June 3: Can Progressive Christians be born anew?

Posted on : May 31st, 2012 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Born of Spirit

One of the things I do at the beginning of each month is look back at where we were a year ago.  What were we doing?  What were the special events in our lives?  What mission, service, outreach projects were we doing?  And most important, where are we spiritually from where we were a year ago?  If we haven’t grown spiritually I get nervous.

As we enter the month of June, I did my usual ritual.  A year ago we were beginning our summer of discernment with the United Church of Christ.  There were some really important discoveries for me in that process.  The second week in June I attended the Annual Gathering of the Southern California Nevada Conference.  It was so fabulous, I’m going back again this year.  I was also preparing to attend the Annual Gathering of the UCC Coalition for GLBT concerns and General Synod, which is the national setting of the United Church of Christ.  Both were mountain top spiritual experiences for me.  I experienced “church” in a way I had never experienced it as a Presbyterian.

My experience was, when UCC’ers talk about “Extravagant Welcome” they don’t just talk about it, they live it out.  Just about everyone I met said to me, “Well, if the Spirit leads you to the UCC, just know you’ll be loved and welcomed here.”  Those were not just words; it was true.  One of the things I immediately noticed in the UCC is that there was no fighting about “who was in and who was out.”  Everyone was included at the Table.  I never once felt insulted, put down, defamed or dehumanized as a gay Christian.  In fact, just the opposite was true.  I have never felt more loved and welcomed in my life than at UCC gatherings.  I think others felt the same way.  Everyone seems truly happy to be with one another.

That NEVER happened at the national gathering of the Presbyterian Church.  NEVER.  Unless you’ve been there and experienced it first hand, you’d never believe the “stuff” they say about those of us who are lesbian and gay.   Back in our younger years when Chris Glaser and I attended every national gathering of the Presbyterian Church we used to say, “After a week at General Assembly (the national gathering of the Presbyterian Church) we’d feel so dirty that no shower could ever get us clean again.”  What I didn’t know at the time was that is exactly what victims of rape say.

The gospel this Sunday is the story of a man named Nicodemus.  Nicodemus is a lifelong member of the religious right of ancient Judaism.  He was a member of the Sanhedrin, “the supreme Jewish judicial, ecclesiastical, and administrative council in ancient Jerusalem before ad 70, having 71 members from the nobility and presided over by the high priest.” (Encarta Dictionary)  These folks were the conservative legalists of their day.  They knew how to break you and they knew how to make you obey “their religious laws” which they called “God’s laws.”  But they didn’t know much about “spirit.”  Nicodemus, a self-affirming practicing member of this group, sneaks up to Jesus in the dark of the night, and says to Jesus, “It’s clear to everyone you are ‘of God.’  The way you touch and treat people is clearly ‘of God.’  How can I be more like you?”

So Jesus tries to teach Nicodemus about “spirit” and “life in the spirit” but no matter what words he used, it was like trying to describe “air.”  You can’t really describe air, but you can feel it.  The only image Jesus could offer was, “Well, Nicodemus, it’s like being born again!”  That wasn’t a very good answer either.  Nicodemus just couldn’t get his head around that image.  “How can I, an old man be born again?  Can I crawl back into my mother’s womb and be born again?” he asks.  So Jesus tries another explanation.

What Nicodemus couldn’t comprehend was that his spiritual past was cutting him off from the spirit of God.  Sound familiar?

Here’s a contemporary parable:

Three days after we were received into the United Church of Christ, Elsa, the Moderator of the Central Association called and left a message on our office voice mail.  She wanted to know the date West Hollywood Church was organized so they could include us in anniversary celebrations.  When Laurie asked me what she should answer her, I said tell her this:

We were born, Nov. 2, 1913.

And we were born again, May 12, 2012.

Blessings in the Spirit,



~ This Week’s Scripture ~

John 3: 1-17

Nicodemus inquires of Jesus about the transformation of his life.

A certain Pharisee named Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, came to Jesus at night.  “Rabbi,” he said, “we know you’re a teacher come from God, for no one can perform the signs and wonders you do, unless by the power of God.”

Jesus gave Nicodemus this answer:

“The truth of the matter is, unless one is born from above, one cannot see the kindom of God.”

Nicodemus said, “How can an adult be born a second time?  I can’t go back into my mother’s womb to be born again!”

Jesus replied:

“The Truth is, no one can enter God’s kindom without being born of water and the Spirit.  What is born of the flesh is flesh; what is born of the Spirit is Spirit.  So don’t be surprised when I tell you that you must be born from above.  The wind blows where it will.  You hear the sound it makes, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be possible?” asked Nicodemus.

Jesus replied,

“You’re a teacher of Israel, and you still don’t understand these matters?

The truth of the matter is, we’re talking about what we know;

we’re testifying about what we’ve seen –

yet you don’t accept our testimony.

If you don’t believe when I tell you about earthly things, how will you believe when I tell you about heavenly things?

No one has gone up to heaven except the One who came down from heaven – the Chosen one.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Chosen One must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in the Christ might have eternal life.

Yes, God so loved the world that God gave God’s Only Begotten Child, that whoever believes in the Christ may not die, but have eternal life.  For God sent Jesus into the world, not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved.”


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