Born Anew to Continue the Journey- Mandy North
There are two characters from today’s reading, Abram, from the Old Testament, and Nicodemus, from the New Testament. Both men of faith, receiving a invitation from God that ends with a blessing to the world.
Abram is a nobody when we meet him in Genesis. He’s been listed as a descendent of Shem, a son of Noah, but that’s it. He’s no one special when the Lord comes to him.
Nicodemus, on the other hand, is named a leader of the Jews. He’s a man with authority in the community, and as a Pharisee, he adheres strictly to Jewish laws and customs.
Abram, though, has no prescribed law to live by. His story is before Moses and the Ten Commandments and so he is not under the scrutiny of the law. The Lord just comes to him where he is in life with his family and in his own country.
Nicodemus, though, isn’t approached by God. He is the one who comes to Jesus by night. He comes with a statement of faith, “Rabbi (speaking to Jesus), we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
Abram, however, never speaks a word in today’s text. His faith is in his actions. Abram went, as the Lord told him. Abram doesn’t question the Lord’s call, he simply follows.
Nicodemus, though, has a lot of questions. The idea of being born again is puzzling to Nicodemus, so the questioning begins. “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” …”How can these things be?” In fact, we’re not even sure if the answers Jesus provides are enough to satisfy his curiosity. By the time this passage ends, we’re not sure what Nicodemus believes.
Abram, however, believes God’s words fully. Without questions, or even a word, he immediately leaves his country and at 75 years old, he takes his wife, Sarai, and nephew, Lot, with a few possessions and goes. For Abram, it is a journey that begins with a single leap of faith full of promises of blessings to come.
Nicodemus continues his journey as well. In John 7, he offers a somewhat hesitant defense of Jesus when the Pharisees try to arrest him. At Jesus’ death, Nicodemus appears again with myrrh and aloes to prepare the dead body for burial. The amount of burial spices that he provides is much more than was necessary. While some have said that this may be evidence of his inadequate faith in Jesus’ resurrection, I believe that this is a show of great honor. He was making sure that Jesus’s physical body is ready for the resurrection to come.
Abram’s moment of belief is immediate. Nicodemus’ conversion may not have been a single moment in time, but rather a journey of faith. But both in the end are born of the Spirit, yielding the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
And both passages today end with a blessing for whole world. In Abram, all the families of the earth will be blessed. Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus ends with the famous “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Jesus is the promise, the giver of abundant life, the one who invites us to enter into a life of blessing, the blessing promised to Abram, in which even our suffering is transformed into something significant. We live in the promise that God is putting all things right, and that the good and the holy and the right triumphs in the end. We are all about this blessing. God hasn’t given the blessing to us simply so we could be blessed. God has blessed us so we can bless all nations and all people in the world.
God’s call is for us to be blessed so that we can bless the world. This version of the Gospel goes like this:
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.
Len Sweet puts it this way: “If God so loved the world, why can’t we?”
The Gospel is about God loving the world enough to enter it. The Gospel is about refusing to stay where it’s safe. It’s about blessing the world. It’s about God sending Jesus to the world out of love. It’s about following a sending God who’s on a mission to bless the world. It’s about being born anew to join God on the journey.
You have been blessed so you can bless the world. That is your calling. God has put us here as a church so that we could bless the world.
This isn’t part of the reason for our existence. This is at the heart of why we’re here: so we can be in relationship with God, and through that relationship with God, bless the entire world.
And we can’t bless the world, until we have been born anew to continue the journey that God calls us to. To help us understand the concept of being born again for the journey we can take a look at the life cycle of a butterfly.
Around this time of year, the New Year Generation of monarch butterflies begins again. Each year the monarch butterfly cycles through four generations. The first generation will be born between this month and the next. The caterpillars, or larvae, will be born and will eat and grow up over the next 2 weeks. It will connect itself to a twig with silk and will change over to a chrysalis. Over the next 10 days, the caterpillar inside the chrysalis will become a beautiful monarch butterfly through a process of metamorphosis, or rebirth. This butterfly will have 2-6 weeks to enjoy life, feeding on flowers but will die shortly after laying eggs for the second generation.
The second and third generations of monarch butterflies are much like the first one. Born as a caterpillar, enveloping into a chrysalis, becoming a butterfly…only to pass away 2-6 weeks after enjoying a short life of feeding on flowers and laying eggs. Each generation occurring one right after the other with a little overlap.
However, the fourth generation of this species is slightly different from the earlier three. They are born between September and October, and cycle through the four stages of butterfly life – egg, larvae, chrysalis, and butterfly just as the other generations before them. But once they have matured, they will need to travel 2,500 miles away to the warmer Californian and Mexican climates for 6-8 months until it is time to begin the process once more. They will spend the winter months in hibernation, and then come out of their hibernating state to find a mate and search for the ideal place to lay their eggs, by traveling back north and east again. The eggs from this fourth generation will become the first generation of the new year and the cycle will begin again.The monarch butterfly can’t make the journey as a caterpillar….it must be changed, born anew, if you will, into a butterfly to fly the distance it is destined to fly in order to bless the next generation of monarch butterflies. Without this rebirth, without the journey….the monarch butterflies will no longer be able to exist.
The season of Lent is a season that helps us to let go of old commitments and burdens, to stop crawling around on the ground like a caterpillar and be born anew as a butterfly. This is a time to be set free to journey into new territories, new promises, new hopes, and new lives, to spread our wings and be a blessing to others. Nicodemus just can’t get past the literal meaning of “born again” as the same person being “born twice.” Perhaps if he could have seen a caterpillar transformed into a butterfly, the same creature reborn into a new life of freedom, he would have understood. Whether your Abram who can answer the call, no questions asked….or Nicodemus who wonders and reflects on the signs of Jesus….God is calling you to join the journey, the journey of loving and blessing others. So, I invite you during this season of reflection with Lent to find the things in your life that you need to let go of….the things that are distracting you from answering God’s call, the things that make you hesitate, to question, to take a step back from following the Spirit…. and take on a new life of faith, of obedience, and willingness being led by the Spirit for this journey of blessing others.
Benediction: Leave here today as a butterfly – renewed and refreshed to take flight for the journey with God of blessing others.