Lent 2a – Sunday 20th March 2011
John 3: 1-17
Last season’s Formula One series was embroiled in a storm when Ferrari’s Felipe Massa led the German Grand Prix for much of the race and then simply let his teammate Fernando Alonso through to win the race.
Last weekend the Nashville Predators entertained the Columbus Blue Jacket’s in the National Hockey League and the game was beset by uproar when a clear goal was ruled no-goal due to insufficient television camera coverage – in similar scenes to England’s World Cup game against Germany in South Africa last summer.
And who could ever forget the clamour that surrounded the infamous “Bloodgate” European Cup match between Harlequins and Leinster when Tom Williams feigned a blood injury to get a specialist kicking substitute onto the pitch.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
Whoa, whoa. Back up a minute. What controversy?
You know I used to dread preaching from John 3. Whilst the first portion of this chapter concludes with one of the greatest statements of the Christian faith, getting there used to be a minefield. Before I became a Minister I remember preaching at a Church on this passage, and in the space of 5 minutes after the service two people had come up to me, button holed me and said: “You know, I can’t be doing with all this born-again nonsense, I don’t know why you preach it?” The second person simply looked at me with great distrust and suspicion and asked me, “Are you a born again Christian?”
My answer then, as it is now, is still the same: “What other type of Christian is there?”
Jesus said, “You must be born again.”
Why has this been seen as such a controversial passage? This is liberation. It is a call to a Spirit filled life, and let me tell you, I don’t think I could lead a Christian life any other way. I don’t have the strength. I don’t have the wisdom. I don’t have the compassion. I don’t have the love – without the Spirit breathing these gifts into me.
Yes, I’m born again. Yes, I’ve invited Jesus into my heart and life. Yes, I try to live every day based on prayer, to live according to how Jesus instructs me to live. I take the Bible seriously.
When I read –
Jesus said, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.”
– I don’t think I can get anyway with just loving with my heart and soul, and keeping my mind to myself. Jesus said, “You must…”.
When I read –
Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”
– I don’t think that means only on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Jesus said, “You must…”.
When I read –
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.”
– it doesn’t mean I can be a servant to one person and a nasty piece of work to another. Jesus said, “You must…”.
When I read –
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
– I can’t believe the obstacles people put in their way. I want to see the Kingdom of God. Right now I’m desperate to see the Kingdom of God. It’s a promise of justice, freedom, fairness, love and care … and so much more besides.
And you know what, I keep catching glimpses of it. When rights are wrong. When there is healing. Where there is forgiveness and acceptance. When praise flows from the heart. Where repentance is real.
I keep seeing the Kingdom of God, in the streets where I live, in the lives of people I meet. I guess I must be born again – and, boy, am I enjoying it. I feel liberated. I feel I have a purpose. I feel that I am called. I feel that I am special. I feel Spirit filled. And if I didn’t have that then Christianity would just be a mixed up jumble of half baked promises and hopes.
Controversies happen because people like a good argument, or cause they’re a smokescreen, or cause we’re not well enough informed. There’s no controversy here though:
Jesus said: “So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”