John 3: 1-17 & Romans 8: 12-25
“Born From Above”

“Born From Above”

John 3: 1-17 & Romans 8: 12-25 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ May 26, 2024


We all have a birth story. A story of how we were born. You have yours and I have mine. One’s birth story includes how it all occurred and all the excitement that led up to…YOU. The amazing you coming into the world. I have my own birth story and I also two others. I have the birth story of my two children. In this modern era of medicine, the father’s involvement is strongly encouraged in the birthing process. Long gone are the days of the ‘father-to-be’ waiting in the lounge smoking a cigar. Fathers are involved in the delivery room to offer support and care… to be part of the birth!


I have a strong memory of the birth of my children with our doctor when she asked if I would like to cut the umbilical cord. The cord, of course, is the source of life that connects the child while in utero to the mother. Once born the cord must be cut as the child takes their first breath; as they latch onto the mother’s breast to receive nourishment, as they begin life. Once the cord is cut, we begin to connect with other sources of life. We eat pablum, then mushy peas and other soft foods. And life goes on.


This growth process is what Nicodemus knew. It was ALL that he knew when he came to Jesus. He knew of the birth in the flesh that we experience. Perhaps he had witnessed it with his own children. The birth of an infant; the growth of a child; the becoming of an adult. This birth and growth process is ALL that Nicodemus knew. Yet, he was in the dark on the other great birth that is available to people in this life.


John, the gospel writer, uses the wonderful metaphor of darkness and light in this passage to represent the shift of Nicodemus’ spiritual awareness. He comes to Jesus in the night; he arrives in the dark; in the time of his unknowing. He seeks a deeper awareness; a deeper truth about the fullness of life that lies beyond the physical. Life is not just flesh and blood…there is more. Nicodemus arrives with his confusion that had been festering and he asks of Jesus: ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God;  for no one can do these signs…apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus, then proceeds to share the mystery of new life that occurs to those who seek: ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ 


A second birth? How can this be possible? We have seen the umbilical cord cut. We have been born. It is completed…or has it? Nicodemus asks, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answers: “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit…you must be born from above.” 


So…let’s begin putting this together theologically. We are now into the Season of Pentecost. Last Sunday, we wore our red, orange and yellow clothing to symbolize the showering of the Holy Spirit upon all. The Spirit, wind, breath of God. We see God as Spirit…and that Spirit is a part of us! And through the church year, we consider various dimensions of God. We consider the deep connection we have with ‘the Holy’, however we name this dimension of God: Creator, Father / Mother, Divine mystery. Yet, there is more. We commune with God through God’s reflection in Christ: we consider how we are Easter people…inheritors of New Life and hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, on this Trinity Sunday, we feebly attempt to put this holy mystery of God together. Theologians teach that God is one; yet in the oneness of God, there are three dimensions that fit seamlessly together: the jugglers three balls in the air that meld into one; the three legs of the stool that support it from falling over; the three wheels of the tricycle that allow it to seamlessly move. Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Creator, Christ, and Spirit. Three in one…one in three….Holy Trinity.


I think this is where we see such a wonderful pairing of the John passage alongside Paul’s letter to the Roman church. Paul explains how we are not just people of flesh and blood, but also people who are born of the Spirit: “So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh…For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God…you have received a spirit of adoption.”


I wonder if one of the great quests of this life is for us to be born from above? I wonder if one of the deep learnings arrive in those moments when God is fully present and we realize ~ more than our minds can take in ~ we realize in our hearts that we are God’s children. The umbilical cord has been cut; the birth has occurred; we become grown people. And through this life, we have the profound opportunity to more fully commune with God: to be born from above. It doesn’t happen by accident. We might wander through life aimlessly, hopelessly, lost without a compass. Yet, there is this opportunity to connect with the deep mystery of life that will fill our cup to overflowing: a life in all its abundance!


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the great Jesuit theologian from the early part of the 20th Century  timelessly wrote: “we are not human begins having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience”. Take this in will you? If you, right now, live in a place of darkness and uncertainty as Nicodemus did. Nicodemus was powerfully drawn to Jesus to know the depth and wonder of life. He experienced it in Jesus’ presence. Nicodemus found the intersection of his soul with the mystery of life. And he began to know peace. He began to realize that there is one birth that is mandatory: our birth into this world. And, there is one birth that is optional: our birthing into the awareness of God’s intersection with us. To look out and see God’s handiwork in Creation; to look out and see God’s yearning for peace; to look out and see God’s cry for justice; to look out and see the face of God in all! This is the great gift of being born from above.


While this birth is optional, there is a lifetime longing that we all have! For Nicodemus, it was the longing that drew him to see Jesus in his darkened confusion. Blaise Pascal, the wonderful French mathematician, and theologian published a famous defense for Christianity. He suggested that we each have a “God-shaped hole” inside. We can fill it many different ways: we can overwork, over function. We can fill it with addictions and distractions. But we will never be satisfied; we will never be truly happy until that God-Shaped Hole is filled with God ~ until we are born from above. He describes it this way: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”


I love how churches are moving away from our differences and, increasingly, finding similarities with one another. It wasn’t that long ago that it might have been considered heresy in the United Church to discuss being ‘born again’ in a Liberal-Progressive church. On this Trinity Sunday, I wonder if we are being reminded that one of the deep purposes of church is to help people more fully establish this spiritual birth? One of the deep purposes is to be midwives helping us be born from above.


We can go through life on autopilot if we aren’t careful. We can fail to stop and smell the roses; forget to count our blessings; fail to sense a neighbour’s pain; be silent in moments that call for justice; be cold in times that call for forgiveness; forget to smile in moments of life’s joy. We can, indeed, go through life overburdened, overloaded, working overtime. Yet if we are ‘born from above’, we have that opportunity for spirit to meet flesh; for the Holy to fit the God-sized longing; to be born into the life we were meant to live.


 I want to close with Jesus’ mysterious words offered to Nicodemus in his quest. May they be words guiding us in ours: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Amen.