Born from Above

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2009. Romans 8.12-17; John 3.1-17
A baby is born. After nine months of growth and nurture in the womb and after twelve hours of difficult and agonizing labour she is safely delivered. The midwife places her straight onto her exhausted but euphoric mother’s tummy and then guides the father to cut the umbilical cord. The midwife quickly checks the baby over, swaddles her in a blanket and gives her to the father so that she can tend to the mother. The father cradles his newborn daughter – she is crying and breathing in her first lungfuls of air, He gently speaks her name and she settles at the sound of his familiar voice and the security of being held.
It is the beginning of her life and she has everything to learn. She is utterly dependent on her parents for survival; until she grows up she will rely on them for care, protection, love and provision. In the safety of her family she will grow. Through their love she will learn who she is, and she will learn how to relate to them and to others. As time goes on she will communicate through speech; she learns to move and to walk; she will learn to share and give; to know right from wrong.
Very soon her gurgles, coos and other noises shape into words. Her first word is a name: “Dada”. This is how language develops. First comes the language of intimacy: “Dada” and “Mama”. Then come names for objects: “Ball”, “Cat”, and “Teddy”. Then come words from the language of command “Now”, “Come”, “Go”, “Me want…” This is modified gradually with the language of persuasion:  “Please…”
It is a long journey from the moment of costly, painful birth to adulthood and being able to walk and talk, give and share, love and play, and to influence others and make her own choices and decisions.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. He is one of the ruling class, a leader, a teacher, a person of status and influence – well used to the political language of persuasion and to playing the games of power. He comes looking for answers but gets riddles…
“You must be born again / born from above” [there is a word play going on here between two meanings for the same word.] “Born again!?” must he go back into his mother’s womb and come out again? No he must be born from above. He must be transformed by the life of God living in him, making him new.
It will be a long journey for Nicodemus – a costly period of unlearning. He must unlearn the language of persuasion and control; letting go of status and finding a different source of authority. He must let go of power and see a different game unfold by different rules. It will be a painful time of re-learning the language of intimacy, rediscovering a dependence on others and learning to belong to and within a new network of relationships.

Both these stories are at work in us – we live between these two experiences.
Through the waters of baptism we are born into a new family – a community of discipleship and learning – a fellowship of faith. As part of this community we discover a new sense of inter-relatedness and dependence: we need each other to be ourselves. We become open to difference and otherness as we encounter God at work in each other.
As Christians we learn a new language, growing out of the language of love and intimacy we learn to speak words of praise and prayer. In the passage from the letter to the Romans (8.12-17) we heard that part of the work of the Spirit is to enable us to pray “Abba, Father” – as we share the intimate prayer of Jesus with his heavenly Father. In prayer we discover God’s life breathing within us inspiring, animating and reshaping us.
Not just the language of intimacy, though, we learn, too, a new language of power. The Bible also teaches us that it is the Spirit that enables us to proclaim “Jesus is Lord”. Through our being born from above – born anew – all our commitments and allegiances, all our prejudices and principles, all our visions and values are made relative to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. From now on our lives must be subject to his just and gentle rule and all our actions judged against the standard of his gospel.
As we grow as Christians we learn to walk in the way of Jesus Christ. At first we will be toddlers, our steps will be faltering and perhaps even feeble but others support us and hold us and encourage us. Gradually our belonging to this new Christian community and our believing in the saving love of God in Jesus shapes in us a new pattern of behaving as we learn to share, give, receive, welcome, challenge, comfort and befriend all whom we meet.
So on this Trinity Sunday:
Praise be to God our Father who holds us and calls us by name. Praise be to Jesus God’s Son by whose costly self-giving love we have been saved. Praise be to the Holy Spirit, who brings us into a new community and animates our prayers. Praise be to God the Holy and undivided Trinity who brings us to new birth through his life and love. Amen.