Saturday, February 16, 2008

Born Again Faith

17 February 2008 – Lent2A * Genesis 12:1-8/John 3:1-17

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Born Again Faith

“…no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Or, is it, “…no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” Turns out that in the Greek of the New Testament it can be either. Either way one chooses to translate this word, it all ends up meaning the same thing – the kind of rebirth Jesus has in mind is a) elusive and mysterious, and b) entirely God’s doing.

This suggests, of course, that one cannot “choose” to be “born again.”

Jesus takes it all one step further with another play on words. The word is pneuma – from which we get pneumatic. In the Greek pneuma can mean “wind” or “spirit.” So when Jesus says, “The wind blows where it will, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit,” he is saying this is all in God’s hands, beyond our control. There’s no telling when it will happen or to whom!

Now Nicodemus was a scholar of the tradition, a religious leader in his community. He comes to Jesus secretly at night. In one of the more famous paintings of this scene by the American artist, John Lewis Frederick Joseph La Farge, Visit of Nicodemus to Christ (1880) (,

Nic is pictured with a scroll open upon his lap, representing the tradition as recorded in the Hebrew Bible. He is pointing to it and seemingly saying, “How can this be? I have read this stuff, I interpret it, I know it, and I am an expert in this kind of thing. We have to stick with the tradition.”

Jesus might just as well refer Nic back to our first lesson. Abram and Sarai are living a comfortable suburban existence in Ur of the Chaldes, when God says, “Children go where I send thee.” Remarkably, they do! Little could they know they would reach a new homeland. Little did they know they would have a child at ages 100 and 90! Little did they know their names would become Abraham and Sarah, the ancestors of our faith. Little did they know that their journey would eventually lead to a young man named Jesus carrying on the tradition of faith as a journey with God. Abraham and Sarah are the first of God’s people to be “born again.”

This is where it all begins. The very notion that the life of faith is a journey, directed by God’s Spirit/Wind, taking us from we know not when and where and taking us to we know not where, begins with Sarah and Abraham and continues through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

All of which is why, as Frederick Beuchner reminds us in his little book, Wishful Thinking (Harper and Row, NY:1973), “Faith is better understood as a verb than a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure of where you’re going but going anyway - a journey without maps. Tillich said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith….doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” (p.25, p.20)

Faith is alive, awake, and moving – moving forward not backwards. Abraham and Sarah never look back, they keep going forward with God. Nicodemus we learn later in John’s Gospel gets it – Nic is moved forward by the Spirit/Wind of God and never turns back. We later see him publicly defend Jesus against his critics, and playing a loving and touching role in arranging for a decent burial after the crucifixion. Nic is moved from studying the past to acting in the present and moving into God’s future.

Born Again Faith means not looking back. No doubt, as it must have been for Nicodemus, and I am sure it must have been for Sarah and Abraham, this can be scary stuff. For those who want to look back, however, there is a warning – Abraham’s nephew Lot accompanied them on the journey of faith, and at a most inopportune moment Lot’s wife looked back and never took another step again as she was turned instantly into a pillar of salt. Looking back is a great temptation.

Yet, none less than Don Henley gets the sense of all this in his Boys of Summer, ‘Out on the road today / I saw a "Dead Head" sticker on a Cadillac / A little voice inside my head said / "don't look back, you can never look back."

This Second Sunday in Lent calls us to a Born Again Faith that looks forward, not backwards. We are invited to open ourselves to the movement of God’s Spirit/Wind. Like Abraham and Nicodemus, those who are Born Again will recognize that only God could have sent Jesus to bring understanding, healing and hope to the world.

Those who are Born Again work together to help others, and in worship come to recognize Christ’s presence in our midst.

When, like Nicodemus, we find the courage to come and visit Jesus, we will move forward with God’s message to a hurting world. Our lives will become a sign of God’s love for the world – the world for which God gives his only Son so that all who believe in him may not perish but may have eternal life.


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