Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, 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.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
‘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.
‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’
This morning reminds me of the one about a little boy named Johnny who came home from school one day and asked his mother, “Mommy, how was I born?” “The stork brought you here,” said his mother. “And how were my brother Joel and my sister Emily born?” “The stork brought them, too.” “And how were you born?” “The stork also brought me.” “Did the stork also bring Uncle George and Aunt Ruth and Cousin Evan and Cousin Lisa?” “Yes.” “And did it bring Grandma and Grandpa and Great-Uncle Jim and Great-Aunt Harriet?” “Yes.” “And did it also bring all your cousins and their children?” “It certainly did.” A few hours later when Johnny’s father came home, Johnny decided to ask him similar questions about his side of the family. “Daddy, how were you born?” “The stork brought me here,” said the father. “Did the stork also bring Uncle Warren and Aunt Linda and Cousin Harold and Cousin Susie?” “Yes.” “And did it bring Granny and Grandpa and Great-Uncle Bob and Great-Aunt Alice?” “Yes.” “And did it also bring all your cousins and their children?” “It definitely did.” A week later, Johnny’s teacher called his parents into her classroom. “There’s something I need to show you,” she said. She showed them a paper that Johnny wrote that began, “This paper on childbirth has been very difficult to write because there hasn’t been a childbirth in my family for three generations…”
Nicodemus was just as confused about the “mysteries” of childbirth as little Johnny, at least the birthing process that Jesus spoke about. How could a child be born of a stork? How could an adult be born of a woman? Of course, neither event is easily possible. Storks can give birth to children just as easily as women can birthe an adult human; that is, not that easily. I can’t say they’re impossible events because with God nothing is impossible but boy, our current understanding of animal physiology sure suggests they are impossible events. As far as we know, humans can’t be born from storks and human adults can’t be born from women. And to believe otherwise suggests downright confusion…
To be fair to Nicodemus, Jesus’ teaching is difficult to understand. If he didn’t mean literally being born again from a mother’s womb, then what did he mean? He tried to explain that one needed to be “born of water and Spirit.” Okaaay, that only helps a little. Water and Spirit can’t physically give birth to anything. Water doesn’t reproduce to make more water. Elements combine to make more water. And the Spirit, well, the Spirit deals in the realm of the non-physical. What it creates and gives birth to isn’t necessarily physical. No, what the Spirit creates is energy and forces, ideas and hope, possibilities and encouragement. You see, the Spirit isn’t in the business of creating tangible objects. We too quickly assume that the birthing process has to do simply with creating physical objects. The Spirit is in the business of creating intangible objects.
So to be born of water and Spirit has nothing to do with physical birth. It has to do with a nonphysical or metaphysical birth. It has to do with something being born within us. Our mothers gave birth to our physical beings but the Spirit gives birth to our metaphysical beings. The Spirit gives birth to our souls and our minds. It gives birth to the spark that is within all of us–the hope and love and imagination and fearlessness and endlessness that lives within each of us. We are so much more than the physical bodies that our parents gave to us. Within each of us dwells a piece of the infinite, a piece of God himself. And the Spirit gives that to us. Peter wrote in his first letter, “you have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1:23) That Spirit-given spark within each of us is nothing more than that imperishable seed of which Peter spoke. It doesn’t die when our bodies die, it goes on and on and on for all of eternity. Friends, to be born of the Spirit is to come to realize that within you exists the everlasting divine. It is to come to realize that each of us is deeply connected to the eternal divine. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (6:4) When we realize the eternal divine within us, we are freed to live the way God wants us to live: selflessly, generously, and without fear. We are connected with God AND with each other through the Spirit and this enables us to love and serve each other. Oh, and to live hopefully as we also heard from Peter in his first letter when we proclaimed, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1:3)
Incidentally, little Johnny was more than a little confused in thinking all of his relatives were born from storks. German folklore held that storks found babies in caves or marshes and brought them to households in a basket on their backs or held in their beaks. The babies were then either given to mothers or dropped down chimneys. Nothing in the folklore suggests they were actually born of the storks but leave it to the mind of a child! And it is possible to be born of the Spirit if considered a metaphysical birth. The Spirit is within each of us, giving us hope and love and imagination and fearlessness and endlessness. Let us realize the Spirit and give thanks for all its work within us. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.