I guess when it comes to recycling, you could say that God is a bit of an overachiever. . .
In the first chapter of Genesis we are told that creation began with God’s Spirit hovering over the waters in the everlasting darkness of night.Water, in ancient Hebrew literature, is a symbol for Chaos. We aren’t told that God created the universe out of nothing. We are told that God made sense of disarray, of confusion, a mess of matter without form or design that was already there. I bring this up because the season of Lent is a forty day reflection on just what it would be like if God’s love had never overflowed into that void?
What sparked this consideration in me was the Gospel appointed for this week: the story of Nicodemus, the respected Pharisee, engaging in the unconventional behavior of seeking out the peasant preacher, Jesus of Nazareth. This caused me to ponder the Genesis account of creation. The whole rumination gave me a great deal of hope for this Second Sunday of Lent, and it is that hope that I would like to share with you in this reflection.
Nicodemus finds himself in one heck of a state of chaos in this story. He has heard Jesus preach. He has seen his mighty works, and all of this is butting up against his unwavering Pharisaic traditions. He was certain that he knew the truth, but what if this Jesus, from Nazareth of all places, has the real truth?
It is in the midst of this confusion bouncing around in his soul that Nicodemus actually goes to Jesus hoping for some restoration of order and harmony. Nicodemus was hoping that what St. Paul would later proclaim in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, namely that if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation, just might be true. And so once again, chaos stands in waiting before the God of love, and once again it does so in the dark of night.
St. John is very careful to tell us that when Nicodemus made his trek to Jesus it was night. Don’t ever think for even a moment that John just casually placed that in the text. It was positively intentional. We are to know that Nicodemus is having trouble finding his way; he is bringing his confusion and chaos to Jesus in the dark of night.
And Jesus says, Nicodemus, you must be born again.
We should now be certain that Nicodemus is confused because he should have understood clearly what Jesus was saying here. He was a rabbi, and Jesus was speaking in the rabbinical language. But alas, he confuses being born again from above with the physical birth of a baby coming from the womb again.
We might laugh a little inside at Nicodemus, and we in the church have for centuries wondered how he could be so dense, even though each of us has been there; each of us has had our dark Lenten night of chaos and confusion.
Well, if you haven’t, I have.
And Jesus, the new creation, says to Nicodemus, YOU Must be Born Again of water and the Spirit, and the Spirit must blow where it will blow. It’s Genesis One all over again. Jesus wants the Spirit to once again blow over the water of chaos and confusion in order to bring harmony and order.
In the darkness of night, Jesus is saying, Let there be light!
In the movie City Slickers, one of the characters is lamenting the horrible mistake he made that he thought had ruined his life, and his friend reminds him of how when they were kids, playing kids’ games, when someone goofed up, they could always shout, It’s a do-over.
Well, I think, in a sense, that is what Jesus is saying when he says, you can be Born Again. In those times, when you find yourself back inside the darkness and confusion of the womb, when you feel all sides squeezing in all around, you can be born again. You can get a do-over.You can be re-created!
This is why it’s so hard to do Lent right, because the gospels are so full of Good News that they scream ALLELUIA even if we trying our hardest to avoid them.
Nicodemus shows us one of the meanings of grace: That we can be totally confused and still become disciples. We are still redeemable, because God gives us an opportunity to be born again, because God is willing to say, Let it be a do-over.
I once had a bumper sticker on my car that said, RESURRECTION IS GOD’S RECYCLING PLAN!
I was delivered from my mother’s womb on November 3, 1952, but I can tell you that I have a number of other birthdays that are every bit as important to me. I’ve been recycled more than once.
When Jesus says the words Born Again, I always think of that sweatshirt that is so often worn by expectant mothers. That’s the one that has the arrow pointing straight down at the womb, with the caption, UNDER CONSTRUCTION!
Whenever I am approached and someone asks me, Are you born again? My answer is always a resounding YES, but I always add, I am born again and again and again.
The creation story isn’t confined to Genesis One. It’s in every chapter of the Bible and in every chapter and verse of our lives.
I’m guessing that each of us has a few of those dark Nicodemus nights in our past, and the weight of them can become a real burden over time. Whenever I begin to feel the weight of that burden, I prayerfully tell myself, Don’t worry, God’s not through with you. You’re still under construction.
And the little child within me wants to say, even on the second Sunday in Lent, Alleluia!
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