loved one. And he cried.

And then he picked up the Bible again and continued to read: “Blessed are the meek, for they

will inherit the earth. And this made no sense, because only the strong survive, right? Its survival

of the fittest . . . Only he was not so strong, actually, to be honest, he was terribly weak, sad,

depressed, actually, hopeless with no direction, drive or focus.

Wow . . . Patrick said to himself. So if this Bible is correct, I could inherit the earth. . . and he

was surprised, and startled by that new thought. Not disappointed or mad or sad, but amazed

that someone like him --- a failure, sick and weak, could actually inherit the earth. How could

this happen? How could the poor in spirit, how could the ones who mourn, how could the meek

inherit the earth. . . ???

And he put the Good book down again. This was too big of a question for him. He didn’t want

to seem too hopeful. And he pondered these things in his heart for a while. And late at night, he

couldn’t sleep so he started flicking through the channels on the TV and turned on a movie about

a boy and this Orka. And he watched with amazement how this boy and this fish interacted, and

at the end, when the boy took the fish to freedom, he cried. And it touched him somewhere deep

inside where only God can reach and he realized that there is, in fact, a higher power that teaches

us about giving things like killer whales their freedom, about surrendering to a cause bigger than

ourselves. And Patrick actually surrendering to love.

And he blubbered through the rest of the movie and picked up the Bible, flipped to the same

page and read the next 3 Beatitudes and they hit him right in the heart:

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God . . . and he realized that the boy in that

movie was so pure in heart that he risked life, limb and liberty to help free Willy. And it was a

spiritual moment watching that movie and Patrick had a new sense of freedom that he had not

felt in a long time, if ever. The cloud over his head lifted and the hard shell around his heart had

cracked a little. And he felt like there was mercy in the world, God’s world. And he continued

reading:

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of

heaven.

And Patrick decided at that moment that he would spend more time with people

that he cared about and less time thinking about earning money and building

a business. And he felt like he wasn’t a total failure after all, that sometimes a

door closes in one area of life and another door opens. And he realized that he

could never go back to that taxi business. He had spent all of his time, energy and

money buying and making money, and it was NOT HIS THING. It is not necessary

to work yourself to death to be happy. Just watching that sappy kid’s movie

about a boy and his fish gave him more pleasure and more healing than anything

he had ever done.

And I tell you that story today because it is a story of being born again. And

I hope for you today and every day in the future, that you experience these

moments when God’s righteousness and love come to you, in whatever form

God chooses to express Gods self, and it makes a new connection for you,

strengthening that bond between your head and your heart.

Because you are not “born again” just once . . . it is a journey; and it is my

hope and continued prayer that you have many born again experiences in your

lifetimes and each time you see something that causes you pain, it causes you

to realize that you don’t have to be tough, hard and mean. And it’s ok to have

moments that drive you to tears.

For human beings, having the shell of our hardened hearts break open is the

way for God to get in. As a matter of fact, it is the only way that we will be born

again. Letting God in. And having disturbing thoughts about being meek, and

poor in spirit and asking questions like: Am I mourning the loss of something

or someone.” These are productive thoughts, healing thoughts that lead to a

stronger, richer and fuller prayer life. Being born again leads to a stronger, richer,

fuller life.

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