“The Born Identity” John 3:1-17

We are spending the weeks of Lent examining our identities by looking at the main characters in John’s gospel.  We are using these narratives as mirrors to see what in our identities need to be shaped by God’s graceful hands.  This morning we come to a man, who like us, wants to know how his identity is related to God.  In other words, how do we know we are stamped with the image of God and made as a child of God?.

Nicodemus is a religious person, a Pharisee, a member of the ruling council.  We neglect to realize even insiders who appear on the outside to be religious have spiritual longings not fulfilled.  Church people have identity crisis.  Every person who hears my voice knows of places in their soul where the good news of Jesus Christ has yet to wholly define them.

Nicodemus, “Rabbi, we know you’re a teacher who has come from God”.  He uses groupthink; saying “we know”.  We are safe as long as others think like we; such as the unemployed are lazy, teachers are the problem with our schools, and or the president is ruining the country or congress cares only about themselves.  Group think excuses me from my responsibility.  Using groupthink to remain stuck in our same old religious ways is committing spiritual suicide.  We do not have to examine the empty places in our lives; we walk the way of everyone.  Nicodemus says he knows; but like we, he knows there is much he doesn’t yet know and hopes to know about who is in relationship to this one who has come to offer new life.

We expect Jesus to offer Nicodemus a clear plea.  Jesus is unclear, using double talk to get him thinking past the things he already knew.  Jesus; employs images instead of ideas.  He says, “You must be born again”.  The Greek word John uses is “anothen”, which can mean “born again” or “born from above.”  Nicodemus took it the first way.  “How can a man crawl back into his mother’s womb and be born again once he is old?”  Jesus tells him being born of flesh is one thing-the water breaks and out we come; being born of Spirit is another thing-our spirit has to break, so our lives can be opened up to makes room for the Spirit to give birth to a new identity.

Jesus punctuates the conversation not by judging Nicodemus.  Instead he assures him by speaking the most commonly memorized verse in the Bible, John 3:16.  He retells him the good news of God’s intent from the Garden to be in relationship with God’s creation has not changed.  God’s love will go to all lengths to restore the image of God within him and bring him back into right relationship as child of God.  Jesus invites Nicodemus to let go the control he has over his life by his “we know this and we know that” so the Spirit of God can move his spirit.

We come to places in our life when we realize the way forward is to believe in something we cannot know, more than believing in that which we already know.  God’s preceding grace is at work nudging, poking, and sometimes pushing us to places, so we will quit looking around and start looking up to understand who God made us to be.  Meaningful spiritual conversation about who we are in relationship to God begin when we admit we don’t have all the answers within us nor are they in front us.  It is when we give up and look up that we see what we have been looking for comes from above us by a grace that happens from beyond us.  It happens in places of our identities that can’t be spotted on an MRI or plotted on an SAT.

It breaks my heart to see pastors and people going through the motions of the faith; forgetting they are wandering through a wonderland of grace.  People, both inside and outside the church, keep leaning on how much we know.  I am tired of trying to get it right.  Something else is missing beyond handle-able knowledge and reasonable words.  I think there is a hunger for meaning in life that goes beyond trying to collect enough data on our personal and spiritual hard drives.  Our Herculean pursuits of seeking to know may be what are keeping us from fully experiencing the good news.

The way forward in the life of faith is not about memorizing more information, reciting more elegant prayers, or being a member of the right church.  Our identities can be made new or renewed when we allow them to be born from above-the source of all life.  This happens to us more than something we make happen.  We are invited to let go of what we know, and believe in one who says nothing is impossible with God.

P & Q interviewed Ugonna Ohuana for ordination this week.  Her husband, Bishop Sunday, is United Methodist and still serves in their native land of Nigeria.  She is here completing her education and ordination process with one of their children.  I have had the privilege of sitting in the theology room as a member of the ruling council for the last four years, asking people if they know and have integrated what they know about God into their lives.

At the end of the interview a member of our team asked Ugonna, why she thinks the Spirit of God is pouring down from above on her continent and native country.  She told us how people of faith in her land have nothing else to put their trust in like: “corporations and credit cards”.  She said she has observed of people in her Sunday School, “sometimes act as if God is a third of several options”.  She asked those of us who are about to vote on her ordination this question that distinguishes knowing from faith us, “Do we behave like we believe that the power of God revealed in scripture saves, liberates, and heals?”

Salvation comes down to the movement from the horizontal to the vertical, from sideways knowing to upward knowing, from being born from below to being born from above.  This takes a faith leap to be willing to look up to be born from above!  This happens as we keep our eyes looking up for the grace of God being revealed in ways greater than our past experiences or our liminal imaginations .  We are to move from being self-made to spirit-born; from having an achieved identity to a born identity.  When this happens from above us and impacts what is within us we are born again.

What Jesus wants Nicodemus to know is, he will never know himself until he is born into the world to come; this takes a Spirit-birth.  Many of us know: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him may not perish but have everlasting life” by heart.  Do we really know it BY HEART?  Is there a corner of your identity ready to be placed at the altar of mercy and be born from above?

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Published in: on March 4, 2012 at 7:52 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. We all have corners obscured by cobwebs, ready to be swept clean by His Grace.

  2. Wonderful piece Rustyrev, thanks for sharing it.


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