March 16, 2014
In our classes these past few weeks on World Religions.
We’ve discovered a lot of similarities
among various religions of the world…
We’ve talked about common values of love and compassion;
We’ve talked about similar rituals to ours – such as baptism;
We’ve talked about some very similar stories in the sacred writings and even similar people in many of them
(On Thursday night we heard about the stories of Noah and Moses and Abraham in the Quran.)
We’ve also tried to get an understanding of some of the things
that are different from Christianity.
One of the beliefs that I find difficult to connect with,
Is a belief that Hindus and Buddhists have in reincarnation –
the idea that after one dies, one is reborn – born again
but in a different form.
The cycle of birth, death, and rebirth
can go on over and over again…tens, hundreds, or even thousands of years!
Frankly, I don’t really think I want to be born again!
(…or am I already?….That is the question for today!)
Jesus tells Nicodemus,
‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again… ‘
You may have noticed that the translation I read this morning was a little bit different;
it said that Jesus says “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above – or born anew.”
Born again, born from above, born anew…all are possible.
However Jesus meant it,
Nicodemus didn’t get it.
Nicodemus, a leader in the Jewish community who came to Jesus by night
(maybe because he was afraid, or embarrassed, or ashamed) to speak with this radical Jew,
responds, “Can a man enter his mother’s womb a second time?”
(And all the women listening in take one look at him and say, “Please no!”)
Jesus says that it is a different kind of rebirth,
a different kind of reincarnation,
a different kind of birth from above or birth anew.
Jesus says that being born again is a birth not of flesh,
but of water and the spirit.
Being born again for Jesus
is a spiritual rebirth, a spiritual transformation,
…it is a change of heart which comes not from ourselves or our mothers or fathers but comes from the spirit.
Today is the 2nd week in our Lenten sermon series on “making change”
and today we talk about a “change of heart.”
The Christian way of life as described in the New Testament over and over again
Is one of death and resurrection,
of dying and rising.
We wear a cross – a symbol of death around our necks,
but also a reminder of new life.
Jesus tells Nicodemus, you will not see the kingdom of God
unless you have been born again-
unless you have a changed heart.
I don’t think Jesus that when Jesus says,
“you will not see the kingdom of God,”
he is telling Nicodemus that he won’t get into heaven unless he’s born again,
I think when Jesus says you will not see the kingdom of God without being born again,
he is saying, “Without a changed heart, Nicodemus,
you won’t see how God is working in the world.
For the kingdom of God is upon us.
The kingdom of God begins now.
Nicodemus, you look at things as if they happen as randomly
as the direction the wind blows.
But if your heart is changed,if you are open to the spirit,
you will see that there is something guiding that wind;
you will see that God is working here even now.
We can’t make our hearts change to see God at work –our Confirmands will learn this evening that that’s the role of the Holy Spirit.
But we can facilitate the work of the spirit,
prime the pump if you will…,
help our hearts become good soil,
ready for the seed that is planted.
An old AA saying is “Fake it until you make it.”
If you don’t feel your heart has been changed,
act as if it has,
follow the practices that someone with a changed heart would have,
and one day you may discover that you do indeed have a changed heart.
I was watching a Ted talk the other day
which shared some good research about just that – about practicing something until it becomes true.
If you want to be happier studies show,act as if you’re happy!
In fact if you simply smile more often, you’ll become happier.
And I thought this was most fascinating….
you don’t actually have to feel like smiling…
if you just put a pen in between your teeth and force a smile,
you’ll become happier!
So if you want a changed heart,
practice the things that someone with a changed heart would practice.
If you want to be born again, if you want to be open to the Spirit,
act as if you are.
Practice generosity and you’ll become more generous.
Practice hospitality and you’ll become more welcoming.
Come to worship and you’ll become more worshipful.
Pray and you’ll become more prayerful.
I am not a generous person.
I wish I was, but generosity does not come naturally to me.
I am especially reminded of my lack of generosity
When I see others who truly are.
A few months ago, I was staying overnight in the local Presbyterian church in Gettysburg as part of an emergency shelter program for the homeless.
Nancy was a regular participant in that program.
There was a box in the fellowship hall where we were gathering
Which had a sign on it saying, “Donate your coats for the needy.”
Nancy took off her coat, and put it in the box.
I would like to be more like Nancy.
Not because I think it will help get me into heaven.
I would like to be more like Nancy because I think it will help me see the kingdom of God here in this world easier.
I think it will help my heart to change so that I am a generous person.
I think it will be my own rebirth, my own reincarnation, my own being born again.
So, I am practicing.
I am faking it until I make it.
I give regularly to the church with the hope that I will become more generous.
I tithe and give 10% of my check so I become someone who thinks about God first and don’t come up with excuses for myself.
I am practicing generosity until my heart is changed and generosity becomes something automatic – until I am reborn as a generous person.
It will happen one day.
Maybe generosity is not something you need to practice.
Maybe you’d like to be a more kind person…
So you practice it..
You decide to practice one random act of kindness a day
Until you are changed into a kind person.
Perhaps it’s prayer.
Perhaps it’s reading the Bible.
Perhaps it’s service.
Lent is a good time to practice a changed heart.
40 days…fake it until you make it…practice and watch what happens.
See if after these 40 days your heart is changed…
See if after these 40 days you have a rebirth.
See if after these 40 days you can see God at work in this world better.
See if after these 40 days you have a better grasp of how much God loves this world.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
So that whoever believes in him may not perish,
But may have eternal life.
Eternal life begins now.
Like Nicodemus, we will see it more clearly with a changed heart;
Unless we are born again we will not see the glory, the abundance, the gift of the kingdom of God.