“Born of the Spirit”
Rev. Richard Feyen
recorded on 16 Mar 2014
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
First Reading: An Excerpt from Lazarus, Come Forth! How Jesus Confronts the Culture of Death and Invites Us into the New Life of Peace by John Dear
“We too are summoned out of the culture of death into the way of nonviolence. All of us are called to share the risen life here and now. In John’s Gospel, we hear the invitation over and over: ‘Enter eternal life today. Do not do the works of death. I have come that you might have life and life to the full. Whoever believes in the God of life will have nothing to do with death. Live in the new freedom of love and peace!’
“In chapter 11 the action reaches its peak. We hear that Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died. But in this context, Lazarus is more than a friend of Jesus. According to theologian Monika Hellwig, Lazarus represents humanity. If this is true — and I submit that it is the key to the entire Gospel — then John has taken us into deep waters. The story of this raising is John’s way of dramatizing how Jesus has come to call everyone and every culture out of the tombs of death into the new life of peace.”
Second Reading: John 3:1 – 6 From The Message by Eugene Peterson
There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.” Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to – to God’s kingdom.” “How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?” Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation – the ‘wind hovering over the water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life – it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch – the Spirit – and becomes a living spirit.
We are all fairly well aware of the language that an inside group can speak and understand and that people ‘outside’ the group can really not “get-it.”
For example, medical professionals can go on in a conversation about something with each other and the patients around the room will say, “What?” These kinds of conversations happen all the time. At the Trustees’ meeting this week, one group was talking volts, amps, grounds, and magnetic fields and a few people sat with blank looks. But when the conversation turned to wills and trusts and planned giving a member spoke up and said, “Okay now you’re talking my language!”
We noticed it as well in the news this week regarding the Malaysian jetliner that disappeared. Each different news broadcaster had to bring out their aviation expert to translate and explain transponders and locator beacons and navigational GPS, as well as, course deviations, flight plans, and search grids. Every “insider group” has its own ‘lingo.’ Theologians, academicians, musicians, (for some people ‘messo-piano’ is that pile of messy papers stacked on the baby grand), all these different groups have their language. So when we enter into a new group, we have to work, at first, coming to terms with the insider language.
That is just one of the issues in this story that Jesus is facing with Nicodemus in this brief conversation the wealthy Pharisee wants to address. Nicodemus is trying to get a grip on the insider language, the concepts Jesus is trying to express. The other issue, also having to do with insider lingo, may be something rather new to consider. Jesus, as well as the authors, and probably more so the authors of the text, are writing and speaking and presenting their information in a very hostile environment and what they say, if overheard by the wrong person, and understood, could get them killed.
Last Sunday evening, as the group gathered to discuss the introduction of the book that we are reading for Lent, the question was raised, “Why didn’t they share the message in a simple and straightforward way? Why didn’t they write it so we could understand it?” Maybe they spoke cryptically very intentionally, so not everyone would understand. Think about drug dealers, hit men, terrorists; all speak in a way that preserves their life and livelihood, why not disciples in the hostile environment they were in?
John Dear, author of the book from which this morning’s first reading was taken, suggests that Lazarus was a representation of all humankind in that story. He suggests that, “We too are summoned out of the culture of death into the way of nonviolence. All of us are called to share the risen life here and now.” He offers that the Lazarus story is a way of inviting all people to come alive in the goodness of all that is sacred and he lifts up the importance of doing it now.
If that is a possibility, then so is the invitation to Nicodemus. Jesus is saying, or could be saying, that we begin life anew by appreciating that we are part of all that is sacred in all creation. And he goes on to say, that unless a person sees and understands that, they will fail to appreciate what it means to be part of the sacred community in the here and now. This language would have sounded like a recruitment pitch for the underground movement and, if heard by the wrong person and interpreted in that way, would have been grounds for getting someone killed, and in fact it did, many times over. It was subversive, if not downright treasonous, and in an era of violence against the followers of the teachings of Jesus, it resulted in more death and more destruction.
So, it is very possible that the stories are quite intentionally left as stories in need of interpretation so that the persecuting authorities would not understand. I think we really need to realize that our sacred texts are stories that tell of a people of faith who were a persecuted group on this journey of faith. They are stories that need to be interpreted through ‘insider lingo.’ They are stories that were written in a time of severe violence against Christians and so the message could not then be shared with clarity — it HAD to be shared in subtlety.
In the story of raising Lazarus from the dead, a story of inviting all humanity to arise to a new life, a new beginning, a new way of understanding that we are part of all that is and we can live in a new era of freedom of love and peace. And the story of Nicodemus is a story also inviting the people living then, under the persecution of the Roman Empire and the temple law, to begin a new life within that old body. But it is also a story that invites us to a “do-over.” This is an invitation to a life with the awareness of being in the spirit of the sacred which comes to us as the spirit-over-the waters, bringing order out of the chaos of life. It encourages us all to find the sacred spirit within and bring new life to all of our endeavors. It suggests rebirth from old ways into new found enlightenment and it reminds us of the newness of life every day.
Language is a very tricky thing but in the sacred text, this lesson tells us, I believe, that we can take the language and interpret it with our own understanding and in keeping with the core message, so long as we are working together to build a better tomorrow for all people. So long as the message of order out of chaos, compassion for all, and unity in the face of diversity remain central to the message we offer. Sam Keen in Hymns to an Unknown God says, “The great metaphors from all spiritual traditions — grace, liberation, being born-again, awakening from illusion — testify that it is possible to transcend the conditioning of my past and do a new thing.”
Hearing the language, understanding the nuances of order, and the suggestions for life changing opportunities is central for me and I believe for people of all faiths. I hear the language encouraging us all to seek a new life in the spirit of all that is sacred, from the quiet solitude of the woods, the joy of friendship here, and the grandeur of nature, – not for yourself but for the sake of all humankind! The insider language in our sacred texts, while interpreted in many different ways, I believe, tell the stories of a people of faith seeking an understanding, seeking order out of the chaotic world and seeking to offer a pathway to acceptance for all people. Acceptance that moves us toward unity with all people and with all that is sacred in the world.
Here we offer the Spirit of acceptance and a new life in the spirit.
The spirit of Hope.
Blessings to you on your journey friends.