There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 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." Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the
"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. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
"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.
"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."
It is a classic sci fi novel made into a major motion picture: a man lives an ordinary life, doing an ordinary job, but feels there is something missing, some sense of adventure. He seeks for what is missing and ends up going to an agency that will allow him to experience adventure from the comfort of a chair in an office. But once he submits to the machinery that will induce his imaginary adventure, he finds himself recalling his true self, the real self that was there all along underneath the cloud of false memories that covered it.
He has been reborn. And that is the process that Christ is asking us to undergo in today’s gospel: we are to be born again of water and of spirit.
When we go back in the Bible to the book of Genesis, we see the spirit of God hovering over the face of the water. The entire material world was created in this way, of spirit and water.
But with the rebirth referred to by Jesus in today’s gospel, the rebirth that each of us must experience is a spiritual, rather than material, rebirth. Nicodemus was puzzled: as a member of the Jewish religious establishment, he probably thought, as he had been taught, that Messiah would complete the material kingdom of Israel, establishing himself on the throne and rewarding all those people who had been trying to “do it right” for so long. The Jews of the day believed that the Messiah would return when all of
Jesus’ mission had nothing to do with “getting it right”. One of my favorite authors is Jan Karon. In her novel “These High Green Hills” Father Tim, the loveable Episcopal priest, and his wife, Cynthia, are lost in a cave. Unable to find their way out, Father Tim admits that he just “can’t get it right.” And his wife reminds him that “getting it right” is God’s job and that He doesn’t like it when we try to do it for him.
“Getting it right” is not going to provide us with a one-way ticket to heaven. All our efforts to perfect ourselves by the way we talk, walk, dress, worship and etc. are not going to get us to heaven. It would be impossible for us to get ourselves “good enough” or to “get it right” enough to get there. So we must be reborn by water and by spirit. But what does that mean?
It clearly does not mean that we will “get it right” here on earth. We can strive for justice and mercy, “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God” but that does not save us from our well-deserved fate.
I have heard it said that “the gospel was not given to save civilization from wreckage, but to save man from the wreckage of civilization”. Christ’s life and death were for a purpose: not to create a new material kingdom on earth or to fix all the holes in the world we already have, but to prepare all of us who accept his sacrifice for the new spiritual life in the kingdom to come. So how can we accept this gift and be reborn?
1) Cast off our previous lives by repenting of our sins.
2) Believe that God loves us so much that he would send his only son to die for our sins
3) Accept the forgiveness of God through the gift of salvation given by Jesus’ death on the cross.
4) Receive our new lives through the gift of the Holy Spirit, by turning our lives over to God.
We have a religious ceremony that marks the acceptance of our rebirth in Christ in the sacrament of baptism. But sprinkling water on the outside no more makes us Christians than walking through a car wash would make us cars. The work of the spirit must be done first or baptism means nothing.
Only by accepting the gift of spiritual rebirth that is God’s gift to every person on earth can we be saved, a gift that we can only receive if we open our arms and take it. If you haven’t yet opened your arms to this gift, I invite give you this prayer, which is the Believer’s Prayer from Jan Karon’s book, “At Home in Mitford”:
"Thank you, God, for loving me, and for sending your Son to die for my sins. I sincerely repent of my sins and receive Christ as my personal Savior. Now as your child, I turn my entire life over to you."