‘You must be born again’. It is impossible for anyone now to hear these words as they were originally spoken by Jesus or heard by Nicodemus, the Jewish leader who sought Jesus out under cover of darkness, embarrassed or fearful of others knowing about his interest in the new teaching.
For many of us, these words conjure up images of an elderly man in sandwich boards or standing on a wooden box proclaiming a call to repentance while his helpers hand out tracts to reluctant shoppers. We have all met people who have no qualms about describing themselves as ‘born-again Christians’, with all that implies about others being of lesser status, or not real Christians at all.
So, with all this baggage that we bring to this story, what is John trying to tell us? I think that the good news in this story is that a fresh start is always possible, no matter how old we are or how set in our ways; the tricky bit is having to let go of all that is safe and familiar in order to benefit from the complete ‘system reboot’ that God’s spirit wants to accomplish in us… not just once, but whenever we get clogged up with so much religious certainty that we lose sight of what really matters: turning to the light again and again in a continuous process of spiritual re-direction, like sunflowers facing the sun as it rises in the east, and following it all the way round until it sets in the west.
It’s not easy to admit we’ve gone off the rails, and perhaps that’s why Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark of night, hoping for some re-direction and a glimpse of the sun. These re-directions happen best in a one on one with God, or at least they do for me. Unfortunately, Nicodemus couldn’t quite grab hold of this, in this conversation, but the end of John’s gospel will tell us that Nicodemus was there to help with the burial of Jesus, so obviously this conversation we read about today touched his heart and soul.
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