Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sermon: Wednesday of Reminiscere (Lent 2)

20 February 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 3:1-17

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.” We confess this in the Nicene Creed every Sunday and Wednesday. In this evening’s Gospel, we hear anew of the regenerative, life-giving, death-defying work of the Holy Spirit.

It’s no accident that baptismal certificates often the symbolism of the dove on them, for in our Blessed Lord’s own baptism, the Lord and Giver of Life Himself descended upon our Lord and Redeemer of Life.

Nicodemus came to Jesus looking for answers. Interestingly, St. John doesn’t report any questions from the mouth of Nicodemus until our Lord Himself begins to answer questions that may well have not been asked aloud. For there are questions, and there are Questions. There are queries about square roots and logarithms, subjects and verbs, dates and places and even questions about what is going to happen in the future. But Nicodemus seems to have sought out Jesus with bigger questions. The Questions. He skulks about like the stereotypical seeker looking for the meaning of life. And our Lord answers those questions seemingly without even being asked.

Holy Scripture is like that. It provides answers even we are so feeble that we can’t formulate the questions. The Bible provides us much more than information, historical data, secret knowledge, or even things to satisfy our curiosity. For the Scriptures testify of Him who has come to ransom us from death.

It is the Question of Life and Death that Nicodemus really wants answers for. Our Lord knows it, and begins to explain the secret of life in terms of “the kingdom of God.”

We begin to interact with the world apart from our mothers at our birth. On this day so momentous that we will celebrate its anniversary our whole lives long, we draw our own breath, look fellow human beings in the eye, and begin receiving the gifts of God through something other than an umbilical cord for the first time.

So, it seems reasonable that there should be a similar experience in our spiritual life, our life in the kingdom of God. If we are born once into the world, it stands to reason that we must be born a second time, born anew, born again, regenerated to start a New and Greater Life, a life that will have no end.

And the Holy Spirit is indeed the Lord and giver of life.

This regeneration, this renaissance, this rebirth is a mystery to us – just as is the mystery of life itself. Why are all of us here? Why were we permitted to become individual human beings? Why were we allowed to survive as conceived children in the womb, be born, and then go on to enjoy this second birth? Why are we here when so many are not? Maybe Nicodemus had these kinds of questions too, but these weren’t answered. But what was answered was the unstated question: “How do we receive eternal life.”

Listen to our Lord’s simple answer. We are born to it, dear brothers and sisters. This is the Good News. We don’t aspire to eternal life by our good works, our piety, or our lack of sins. For who of us would be anything other than a stillborn Christian? We can’t buy God’s kingdom – though Nicodemus the Pharisee had been taught that the kingdom of God was within his grasp by following lots of silly rules and making a show of throwing money in the temple treasury. God’s kingdom is a gift – as free and unmerited as the birth of a baby.

Just as you had to be born once to be alive here today, you certainly had to be born again in order to claim the life that has no end. You are a child of the flesh, but you have also been “born of the Spirit.”

But how can you be sure that you have been “born again.” We sometimes hear someone being described in the news media as a “born again Christian” as if there were any other kind! Just as you can’t be a ‘non-born human” you can’t be a “non-born-again Christian.” Did you ask to be born the first time? When you came from your mother naked and with nothing of your own other than a piece of now-useless umbilical cord, did you say, do, or will anything to achieve life? Life was given to you as a gift. You did nothing to get it. You didn’t ask for it, live a certain way for it, or even say a certain prayer to make it happen.

“And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.”

Just as life is a gift, the gift has a Giver. The Holy Spirit gave birth to you, in the words of our Lord, “of water and the Spirit.” Just as the Holy Spirit descended on our Lord in the Jordan, so too he descended upon you – perhaps in a river, maybe with an eye-dropper in a hospital, but most likely in a baptismal font in a church building.

You were baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You didn’t baptize yourself. You didn’t give birth to yourself. In fact: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Just as you were born once, amid a mixture of blood and water, so too did the Lord and giver of life vivify you in the quickening blood and water from the side of Christ. For it is through our Lord’s death that the Holy Spirit gives you life. It is in the shame of the cross that you have the exaltation of eternity.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, ever so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

It is through the Lord’s death that we have life, by His shed blood, in the waters over which the life-giving Spirit hovers, given to us as a gift without end, free and boundless.

And so, through the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit, we have two birthdays. Our second birthday is one that marks the beginning of a life that will never end, a life that is both spiritual and physical, a life that is all that life was meant to be as designed and intended by the Lord and giver of life Himself.

Even as we struggle in this body – with sin, with disease, and with death itself – we look forward to the Great rebirth of all creation, celebrating our birthday of water and Spirit not only for a lifetime, but throughout eternity.

Thanks be to the Lord and giver of life, now and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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