Sermon for Lent 2 – Year A – 16th March 2014 ‘You must be born again’

Sermon for Lent 2 – Year A – Sunday 16th March 2014
Genesis 12:1-4
John 3:1-17

“you must be born again”

The story is told of a preacher called to a new ministry. On his first week his text was ‘You must be born again’. The elders of the church who had appointed him all patted themselves on the back for it was a fine sermon that stirred their hearts. Indeed it was SO good that the following week, they were only Slightly disturbed when he announced his text for the week, John Chapter 3 and verse 7 ‘Do not be astonished that I said to you, you must be born again!’. Again the sermon was excellent and all went home to say what a fine preacher they had appointed, and they looked forward to the following week. On the following week however, their disturbance reached a new height. The pastor walked to the pulpit, and announced his text ‘you must be born again’. Hurriedly after the service, the elders got together, and clled the pastor into the vestry. ‘Pastor. We are Very very glad you have come to us, you are a very fine preacher’ – always beware of flattery . . . ‘but we are concerned that you only seem to be preaching only from one text. Why? And the pastor responded , because ‘You must be born again!’

Last week I spoke about the illusory nature of much of our existence. That we Needed above all to be awakened to the Reality in which we ‘live and move and have our being’. And it might be tempting to say that that means that we need to hear the same sermon series. But our situation is not the same, indeed the preacher was wrong in what he said. He just had a view of Baptism out of line with the teaching of the catholic [sic] church down through the ages. Not that new Birth is not Necessary and Essential (of the Essence / Core of faith).
In the words of Jesus to Nicodemus ‘you must be born from above’. Jesus does not put this as an option or a choice – it is an Imperative. You Must be born again. And the reason for that imperative is made clear in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above’ ‘You cannot enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit’ The new birth is Essential to our Lives as Christians, indeed it Is our life.

Most of us have grown up with an understanding of Christian faith that is part of that widespread Illusion about the nature of the world in which we live. That Christian faith is a set of ideas about the way the world is – one amongst many religious understandings – that the Christian life is ‘the moral life’ – one not dissimilar to that of many good lives. Even that it is a ‘Spiritual’ life, like indeed we might care to imagine everyone can access in some way or other.
But it is not. Christian Faith, Christian Life is the life of Jesus Christ – it is a whole New way of being in the world – a participation in the Life of God in the world, for the sake of the world and to the Glory of God without parallel, anywhere. We cannot say ‘it is like this . . .’ or ‘it is like that . . .’ for it is not like anything we can name, except Jesus Christ. It is a Life given to us – it is the product of a second birth – the sacrament of which is baptism.

This week Bishop Kelvin has begun his Hikoi – once more proclaiming the Good News throughout the Diocese. And the only Good News we have as Christians is the Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ. Together with Anglicans across the Diocese we are invited to participate in this proclamation of Jesus Christ as we renew our Baptism vows.

For our Baptism is God’s chosen way of New birth – of bringing us into the life of Jesus Christ – but for so many and to a certain extent for us all, either the Devil has snatched away the seed of the Word of Life, or persecution has meant that we’ve given up on it, or, and this is true of us all to a greater or lesser extent, the thorns and weeds of life in the world with its myriad distractions, its hall of enticing mirrors, or its pain and sorrow – these have robbed us of the Joy of life in Jesus Christ – of our New Life. Our problem is not that we have not been born again, our problem is that we have forgotten. We have forgotten who we are – we have forgotten that we have been born again into a living hope and we have become comfortable with an illusion – about faith and our Life before God. We have become comfortable with a faith that is no faith at all.

Of course to speak of Baptism in this way is troublesome for us Modern people. For so many in the modern church ‘being born again’ is something we choose along with Baptism. Nicodemus question ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old?’ echoes this. When we were born did we think ‘How can I be born?’ Why then do we think we can ask ‘How do I go about being born again??’. It is nonsense, not that the modern church is not replete with those who will tell you HOW to be born!!!! . . . For We moderns are trained to be in charge of our own lives. The thought that our Baptism, the second birth was something we had no say in is offensive to us. And the more control we vainly imagine we have over our lives, through wealth or education or family circumstance – the more we chafe against the idea that our re-birth – our Baptism was ANYTHING except Our choice. We thus deny who we are, Living not as children of light, but as children of this present evil age.
As one writer so clearly puts it ‘Much of the rhetoric of [this modern age] is aimed towards those with wealth and power. It privileges their stories and mocks the weakness of those without power . . .’ And anyone who was baptised as an infant, with no say, powerless and weak will know the power of the ‘mockery’ dressed up as ‘Christian Concern for Truth’ that suggests that lack of choice made your baptism second class. How often have we heard the declaration – ‘I was truly present at my baptism. I chose that path’ – a rebuke (occasionally unintended) to the weak who were baptised as infants.
To say ‘the point is not whether you have chosen Christ, but whether He has chosen you’ – frankly that is too much for us moderns to swallow. ‘This is a hard teaching, who can accept it?’ The offense of the gospel is that it is Not about you – it is totally and utterly about the Glory of God. And many turn back from life for that reason and construct something more in keeping with their own understanding – the Protestant Error. {It is worth remembering that the rise of Protestantism coincided with the birth of Individualism. Indeed Scholars of secularism, Individualism’s offspring find it all but impossible to discern which caused the other.

But Baptism is not even an individual matter. For God in Christ does not call individuals, he calls a people. This is why we renew our vows together. We might hear the call of Abram as a call to an individual but it is not – for Israel is in Abram. In calling Abram to Life, God calls Israel. ‘Abram and his seed for ever’ as we shall sing in the Magnificat tonight. Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation . . . So Abram went, as the Lord had told him. So Abram went . . . So in the fulness of time, Obedient Israel – Jesus the Christ was sent into the World to be Life for the World – to be the Life of a People – to be not my life or your life, but to be Our life
We renew our vows together to remind ourselves of this – to remind ourselves that Christ is our Life – that it is nothing to do with us – that we are being led into something which has no parallel. That by God’s Grace – free and unmerited in All regards, lest we should boast – We have been born from above.

Bishop Kelvin’s question ‘how do you convert a diocese’, has This merit – that Christian Life is the life that we share. That we need together to wake from the illusions which constrain and seek to limit our common Life. May we together wake up to who we are; by Grace alone, those born from above. Not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but [born] of God.

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