Born again? What?Bottom Highlights, Latest Issue, Online Only, Where's the Faith? Thursday, April 20th, 2017
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!
As we ponder Holy Week, I invite you to pause in your busy life to make moments of silence, and take times of reflection and listen again to that still small voice that whispers your true identity: you are a beloved child of God; and then for good measure God adds and nothing can separate you from my love.
Have you ever been so enamored with someone that when you meet them you get so tongue-tied that you can’t even hardly remember your own name? It’s like you’re star struck! Or, you admire them so much you just want to sit in their presence and soak up the essence of who they are.
Scripture talks about a man named Nicodemus who, for his own reasons, wants to know how Jesus does it! He wants that “it” factor Jesus has. He’s thinking, who’s this young man from Nazareth, that has this growing popularity, can perform miracles and imparts wisdom and teachings that astounds scholars?
Nicodemus want to know; he wants what Jesus has. You see, Nicodemus was a Pharisee, an observant religious man, a member of the powerful Sanhedrin. He was in the upper echelon of the religious political field of his day. And something about Jesus was so intriguing to Nicodemus that he was willing to take the risk of coming to see this rabble-rouser who was causing so much excitement among the people.
But as enamored as Nicodemus may have been, he took the precaution of coming to Jesus under the cover of darkness; he came to Jesus at night. The Gospel writer tells us that Nicodemus addresses Jesus with respect: “Rabbi” he said, “Teacher.”
Then Nicodemus shares his heart when he says, “We know you are a teacher come from God, for no one can perform the signs and wonders that you do unless by the power of God.” Nicodemus is heaping praise on Jesus, the kind of praise he’d want himself.
Could Nicodemus have come under the cover of darkness because he too wanted to be just like Jesus; a wonderful teacher, growing in popularity, doing great things?
But Jesus pushes Nicodemus past his man crush, past his admiration for a great man to a vision of a life that is totally transformed. “The truth of the matter is,” Jesus said to him, “unless one is born from above, one cannot see the realm of God.” Try looking beyond your own motives Nicodemus, try looking outward.
It’s like Jesus is saying, “You’ve got to see beyond yourself, look to the realm of God, the vision of God for the people of God. It’s not about your religious trappings or rituals Nicodemus. You need to see beyond all that you’ve poured your heart and soul into for years. You’ve got to be born from above. You’ve got to encounter God. It’s as if you have to be born all over again and start from the very beginning.”
Then Jesus goes on to say in this clandestine encounter, “Can’t you hear it Nicodemus? It’s the whoosh of the Spirit blowing where she will. You hear the sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. Follow the Spirit Nicodemus …”
“… It’s not about the law. I know you’ve devoted your whole life to these things, but it’s not all about that, it’s about the Spirit of God. It’s about the Spirit of God blowing where she will creating a whole new thing, a whole new community, a whole new realm of God.”
I love how Jesus points Nicodemus beyond his carefully held views, beyond his desire to be perfect in his religion and the Law. “Listen to what I’m teaching, Nicodemus, for whoever believes that God so loved the world as to send me, that one will not die but have eternal life! Yes, I come from God, but not to condemn you or to judge you, but to tell you that you will not perish but have eternal life! So, go be about the things God loves, be about the realm of God. Be about loving people. Go beyond yourself and make a difference in your world.”
Back in the late 16th Century, a major figure of the counter-reformation, a Spanish mystic, and a priest in the Carmelite order, St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) was very much like Nicodemus. He was someone sincerely seeking the religious life only to discover that it’s not about religion, it’s about life!
St. John’s contemplative life was rudely interrupted by encounters with the Spirit of God, so much so that it was as if he was born again. In contemplation, John seeks an encounter with God so that he, John, can become a more perfect priest. Listen as he tries to describe his encounter with God or Spirit (whom he calls the Beloved):
“… When there is union of love, the image of the Beloved is so sketched in the will and drawn so vividly, that it is true to say that the Beloved lives in the lover and the lover in the Beloved. Love produces such likeness in this transformation of lovers that one can say each is the other and both are one. The reason is, that in the union and transformation of love, each gives possession of self to the other, and each leaves and exchanges self for the other. Thus, each one lives in the other and is the other, and both are one in the transformation of love.”
Moved by such an intimate encounter with “his heart’s desire” or with the Beloved, St John is born again, transformed from a contemplative into one who is capable of seeing beyond himself, to see the people around him. St John becomes a lover, a lover of what God loves!
Look out! I’m warning you. It’s powerful stuff, this passion for God as a lover. It transforms people into lovers of all that God loves. It turns lives upside down. So, be careful what you pray for, you might just encounter the Divine. You might just hear the whoosh of the Spirit; and if you do, you might be turned upside down, as if you’ve been born again, and you’ll move beyond your own concerns and be more concerned with those around you. May it be so.
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