You Must Be Born Again
A Homily For Trinity Sunday
June 7, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: John 3:1-15
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
There was once a monk who lived among the first monks, known as the Desert Fathers. With time, he became renowned for his holiness and wisdom, though he wasn’t always holy. Prior to becoming a Christian, he was a gangster. He knew how to sin, and he knew the affects of it well.
One day – a group of monks from his community came to his hut – they had found that one of the brothers was in sin. They knocked on the door and said “Moses, Moses! We need you to come bear judgment upon this brother who has done a sin.”
At first Moses refused, but the monks insisted and so he agreed, and sent them ahead. They gathered and soon they saw Moses coming with something on His back. As he came closer they saw he was carrying a rickety old basket, and sand was running out of it.
“Moses,” they asked, “why are you carrying an old basket it filled with sand? What is the meaning of this?” “ahh,” he said “My sins are running out behind me, yet I do not see them. And today I have come to judge the sins of someone else.”
Since sin was introduced into the world by our first parents, Adam and Eve, human beings have struggled to see our sin as our own. Adam pointed at Eve, Eve pointed at the snake, and the snake, well the snake had no arms.
Lately, I’ve noticed this reality a lot of this. First, I noticed it within myself, I noticed that when confronted, or when I’d notice an place of sin in my life, I’d find a way to rationalize it – “well,” I’d think, “they were being mean first!” or “it really isn’t that bad, I mean, I know God says not to, but it can’t be the worst thing…”
But, I realized a few things about how this attitude affected me and others – the most important of this was that this way of approaching my brokenness and failure did not glorify God. Instead, it was selfish and hurtful to others, and allowed me to remain in sin that I was better off repenting of, and fleeing from.
Then, I started to notice something else, that the world, is abysmal at this – people hear criticism of themselves and find every way to deflect. “Well, sure,” they might say “but these others did this!” or “I’m really not that bad.”
Now, before you think “I know exactly what he’s talking about! I can’t believe these people are behaving in such a way,” pause and take a look at yourself, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal in your heart the areas you need to repent. The point of this is not to show other’s failures – but to examine ourselves – and see where we need repent.
One of the things that has been convicting to me this spring is the section in the sermon on the mount where Christ speaks of removing the log from our own eye before trying to address the speck in a brother’s eye. Before we can even start to help another move past their sins and failures – we need to tend to our own house, and our own heart.
And here’s the key to that – once we have a pure heart – once we have taken the log out, once we are walking in the light – our desire is not to crush the other, it is not to bring down our enemy – but we pray that they might repent – that they might know the darkness of their sin so that they too might walk in the light.
This is ultimately what Abba Moses was getting at. It isn’t that there is no ramifications, or repercussions for sin – but rather we need to care for ourselves, we need to examine our heart, we need to find ways to repent of our own trouble and pain. Repentance, returning to the light – this changes us, and makes us care whole heartedly for other sinners.
This morning we read of Nicodemus who came to Christ in the middle of the night, and makes an amazing confession that Jesus surely must have come from God, for there is no way that he could possibly do the things he was doing if he didn’t.
It was risky, it was bold, but there we get the confession that we all need to make – we too need to say to Christ – surely you came from God, surely you are God. Come into our lives and save us. But Christ’s reaction to Nikodemus is strange, it isn’t, “yup! You’ve got that right buddy! High five!” But rather he tells the pharisee – you must be born again in order to see the kingdom of heaven. This idea of being born again is fascinating, and we need to take some time to contemplate it.
First – I stumbled across a quote from a theologian the other day that went something like this – “a part of the Christian confession is that the world is so broken that in order to free ourselves from it, we must die and be born again, we must be baptized and raised from the dead, we must be completely cleansed from its deadly affects.”
The way of the world is absolutely fatal. It tells us that we are morally good on our own, it tells us that nothing is wrong, it tells us that we are perfect fine without God. Sure, we have flaws, we’re not quite who we want to be, but if we try real hard we can be the creators of our own destinies.
I am thoroughly convinced that our culture has catechized, has formed us into thinking that we are the highest beings – capable of determining our own destiny without God. But none of these opinions are based in the word of God – rather the way of the world is the way of death, we are being s in desperate need of Christ.
I was talking to a friend the other evening about this. He made note that popular media has so seeped into the church – that it is far more likely that you are catechized by what you see on TV than by what you are being taught from the pulpit, and what is being read from the lectern.
Pause and think for a moment about how your week is spent – do you spend more time in the Word of God, marking, reading it, and inwardly digesting it or watching TV? Do you spend more time praying about how to be more Christlike in a world that is sick and dying or more time gossiping on Facebook?
