Sunday message: New birth

Lent 2 – March 8, 2020

Genesis 11:30 – 12:4a
John 3:1-17

It often happens that it appears as if a dead-end has been reached. What is a dead-end? One could describe it as a cul-de-sac, but that’s very literal. Isn’t it a place in life where it appears as if things won’t work out anymore? It could be a situation where one can’t go any further.

Dead-ends aren’t pleasant. I would daresay that Abram and Sarai had reached a dead-end in our reading from Genesis, as it reads like this: “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.”

We know that later in the narrative about Abram and his wife Sarai, there is the moment when God promises to Abraham that he would have a son by Sarah. Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”

They are at more than a dead-end. They are too old to have a son. For crying out loud, how on earth can a ninety-year-old woman bear a child? She had been barren throughout her life. Perhaps a relationship has dried up for you, or even finances, maybe there aren’t many possibilities awaiting a person. Who knows?

This is where — in Abram’s and Sarai’s life — things are turned on their head. God tells them that they will be made a great nation, in spite of Sarai’s barrenness. Go to the land I will show you. What’s so striking, is that both the wives of Isaac and Jacob were also barren. Nevertheless, God still used their nothing to become something, it clearly isn’t just about us as humanity. God continues to make all the difference.

Many years ago, almost 19 years ago, these words spoke to me in a rather strange way. It felt to Carina and myself like our lives had become a little stale and possibilities were limited when we saw an ad in our church newspaper. It had three vacancies in South Africa and one in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. We both pointed at Yorkton and started enquiring. I was directed to the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s National Office and had to go for an interview. But before I took any step further in that same week, I realized that there would be no way for me to proceed unless I took some quiet time with the Lord. It was a Thursday morning and I knew not what the reading would be for me. I simply prayed for light on this very uncertain path, applying for a position from South Africa to Canada. My reading turned out to be from Hebrews 11:1-3 and 8-16. The same story about Abram and Sarai was retold in the passage from 8-16, leaving their homeland, the land of their father, to go elsewhere. Needless to say, I got goosebumps all over my body and I just knew that in some very mysterious way, God was moving me off my seat and that the Presbyterian Church in Canada may be a calling for me. I booked a plane ticket for an interview in Toronto on April 22 in 2002. The rest is history, I can tell you, this event in my study that week in August 2001, reading unbeknownst to me from Hebrews 11 from my regular devotional changed our whole family’s life.

A new future was being born. Bright new vistas opened up for my family and me!

Do new possibilities show up for us and we just don’t recognize them?

[Show monarch butterfly from pupa video]

We just saw how a wonderful rebirth happens for a butterfly. We too, Jesus tells Nicodemus — and us — are in need of a total transformation. A total change from what appears to be nothing into what is beautiful and amazing. You may recall that there was just a fluffy, soft, paperlike skin that was left behind. What we often forget, is that we too go through change for the better. We too have, similar to the butterfly, something that we leave behind. It may be very subtle, or it may be a very clear past that we would rather not remember. More than that, as a community of faith, we too leave things behind. Past memories, and it will never help us to cling too much to those past memories. It could actually cripple or paralyze us to hold on to those past things. In fact, the best we can do is to grieve when there are past memories that we wish we could have back. Does our community of faith at Dayspring need to grieve about past memories that aren’t there anymore? It too might be similar to the paperlike skin of the butterfly that can serve very little purpose. We might indeed need to grieve and through that path of mourning, something new can be birthed. We can be transformed into a community of new life, vibrant and thriving life.

Our passage from John 3 is very telling. One night, Nicodemus was asking Jesus about the way to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus does it at night, perhaps because he can’t see the light yet, and is coming to Him who is the light for the world. Perhaps Nicodemus is similar to our community, to the existence of the monarch butterfly in its pupa, much in need of transformation.

Marcus Borg writes about this in his book, The Heart of Christianity – rediscovering a life of faith [i]. Borg says that the two are twins, the individual-spiritual-personal and the communal-social-political. That which happens in Nicodemus’ life, is linked to our life together.

Unfortunately, we as mainline churches bock at language of “being reborn”, as if it only belongs to super-Christians, and not to ordinary Christians. The beauty, however, is that John 3 actually uses a word “anoothen” which can be understood in two ways. It can mean born anew or again, or the word can mean born from above.

This distinction in itself says something that shows how Jesus in John was doing what He did a lot in John. He picks a word that can be interpreted in two ways. Nicodemus understands it in a literal way, not in the more metaphorical way, as birth “from above”, a spiritual birth.

Indeed, what Nicodemus needs is a spiritual birth, an internal rebirth, a personal transformation. This is what we all need.

We are all indeed called to have a new life, and to move out of our feeling of being stuck and not able to move forward. Are we ready to once again, or for the first time, embrace this good news, which

[i] Borg, Marcus J. (2003). The heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a life of faith. San Francisco: HarperCollins, p. 103-106

Copyright 2020 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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