Sunday, March 5, 2023
The Second Sunday in Lent
Born from above
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77450
“Are you saved brother. Have you been born again?” yelled the man on the street corner. Now I was sitting in my car wearing my black shirt and collar so one might think the answer was obvious. As he went down the line of cars you could watch the people with their windows rolled up, looking the other way. People especially Episcopalians along with other mainline Protestant faiths just hate confrontations like this. By the way, my answer to have you been saved is “Yes over 2000 years ago.” That usually defuses the situation. It also makes the point that salvation is not just a personal experience.
Why does talk of being born again make us so uncomfortable. Well, most of us want to keep our faith something relatively private and for the most part do not want to talk about it. Often because we fear we do not know enough or that we don’t have a clue how to react to the person in our face who can often spout scripture with great confidence. BTW being able to repeat a verse doesn’t mean you understand it.
Well Jesus isn’t in the face of Nicodemus like a street corner preacher, but he is talking about being born again, born from above to be exact. Unfortunately, being born again has been hijacked and simplified over the past 150 or so years. So, what if I told you that I believe that like Nicodemus we need to be born again, maybe a couple times during our life. Now what in the world do I mean by that?
First of all, we have simplified the meaning of the original Greek word. In our contemporary world, born again is taken out of context and losses much of its meaning. That meaning is roughly equivalent to a one-time personal moment of conversion. What we have in John is a Christological statement tied into the meaning of the cross. The writer of John wants us to struggle with this concept because it means more than a simple acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord and Savior at one point in time. There is more to this affirmation.
On Ash Wednesday afternoon I was talking with an adult who was at the church for the tutoring session. I had come in to give ashes to any of the students and volunteers who wanted them She said, “Oh yes it’s Ash Wednesday.” I started to talk with her while I waited in the time between the Ashes to Go and the 6:00 family service. She started talking about a speaker and writer she liked and started to use the “are you saved” language. She was saying that she will be interested to see if this person makes the final step to be born again. She hopes he does because she likes him and “I certainly want him to get into heaven.” Now I had enough sense just to let her keep talking rather than argue that point with her. It is pointless to argue with someone who believes that only a select group of people have access to the love of God.
What I fear she didn’t understand that being born again, being saved is not a one-time event. Sanctification which is the proper term is an ongoing process and we are never really done with it. There is always farther to go while we are in this world.
Because this is an ongoing process, we really do need Lent every year. I have talked the last couple of weeks about fasting and feasting. I believe that taking Lent seriously is truly important. The fasting is important because for us to move deeper into our relationship with God, to be born into something new we often need to let something go, to let something die. I’ve shown a Brenee Brown video to several groups and she talks about how important letting something die can be. Now she was speaking in particular about the need to let something die if we are working on forgiveness, but she said it goes beyond that. For any life change quite often something must die or be given up. This is especially if there is something we are doing that is impacting our relationships with others. We must let that go, let that die in order to be “born again from above.”
In the Living Compass booklet that many of you have picked up, there was a passage this week that spoke of this. A spiritual director was working with a challenging directee. This person was so full of themselves and had packed their life with so much stuff, there wasn’t any room for God. She offered him a cup of tea. As she filled up the cup, she didn’t stop until it overflowed into the saucer. She said to him,” You are so full to overflowing with your own concerns that there is no room for any teachings from God or others to enter at this point.” This person needed to let go of some things, maybe let them die so there is room for something new to be born in him.
Sometimes the thing we need to give up is our inward focus on our ego needs so that we have room for the things God wants us to focus on. Everyone faces this choice at some time during their life. This is the shift from our ego centered self to our God centered self. This is what Thomas Merton calls the false and true self. Our true self is what God desires us to become. So if you will the ego centered false self must die in some respects so that there is room for the God centered true self to be born. I believe that this is the point Jesus is trying to get through to Nicodemus.
One of the wonderful things about Lent is that it comes around every year. Every year we get the chance to work on our relationship with God; to have something new born in us during Lent. We also have a chance to get rid of some things that are in the way, blocking that something new that wants, needs to be born.
So yes I’ve been born again, and again and again. Every time I make progress in my relationship with God something new is born. And yes I am saved just as you are, but not in terms of holy fire insurance. Our relationship with God is so much more than making sure our ticket to heaven is punched. Jesus has already done that for us.
To close I would like to read you a post that I shared on our Facebook page at the beginning of the week. This is a reflection/prayer by Pastor Steve, based on our gospel passage.
In the season of Lent Jesus invites us to practice the discipline of beginning.
God, give me grace to let go of who I have been,
what I have done and not done,
all pride of accomplishment and guilt over failure—
and start over, like a newborn child.
Give me such trust in your absolute, profound forgiveness
that I am free to begin anew.
Help me to let go of having it all figured out,
to be a rookie. Beginner’s mind.
To be a learner, attentive each moment,
free of old habits and assumptions,
seeing as if for the first time.
To ask for help and be willing to be led,
as utterly reliant on you
as a newborn infant in my mother’s arms.
Begin … anew