March 16, 2014
(BORN AGAIN / OR / NOT BORN YET / OR / ABOUT TO BE BORN)
Will you pray with me. Loving God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our strength and redeemer. Amen
I had an alternative title for today’s sermon: Born again OR not born yet OR about to be born.
Many folks, like Nicodemus have struggled with this passage over the years.
My earliest memory of “born again” / altar call as is understood in most fundamental churches, other than seeing Billy Graham on TV, occurred at my home church.
Emmanuel United Church, Summer Home Mission. Student minister, but this was a special service on some week night. French River. Population 70. Mid 1950’s. The building had been a pool hall.
Alvin Plant was a Pentecostal minister and had been going up and down the road with loud speakers for two days calling everyone to come and be saved.
The place was full.
Just about everyone in town had turned out to see what was going on. At the end of the service it was NOT a Billy Graham moment.
He had an altar call and NO ONE was going to stand out and come forward.
We went home.
Nobody got “Born Again” that night.
Although I was a child I can still see the disappointment on Alvin’s face that no one could make that “leap of faith” that he felt necessary for salvation.
Tracy Nesdoly is a Toronto Star reporter. On the “Rocket” one day the usual people; crowded; the lingering thoughts of: I hope there is no delay. I hate waiting for / in the subway. The doors open and a man collapses. A circle forms around him. Nothing is happening. He has turned immediately grey.
Someone shouts “Hit the passenger assist button!”
A woman comes in from the outside.
I have first aid training.
She assesses the situation. Immediately starts CPR. A flutter of eyelids and blue eyes look out at the world. The emergency folks arrive and the man is whisked off.
The woman’s name was Lindsay. The man was dead. At least until Lindsay pounded life back into him. We are all that close….what will he do with his new found life?
What will you do with yours?
Rev. Greta Vosper is a minister at Westhill United Church. She has been there for quite some time.
She is [in many eyes] a radical. Maybe she is even a prophet.
Years ago she convinced her congregation to remove the pew bibles. Much of the old testament with its brutality, eye for an eye judgmental stuff, and a God who seemed on a power trip went totally against what she considered “Holy.”
In the latest Progressive Christianity newsletter Greta has come out of the closet as an atheist!
Now that takes guts!
Her reasoning is that she can no longer believe in the god [note the small G] that we have created.
I know Greta. I sense a deep spirituality in her and, perhaps MOST IMPORTANTLY I see someone who continues to question, challenge and dares to upset the status quo of Holy Mother Church.
Church---a word dreamed up by the early followers of Jesus or, more realistically, those who decades after his death composed the gospels and then sometimes centuries later created man made creeds to instill guilt and obedience into the masses.
Every week we read from and preach on those words from a book banished from West Hill United.
And today we struggle with words that seem anathema to standard United Church folks.
We don’t DO altar calls.
This “Born Again” stuff makes us uncomfortable.
Very few, if any of us, have been slain in the Spirit nor do we speak in tongues although at times many of our ministers have managed to confuse the best of us speaking some sort of ministerese.
In Light of Consciousness: Journal of Spiritual Awakening Anam Thubten writes:
“Ultimately there is no guarantee that we are definitely on the right track. If we try to keep ourselves swaddled in religious tradition we’ll soon become uncomfortable and constricted.
Eventually we have to go beyond all conventional forms just like Buddha went beyond all conventional forms in his inner awakening.
This will become like space which cannot be bound by anything, and our religions will be truth and love.”
I wonder---make that REALLY WONDER---if that is not the ULTIMATE born again experience we are challenged to seek in today’s reading from John.
Are we being called to a way of living / loving / being that moves us from the small g god Greta has left behind to the Cosmic Christ that is not bound by tradition?
Mike Singer in an article on nonresistance wrote:
“It is not life’s events that are causing problems or stress. It is your resistance to these experiences that is causing your problems.”
Perhaps Jesus is inviting us to let go and embrace the new, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Even if it is different.
Even if birth pains are involved.
During my degree work at Emmanuel I was at Sunnybrook Hospital. Rabbi Barry Schneider, Jewish Chaplain invited all of us to his synagogue for a tour and to stay for lunch.
As we sat down Barry raised the bread, offered thanks, and broke it. I was looking at communion.
Years later while attending a world religion course one summer I was at a Wiccan Circle in Sunnybrook Park. A broom used to symbolically sweep out any evil spirits. At the end of the ceremony as the sun was setting on the circle bread was raised, broken, and passed with wine.
Communion pre-dating the church by thousands of years.
Communion pre-dating Christ by thousands of years.
I would suggest that being “Born Again” pre-dates the church by an equal, if not even longer time frame.
Rev. Ed Newbery introduced our family to Art Solomon and his wife Eva. Art was an Ojibwa elder responsible for bringing the sweet grass ceremony and the drum into Kingston Penitentiary, and forming a native circle there.
Tongue in cheek Art called himself a Born Again Pagan. It was NOT meant as lightly as it sounded. Art was a survivor of the residential school system and, thank God, had managed to hold onto his True Spirit Self embracing it in adulthood.
In Friday’s reading from our Lenten Study Book: I Am Listening there is a story that screams “Born Again” to me.
A man sits on the street. His clothes are not expensive; they are not in style. They are not clean or warm. They are ripped and tattered, dirty and smelly, noting more than rags. His shoes have holes in the toes and soles. His beard is long and dirty. He holds a sign for passersby to see.
I pass the man every day on the way to work. I have no time to help him. No time to read the sign. I’m always in such a hurry. Sometimes people laugh at him. Sometime s they insult him. Some people spit on him, and even kick him. But every morning he is there holding up his sign for the world to see.
One day there was a commotion as I passed. A pair of teenagers had grabbed the man’s sign, ripped it, torn it to pieces, and thrown it to the wind. They pushed the man down and moved on, laughing. Seeing no one else going to help the man, I turned back. I helped him up and made sure he was all right. Feeling generous, I gave him the $50 in my wallet. As I walked away, I judged that it would probably end up as booze money.
The man wasn’t there the next morning; I figured he was probably wasted and lying in some alley. In fact, he never stood at that curb again.
Sometime later on my way to work, a man called out, “Hey!” and I felt a hand on my shoulder. Turning around, I saw a man whose clothes were clean, warm, and in style.
“Remember me?” he asked. I replied that I did not. He laughed and told me that he was the man who used to stand on the street. He was the man with the sign.
He invited me for a coffee and he told me how I had changed his life. He had a good job now and had just rented an apartment.
I said I couldn’t understand how just $50 could have made that much of a difference. He laughed and said it wasn’t the money that had done it, although it had been appreciated. The real gift to him had been the hope---something he thought he had lost forever.
We talked for a long time and we said our goodbyes. But as I turned to go, something occurred to me. “What did your sign say? The one you used to hold.”
“There is always hope.”
Sometimes we just need a little help finding it.
Sometimes we help others to be born again. Sometimes others help us.
I believe we are all following Christ’s high calling to continue to grow.
To work all our lives re-birthing ourselves to become part of the world.
The Aboriginals of Australia believe that this world was dreamt into reality. We all come from “The Dream Time.”
I think it is Christ’s wish that each of us seek and strive to dream our new reality. To become all that Christ wants us and challenges us to be.
In my heart of hearts I believe that is the BORN AGAIN experience Christ desires for every single person on the planet.
That is a high calling.
It isn’t easy.
But it is worth pursuing with all of our hearts.