“Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.'” John 3:3 NRSV
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen
When I can’t find a good basketball game on television or become bored with watching the repetition of political news or can’t find a good movie Netflix or don’t want to watch the repeat programming on National Geographic or on the History Channel, do you know what I turn to on television?
I return to watch the 1960s hit program by Rod Serling, “The Twilight Zone.” Now I know that program by today’s standards seems simplistic. Nonetheless, I find that each episode helps me think more about important ethical issues that humanity has to face.
Here is one recent episode I watched. A retired couple in their seventies live sometime in the future where medical technology can shave years off of their lives. So they visit this medical super technological center where if they paid a fee they would be changed, transformed, and look 50 years younger.
But the problem was that they only had enough money to pay for a transformation for one of them. As I recall, the husband insisted the wife get the opportunity to look 25 again. So the center’s director paraded before the couple super models, beautiful women, for the couple to see and for the wife to select which type of model she would choose.
The couple went home to talk over the selection. They came back the next day and told the center’s director that neither of them would be transformed. They would stay the way they were and be content.
What questions did this episode evoke in my mind? Do we really want to change – physically? psychologically? ethically? spiritually? Are we content with our lives as they are right now? Can we look back upon our lives and call those years “blessed?” How much time and effort will we ever put into making a change?
In the holy conversation between Jesus and the Pharisee, Nicodemus, there is a sense of spiritual change. Would Nicodemus change some of his beliefs about his faith and follow Jesus as the Messiah? Would Nicodemus understand Jesus’ word that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from from above” and change his understanding of how one enters into this kingdom?
The word for “above” in Greek can also mean “again.” Nicodemus, a Pharisee who knew the Law of Moses and the writings of the Prophets very well, took Jesus to mean “again” and not “above.” That led Nicodemus to ask Jesus how can a person enter his mother’s womb and be born literally for a second time.
Jesus responded to Nicodemus by clarifying what he meant about begin born from “above” and not literally “again.” Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” (v. 5) For Jesus water and Spirit meant holy baptism. In John chapter one, John the Baptist said that he came to baptize with water, but Jesus would baptize with water and the Spirit. And being born from above with water and the Spirit in baptism one would be welcomed into the kingdom of God.
That was how one was changed. That was how one was transformed. That was how one entered the gracious rule of God in his kingdom. This was all God’s action in Christ for a new relationship with God through His only Beloved Son and the Holy Spirit.
People today certainly want to change. For $4 a week the Mayo Clinic offers a diet menu which will keep you healthy and fit. Nothing wrong with that. That’s a good change.
YMCAs and fitness centers offer weekly classes to strengthen your muscles and for cardiac health. Nothing wrong with that! That’s a good change.
Support groups like AA and for caregivers help people cope with caring for themselves and others. Nothing wrong with that! That’s a change for the better.
But what do we do for spiritual change? During this season of Lent I am trying to build up my faith by receiving daily messages from Pope Francis and meditating on them and making extra gifts to my church’s world hunger fund.
What will change you spiritually? What will strengthen your faith? Maybe you have joined a Bible study group. Maybe you have committed to praying more often. Or maybe you have devoted yourself to helping with a ministry like giving out food vouchers at your church or helping at a shelter for abused women or even giving an extra offering or two to a children’s home. Or just maybe you can lead a person to Christ by talking to them about the benefits of this Sacrament of Holy Baptism which includes a welcoming into the body of Christ and into the Kingdom of God. Leading a person to Holy Baptism will certainly give your spiritual life a boost.
After visiting congregations in his parish and appalled at the lack of knowledge of the Christian faith, Martin Luther wrote his “Small Catechism of 1529. Holy Baptism was one of the six chief parts of this instruction manual which included questions and answers for each part. For Luther the benefits of Holy Baptism is “forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation” to all who believe in God’s promises.
Isn’t that a transformation as baptism with water and the Spirit removes the stain of sin and the sting of death and gives us a new life in Christ?
In the section of Holy Baptism, Luther went on to write that the old person in us with all of its sin can be “drowned” daily as we have sorrow for sin and repent. Therefore the new you, the new person rises up to live with God “in righteous and purity forever” through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Isn’t this a thorough-going transformation so that offenses against God in thought, word and deed are “drowned,” wiped away, destroyed and the Holy Spirit raises us up to a new way of living with faith strengthened, the desire to do God’s will and the commitment to follow in the loving way of Christ?
The Spirit of God transforms our spiritual lives through water and the word in Holy Baptism. We sing this hymn as we plead to God to breathe on us with the breath that transforms us and makes us whole.
“Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love the way you love,
and do what you would do.”
(Public domain; hymnary.org)
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen