Born Again, or Bored Again?

John 3:1-17 Born Again or Bored Again?       March 20, 2011      Lent 2
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  John 3:17

This morning, we’re looking at the story of Nicodemus.
We’re looking at the story from the gospel of John that contains probably the single most famous verse in the New Testament, if not the entire Bible.
Say it with me if you can in whatever version you might have memorized it in; “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only son, that everyone who believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
John 3:16.
It’s one of the first verses I memorized in Sunday school when I was a kid.
It’s sometimes referred to as the gospel in a sentence, or the gospel in a nutshell.
It’s an important part of the story, and a great verse to affirm as we grow in our faith.
But I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by reducing our faith to just one verse.
This passage is also where we find the original reference to the term “Born Again”.
It comes from verse 3 in today’s reading, which is where Jesus tells Nicodemus that no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again or born from above, depending on the translation you’re reading.
It’s language that we’ve heard before; as in “Are you a born-again Christian?”
From American Presidents to those in Poverty, people have picked up this language, describing themselves as “born-again Christians”.
And I’ll be honest with you, when I hear someone refer to themselves as a “born again” Christian, I usually go on the defensive.
Not because I don’t believe in the term; I’m just not real sure what they mean by using it.
See, I don’t think Jesus was talking about a label here; I think he was talking about a reality that makes you see the whole world with a different set of eyes.
It’s right there in what he says; no one can SEE the Kingdom of God unless they’ve been born again.
You know, Christine and I recently went to see a 3-d movie; “Tangled” up in Canton.
It might have been the first 3D movie I’ve ever seen.
I’m sold on the technology.
They give you a pair of glasses when you buy your ticket, and you put them on when the movie starts, and it really works!  It looks like the action is popping right off the screen.
Without the glasses, the picture just looks really blurry and fuzzy.
But with those glasses, the picture changed entirely!
The movie was transformed because of the glasses we were wearing.
Now, I didn’t walk around during the movie, telling people I had special glasses on.
It was obvious, not just because I was wearing the glasses, but also because I was really interested in the movie!
I think that’s what Jesus was talking about.
When you’re able to see the Kingdom unfolding before you, you become really interested in what’s going on right in front of you.  The stuff that was blurry before and not quite focuses; it starts to pop off the screen with a new kind of life you never thought possible.
That’s the power of the Kingdom of God; that what we see with our eyes is only part of the story!!

The problem is that we’ve heard this language so often placed out of context that I think it’s started to lose it’s meaning!
We hear the phrase “born again’ and anymore we think it’s a simple thing.
That’s the danger we run when we isolate one verse and hang so much on it.
It loses it’s meaning.  It becomes boring.
We start to think we’ve heard it all before.
Well, I’d like to suggest that Nicodemus has more to teach us.
We need new glasses to be unsettled by this passage.

One thing that I really like about the gospel of John is that he writes in layers of meaning.
He uses metaphor like an expert to pack in as much meaning as possible into the words he chooses.
For example, here he’s telling us about this Pharisee who comes to Jesus at night.
It’s a pretty simple, straightforward story.
But if you remember, within the first 10 verses of chapter 1, he’s already established that God is the Light that shines in the darkness, and that the darkness did not overcome it.
He goes on to equate that light with Jesus who is the living word that was with God, that was God, that created all things.
It makes you think a little deeper about the whole story, because Light in John’s gospel is a lot more than just “light”, and the same is true of darkness.
It makes you empathize with Nicodemus, who struggled through the dark night, driven by his anxieties, his hopes, and his fears.
I’m sympathetic towards this Pharisee; this religious leader who had a reputation to maintain, people to care for, and a movement of his own to nurture.
I read this passage about Nicodemus, and I start to see a guy with honest questions, a guy who’s unsure where to go and so finds himself in the dark and stumbling, groping towards the light; searching for a firmer grip on the reality of a God he loves and Who loves him back.
I look a little deeper and I see a quest for truth that begins in darkness and draws closer to the light, which reveals all things, for this Light is Life and through it all things were made, though the darkness cannot understand it!
Indeed…John is a master storyteller.
By the time I get done reading this passage, I start to forget if John’s writing about Nicodemus, or if he’s writing about me.
Nicodemus was seeking to get to the bottom of the mystery around this guy Jesus once and for all.  It’s a quest that’s far from over, even for us in this room.

