Spiritual rebirth, Re-birth, Born again, Reborn, Reawakened, Found, or Redeemed all mean one thing, transformation. Simply put, we become believers in Jesus. We choose to reject the persuasion of others and Jesus becomes the influencer of our thoughts, words and actions in relationships and those we direct toward ourselves.
It is a Calling, not a manufactured event organized by humans. We take a leap of faith into the unknown and then live in that unknown. It doesn’t matter what we know, how much education we have or what our influencers have to say. The leap comes from within us.
Growing up in Texas I was exposed to the evangelical Southern Baptist Church which emphasizes individual conversion. The preaching I witnessed was energetically extemporaneous and intently focused on the call to Baptism at the end of every service. As a good cradle Episcopalian this was a very foreign experience. I was accustomed to sermons that were scripted with very tempered emotion. We were to be reverent in church by listening and being quiet. Our emotions and beliefs were to be shared intentionally and quietly.
The dichotomy of these two ways of worshiping was vast. My Baptist friends didn’t understand my way of worshiping and I found theirs intimidating. Eventually judgments were made and we all decided what was the right way to preach the Word of God. It was unfortunate we couldn’t appreciate each other’s experience. But quiet or loud it doesn’t matter. What matters is who is speaking. Are we speaking for God or are we selfless and act as a vessel for God to speak through us.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a well educated member of the ruling council. The Pharisees spoke only of Jewish law and that the kingdom of God would come by following the Law. Most Pharisees were jealous of Jesus because he was an influencer who threatened their authority and beliefs. But Nicodemus was different, he was a seeker and he respected Jesus and knew he had more to learn from him.
Nicodemus came to Jesus in the dark of night probably because he was scared of possible repercussions from his contemporaries like Caiaphas and Annas who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas. Caiaphas in particular was a powerful Jewish high priest who wielded significant power the last week of Jesus’ life since it was he who influenced the crowd to condemn Jesus to death.
It was with a clear mind and an open heart that Nicodemus went to Jesus looking for answers. But even though he was a very intelligent man he had a hard time understanding what Jesus was telling him. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that God’s kingdom was available to everyone, not just Jews and he wouldn’t be a part of it without being born again. He went on to explain that the Kingdom is personal and entrance requires repentance and spiritual rebirth.
The idea of being born again blew Nicodemus’ mind. He took it literally and Jesus had to explain that it wasn’t through human physical rebirth but it was a rebirth beyond our control through water and spirit. It is from the Holy Spirit that spiritual life originates and then nurtured and grown by God. While Jesus was trying to explain that we can not control the Holy Spirit he uses “wind” as an example. Wind, which also means Spirit, can be seen but we don’t know where it comes from and its movement is uncertain and can be erratic. We have to have faith that Jesus’ spiritual presence is with us.
In another attempt to help Nicodemus understand that anyone who believes in him will have eternal life Jesus reminds him of the serpent Moses was commanded to make and put on a pole for all to see. The serpents who bit the people became a symbol of the evil of our sins that had been judged and dealt with. The story clarifies that when we sin there is spiritual death and the serpent Moses created and placed on the pole was a symbol of salvation from God because looking at the pole is akin to looking at our faith through Jesus on the cross. He was explaining that in his death God would not condemn but save.
The world in which Jesus, Nicademus, Caiaphas, and Annas lived was endemically polarized. Either you didn’t believe in Jesus and relied only on your belief in Jewish law or you were reborn and given the opportunity to see life through the lens of an eternal perspective.
Similarly, we now live in a world polarized by good and evil, each side adamant in their beliefs. We seem to be unable to open our hearts to understanding our foe. Christianity seems to have become a societal weapon,by muddying and attempting to destroy the free will God has given us. The noise from our current limitations make it a challenge to focus on our personal discernments while we listen for who is speaking for God and who is allowing God to speak through them. We have become locked into dictating to each other what and how to believe.
We are not meant to have dominion over others and yet our political system seems to be one of the worst offenders of speaking for God. Our politicians and many religious organizations have become symbols of the serpents that bit the Israelites, characterizing the evil behind our sins, by attempting to legislate beliefs affecting women and their right to be the sole decision maker for their bodies and the equal rights afforded to our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.
During Lent it is the usual custom to fast or refrain from some comfort or initiate a new practice
that leads to self-examination, prayer, reading, meditating on God’s word, and repentance from sin, all culminating in rebirth so we can live life ready to serve God and others.
In our self-examination we need to evaluate who are our influencers, who do we rely on for guidance, is it the newscaster who confidently and knowingly shares harmful and damaging misinformation or the Pastor who commits crimes against his fellow man
while preaching goodness and love to his congregation or the politicians who gaslight and spew lies as if they were the gospel.
Are we influenced by social media like tiktok or Instagram? Of course we are. It is as easy as a swipe of a finger to watch videos ranging from inane comedy, to food, to education, to fashion, to sports, to parenting, to mental health, to marriage, to sex, to just about every aspect of the human condition.
Our families may be the biggest influential factor in our lives, forming who we are as individuals. We are molded into beings based on our experience and allegiance to our caregivers.
Our feelings, beliefs, behaviors, opinions, actions and even our character are impacted and possibly swayed from all the exposure we experience.
We have to ask ourselves what are the barriers in each of our individual lives that inhibit our ability to listen, hear and believe in the love of Christ.
In our Christian tradition we fast to further open ourselves to Christ. During this time of self denial we have the opportunity to distinguish between who of our influencers speaks for Christ or allows Christ to speak through them. In our cleansing rebirth we begin to lose our self doubt and live in confidence knowing that all we have to do is live in the moment. We let go of worry and let trust in.
When we allow ourselves to be publicly exposed and use the powerful voice given to us we realize that WE are the vessel that God speaks through. In our vulnerability we look through and past the noise of the imposter influencers and listen to the one influencer who came to teach us how to live life, loving and caring for each other, knowing there is more beyond what is now.