I know that these are hard questions, and I ask them as one who is still growing, one who is acutely aware of his own sin, and I know that asking them could lead to painful answers – but being aware of what is forming and feeding our mind is important. Christ loves you and died for your sin – His one goal is to save you – is to baptize you with water and the Holy Spirit that you may be drawn into a deeper relationship with the triune God who created the heavens and the earth.
To live for Christ means to die wholeheartedly to the world. To live for Christ means to be reborn in Him. To live for Christ means to have your heart and mind is being renewed daily by the power of the Holy Spirit – so that you no longer live for fleshly things but live for Christ. So that you live for His glory.
Yesterday – I was in a class on prayer. One of the things that struck me about the heroes of the reformed tradition was how much they emphasized the importance of humility in prayer. That prayer forms our mind to be humble before the throne of a sovereign and good God, that prayer reveals to us the reality of our position before a God who is all knowing – who knows far more than you and I will ever know.
I can think of no greater desire for the Christian than that she would become humble in this world. That in humility we would grow to love God all the more and in that humility we should be shining lights of His holiness in this world.
But first – we must die to ourselves and be reborn.
Now, this brings us to the second thing about this little statement – in our Christian culture we see death and rebirth in Christ as a onetime event – it happened when we were baptized as children or when you became a Christian as an adult and then your done. And of course these events are good and beautiful – but there is more to learning to live for Christ.
The monks of old had a habit – each night was set aside as almost a funeral service – not so solemn, not so serious – but none the less – it was a renewed vow that they were laying their old self down that they might raise again in the morning, being reborn in Christ. This is where singing or saying the Nunc Dimitis at Evening Prayer comes from. It harkens back to the prayers of the monks of the past. Prayers that we might again rest in Christ.
We are called not simply to say a prayer, to vow a vow, to say, I believe, and call it good. Though this is a good first step – we are called every day to renew ourselves in Christ. To ask for the Holy Spirit to draw us back to Christ – be renewed in Him. We are called to put away our old self again, and again, and again, and again.
We say the confession of our sin every time we pray Morning and Evening Prayer. I was once talking to a beloved friend about this - and he made a passing comment about how hard this was upon his flesh. It can be hard to seek our souls and rout out sin over and over again – and after time – we understand St. Paul’s exclamation “why do I do the things I know I ought not to do and not do the things I know I ought to do!
But if we see sin as a deadly cancer that’s going to destroy us one day – do we not want to take it to the Lord? Do we not want to to give it to the Lord to treat it as aggressively as possible? Do we not want to to sacrifice our flesh to Him who sanctifies us, and draws us to him?
To live for Christ means to let our sin die, to unclasp our hands from around those things which we find precious but are slowly killing us. We must die to sin, so that we will be made spiritual alive – for that which is born of flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the spirit is spirit.
Finally, when it comes to learning to live for Christ – learning to be reborn – I have a little homework. Inevitably, this week, especially if you live with someone else, you will have a conflict. It might be small, or it might be big.
Before you respond to whatever happened – look at your posture towards the other person – are you ready to blame them? Or are you ready to listen?
If you’re ready to blame them – stop for just a moment, take a deep breath and pray for God’s wisdom and guidance in how to proceed. Search your heart – are you in a posture of grace towards the other, or are you ready to justify yourself?
After you’ve asked the Lord for wisdom, you may find that the incident isn’t worth getting upset over, you may find you simply need to listen to the other, or you may find you need courage to confront someone with grace – not with anger about a wrong.
Take sometime to think about how you respond to conflict – take some time to see if here is a place you need to die to yourself and be reborn in Christ. How we handle conflict and trouble can tell us a lot about how we live in Christ, can reveal to us the state of our heart. Conflict can reveal places we need to repent, and grow in Him.
In the middle of the night – when no one was watching – a leader of the pharisee came to Christ acknowledge that he was from God – and gets an answer he does not expect – gets an answer that tells him in order that he might live – he must be reborn. It is not a physical rebirth but a spiritual rebirth, a death of the flesh – a death of the sinful and birth of the spirit – a birth of a spirit filled life.
The past three months have left us feeling tired, left us feeling overwhelmed, left us wondering what the future holds. As the church we have an amazing opportunity to be a blessing to the world, in a way that nothing else can be.
But it starts with us dying and being reborn every day – it starts with us repenting of our sins, and allowing the spirit to dwell within us – it starts with us living whole heartedly for Christ – not for ourselves – it starts with our minds being formed by following Him and not the things of the world.
This morning, like every Trinity Sunday – I will read the long exhortation before we confess our sins to God. After the exhortation is finished we will pause for a few moments, in this time, ask the for the Holy Spirit to reveal to you sins that you need to let go of. Give these to God and hear the words of absolution and comfort and rejoice in knowing you have been set free.
St. John the Evangelist writes: “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Let us confess our sins, that we may be forgiven, than we may walk in the light, and let us live for Christ that Christ might be known and glorified in this world.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.