Reflection: May 27

Published on May 27th, 2018 by Rev. Carol Prochaska (Ret) | 0

Children’s Story: Where the Wild Things Are, author: Maurice Sendak 
Scriptures: Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
        Born From Above – Seriously!

From the gospel story we just heard, I want to again emphasize that Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night. As you heard in the background commentary, the Greek word translated as night designates a kind of time, sometimes referred to as a wilderness-time or a dark-time. As adults we have come know there are no wild monsters under the bed or in the closet. For some time we’ve known there are no wild things that roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth and look with their terrible eyes and show their terrible claws. Oh yes! We’ve got this kind of night-time-stuff figured out! But the night, the darkness that Nicodemus was experiencing is not so easy to figure out! In part because it usually has a spiritual component or it may be entirely spiritual.

The story I’m about to share with you comes from The United Church Observer (January 2018 edition). This first-person story was written by a United Church member and psychology professor, Kathryn Belicki. Kathryn writes: “Through the window, grey sky met grey lake and reflected my leaden soul.” She relates how a friend had recently died and this not long after the death of her friend’s husband. Another friend had just been diagnosed with cancer and two family members were locked in bitter conflict.

We experience grey times. We know all about this kind of night-time. It can come in the selling of a life-long home, or in ageing and all the ensuing changes that go with it, tragic events close to home or far away, climate change, and family disappointments and failures. We know grey times. We know what it is for one’s soul to feel leaden.

In her grey night, the only prayer Kathryn could muster was: “I don’t know how to pray anymore.” Like Nicodemus, her religious training and her professional knowledge and experience were not enough to lead her out of her darkness.

Evelyn writes: “A gentle memory drifted into my mind, one of those grace-filled moments that so often come in little experiences.” A few months earlier Evelyn had visited a friend who runs a small daycare. She describes how there were two and three-year-olds tumbling around, glancing shyly from time to time at the stranger who had come to visit. And then one bold little girl, tousled curls and impish eyes, marched up to stand in front of Evelyn and with arms straight out said, “Hug!” Evelyn is pleased to comply. She bends over and hugs the little girl. However, as Evelyn explains she has somehow missed the mark. Now there is no longer a smiling little girl but one whose fists are planted on her hips as she stares with eyes of steel at Evelyn. Again she thrusts her arms up into the air and demands, “Hug!” Confused at first, but then the light dawns for Evelyn. She lifts the little girl up onto her lap, who immediately wraps her arms and legs around Evelyn. Evelyn writes: “Leaning back she played happily with the cross around my neck for a few minutes before sliding off and running to her toys.” Evelynn goes on to say: “In the warmth of that memory… (the memory that had drifted into her mind). …In the warmth of that memory, my heart felt a bit lighter. The lake and sky outside the window now seemed more silver than grey. Now I knew how to pray. I flung my arms into the air [saying to God] “Hug!”

Born from above: a little girl needing a real hug — a real embrace that said: “I am loved.” Born from above: a psychology professor needing a certain memory so that she could once again be open to God’s presence and God’s love. Born from above: something within us shifts. We are in some way enlivened.

Evelyn’s soul she said was leaden. Among the dictionary synonyms for “leaden” is “lacking spirit.” Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “Don’t be surprised when I tell you that you must be born from above” (that is Spirit-born).

It seems to be me that to be born from above is not often a rendering of the skies or a cataclysmic upheaval. It seems to me that it is not a onetime happening, as in a onetime getting saved. Jesus uses the metaphor of wind. It could be (perhaps) because the word in Hebrew is the same word for spirit, wind, and breath. In the Greek language, the word for spirit is also the same word for breath and as well breeze. Perhaps Jesus chose the metaphor of the wind because wind is year-round, always happening somewhere – like God’s Spirit. Jesus says: “The wind blows where it will. You hear the sound it makes, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

So it would seem that being born again of the Spirit is in many ways a mystery. However, from our gospel reading, we can say that it is God loving the world. It is God saving. It is God rescuing. It is God delivering. I think we can also say that to be born of the Spirit is not a do-it-myself kind of thing. It doesn’t seem to be a shaking our fists at the heavens – although that may be where we start! Neither is it throwing up our hands in despair – although that may be where we start! One way to think of what it means to be Spirit-born is the image of stretching out our hands to trust, to believe in a loving power greater than ourselves ready and waiting to hug us.

The apostle Paul says: “The Spirit that God has given you does not enslave you and trap you in fear …” Okay, Paul! We’re not disagreeing with you! But we know that as members of the human race we do get trapped in fear. We have times when God seems to be absent. We know first-hand how the soul can feel leaden, lacking spirit. And – is there anyone here this morning who hasn’t at some time lost the ability to pray?

The Good News is that when we find ourselves in a “Nicodemus-kind of night,” we are set to go through another birth. When we’re in a darkness and we can’t see the way we are set once again be born of the Spirit. And in this, we end-up (somehow) seeing beyond what we’ve been seeing. It’s that kind of sight we call heart-seeing (we see not with the eyes but with the heart)

This morning we were reminded that we are God’s children, God’s heirs. Yes, we suffer! We suffer in little ways and in bigger ways. Oh yes, we suffer — as did Christ. The Good News that goes with this: we are also heirs of Christ’s glory. Jesus the Christ, in word and deed, reveals God’s glory (God’s splendour and grandeur and majesty). Each time we are born again we are revitalized with and in that divine glory. And in this, we ourselves become more and more glorious, as God intends for us.

To be born of the Spirit is in some way to be made more alive. To be born from above is in some way or other to be delivered. It is to be delivered into something that is (for us) like a new heaven and a new earth – where grey becomes more like silver.

 

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