I preached the following sermon as part of my friend Beth McConnell’s installation service on 3/16/14 at Kathwood Baptist Church.
Being “born again”,anew, from above, is about vision. Not just what we are able to see, but how we see it.
Nicodemus didn’t know what to make of what he was seeing. He had heard reports of John out in the desert preaching and shouting like a prophet…baptizing people in the Jordan…and now this man Jesus preaching, and doing miracles, and threatening to tear down and rebuild the temple in three days? Who does he think he is?
Maybe Nicodemus was sent on official Sanhedrin business to shake this guy down. To make sure he knew who really spoke for God in Jerusalem. Jesus may have been able to hold his own with the other pharisees, but not the esteemed Nicodemus. Mockingly, Ironically, he starts “Rabbi, (He can barely keep a straight face) we know that you are from God.” Yeah right!
Or maybe that’s unfair. Maybe, he really suspected the spirit of God could be moving in this man. So he came alone, at night. Hoping to speak to Jesus one on one. Drawn to him, despite his doubts and the consequences he might face if anyone found out. Could this really be from God?
Whatever his reason for venturing into the dark unknown, Nicodemus encountered something he did not expect and could not comprehend.
“Nicodemus my friend, you know much about God, the torah, the law and the traditions. Mazeltov!… but if you really want to know God, if you really want to see God moving here and now you have to seek a position of humility…like a newborn…seeing the world with new eyes.”
But this type of seeing comes with a cost.
Jesus was asking the prestigious teacher to become a student again. He is asking one who is listened to and sought after to set aside his authority. To let go of his certainty. To venture out of the Sanhedrin and temple courts to find God in the streets and in the country.
Brothers and Sisters, being born again, anew, from above is not safe. It is about opening ourselves to the possibility of a world with God’s spirit flowing through it like the wind blows through the trees.
We can’t control it…and we can’t predict from where it will come from or where it will go. Just as we think we have things figured out…Just when we get comfortable… we realize that God is not there, but somewhere out ahead…over the horizon
Jesus is issuing an invitation to Nicodemus (and to us) to follow him by seeing the world with new eyes. With newborn wonder and mystery. Free to rise above our pre-conceived notions about who God is and how God works in the world to see something new, something fresh, something unimaginable..
Being driven by Gods spirit in discovery, creativity, and experimentation. Opening ourselves to being surprised by Gods hope being lifted up all around us.
Because that is the only way that we might see disciples, preachers, and church leaders in uneducated fishermen, unclean tax collectors, and unheralded women
Because that is the only way that we might see the joy of wine in the everyday of water
Because that is the only way that we might see God’s presence of healing and liberation in Jesus. Lifted up like the snake that Moses lifted in the wilderness.
This is not Jesus telling Nicodemus or us to leave behind all that has brought us to this moment. To forget what we have learned, to abandon the scriptures and the traditions of our mothers and fathers in the faith. Jesus wasn’t saying that at all.
But to see that story continues…and that if we are willing and open that we can be a part of the next chapter.
Your founders responded courageously, saying, “we made the decision to organize a new church to break out of the mold and practice of most Baptist churches of yesteryear. The purpose of our group was to be more open and receptive to change, to be more innovative, willing to try different forms of worship and education, and to be different – to make a difference.”-
Out of the mold, open and receptive to change, innovative..willing to try…to be different so that you can make a difference.
This sounds like born again vision to me…fertile ground for gospel visions to grow.
But Kathwood, this vision is only as good as those who carry it forward. Those who breath it into their prayers…and carry it into their conversations…and risk it in their actions of hospitality, inclusion, and service…those who constantly ask for eyes to see and opportunities to respond.
What do you see? When you look at yourself? Your city? This church? And is there more than meets the eye?
And more importantly than all of that, What will you do about it?