If you read through the end of the book, you’ll know that this is just the first of 3 times Nicodemus shows up in the gospel of John, and it’s the only time he’s shown conversing with Jesus.
The second place Nick shows up is in chapter 7 verse 50, where he gives a half-hearted defense of Jesus when his Pharisee buddies were getting riled up by what Jesus was teaching and doing.
The last place Nicodemus shows up is in chapter 19 verse 39.  That’s where he brings about 75 pounds of burial spices to help Joseph prepare Jesus’ body for burial.
It’s interesting, when you think about it.
Nicodemus shows up at the beginning, the middle, and the end of Jesus’ ministry, and with every appearance we get a little snapshot into who he was at that moment.
We never get a real clear picture, just kind of a blurry snapshot, but we do get to see him grow!  We see movement in his life!  We see change!  That’s exciting to me.
So it’s interesting that we pay almost zero attention to these last two appearances when we talk about Nicodemus.
I mean, I can understand why; after all, Jesus goes into a pretty long teaching here, and that’s really what we’re after most of the time.
We want to know what Jesus said.
But we have more in common with Nicodemus than we do with Jesus.
I see myself in Nicodemus, and I think that’s how John intends it to be.
As much as we try to reduce the gospel to John 3:16; as hard as we try to make the label “born again” a simple yes or no question, the Bible itself will have none of it.
It’s just not that simple.
Nicodemus is being transformed by Jesus.  We are being transformed by Jesus
Nicodemus journeyed through the darkness.  We ourselves are journeying through darkness; But we have also seen a Great Light!
This new birth that Jesus is talking about takes time and effort.
It takes intentionality and there is deep struggle that’s involved.
That’s why he uses the metaphor he does; of childbirth.
And it’s no wonder Nicodemus doesn’t get it.
What I don’t get is why we think what Jesus was saying was so obvious.
What I don’t get is why we think we can reduce what he’s saying to just a couple of verses and think we understand it better than Nicodemus did; the guy who was actually there having the conversation!

I know from experience that when it comes to finding Jesus, it’s easy to go through the motions and not really make a decision or a commitment.
But keep in mind that not making a decision is still a decision.
And in my experience, it’s a decision that leads to boredom instead of new birth.
It’s a decision to not put on the 3D glasses you’ve been handed for the movie.
…Everyone knows you’re almost expected to be bored in church; bored by the biblical story, and for some reason boredom is a socially acceptable state of being in this time called America.
But what if I were to suggest this morning that Boredom is a Sin?
Maybe that language is a little bit strong; but you’ll never convince me that God intended us to be bored.
Ever.
So what can we call it?  I really think boredom is a state of being we’ve invented that is outside of God’s plan for our lives.
Can we call that ‘sin’?  (I’m asking the question, I’m not making the statement).
Would anything change?
I’m guilty of boredom from time to time, for sure…but what would change if we saw boredom as an inner choice rather than a reality that’s thrust upon us from the outside?
Would we stop expecting to be entertained every minute of every day?
Would we start exercising our creativity more often?
Would we become more intentional about our lives and how we choose to spend our time?
I don’t know, because as of right now boredom is a socially acceptable state of being.
Kind of like Nicodemus and his life under Pharisaism.  It’s socially acceptable, but it’s not really what God was going for when He made us.

See, Nicodemus was wrestling with his demons like all of us do.
And I’m naming ‘boredom’ as our demon; because it’s a word that I think carries a lot of meaning in our day and age.
But what I mean by ‘boredom’ is a whole lot more than just not being busy.
Another word for it is Apathy.
It’s cousins are cynicism and sarcasm, and I’m well-acquainted with the family.
The thing is, this story about Nicodemus is a beautiful picture of someone who’s changing, someone who’s drawing closer to Jesus in spite of himself.
This story gives me hope!
It takes a long time, but the guy is open to Jesus and open about where he’s at.
He’s not hiding anything.
I think that’s a pretty good place to start and to be when we find ourselves in the presence of Christ.
Pray with me as I close:
Heavenly Father, we find ourselves seeking you alongside Nicodemus,
Walking through the darkness
seeking your Light.
We know that
Your Kingdom has to do
with New birth, even for we who claim to see it.
Give us strength
as we wrestle our demons
give us patience for the road
Pierce us with your vision, God
And help us we Pray
Amen.

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