Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Born again - A sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent 2014

cc-14-yA-Lent 2
Spiritual Birth
“Born Again: Every Saint has a past – Every Sinner has a future, Hallelujah!”

It was a long road trip. Jimmy had left Pittsburgh, at 8 the night before. He and his girlfriend, Caitlin were headed to Norfolk. His brother Eric was returning on the USS Roosevelt after almost 8 months in and around the Persian Gulf.  Eric was getting married just a few days after his arrival and Jimmy was going to be the best man.

Jimmy was also headed to do a little business. He’d been buying methamphetamine from a manufacturer he’d met in a bar a few years back when he’d seen Eric off the first time he’d deployed on the carrier. Once a month Bob cooked a batch and Jimmy would run it up back roads thru West Virginia. Even though Jimmy had good connections with some of the dealers in West Virginia, Bob’s stuff was basically pharmaceutical grade, and Jimmy could get a premium for it with discriminating customers in Pittsburgh.

That was how he’d met Caitlin. She had a really good job with Alcoa, but she also liked to party. A deal with one of his customers had led to their meeting. A few weeks later they met again, and now they were living together. She knew he was a “bad boy” but that was part of the attraction.

But now Jimmy was panicking. He was going to meet Bob at 4 that morning, and pick up his load. But when he got near Bob’s place on the godforsaken plot of farmland he had near the Great Dismal Swamp, there was nobody there. The ramshackle house where they’d met was dark, and when he texted there was no answer.

So, Jimmy had headed back for the highway, but he was almost certain that someone was tailing him. Or was he just being paranoid? He didn’t know. What he did know is that Caitlin had her stash of meth and marijuana in her stuff in the trunk of his car.

He turned off on a little farm road that paralleled U.S. 64 and watched the headlights behind him keep heading toward the highway.  Breathing a sigh of relief he nodded at Caitlin. But a few moments later there was another set of headlights behind him.

He passed a little Baptist Church with a lighted sign.  It read: Harmony Baptist Church, Pastor Marvin Davis, Sermon for Sunday, “Born Again: Every Saint has a past – Every Sinner has a future, Hallelujah!”

As the headlights began to close in on him he began to pray...

She was about to graduate from college. Kylie had been the child her parents never had to worry about. Yes, she made mistakes, but she was very sensible and self-disciplined. She’d never fallen for the drinking and hooking up crowd in college. She didn’t just want sex and partying, she wanted a lasting relationship, marriage and hopefully kids. She was excited about graduating, but felt like there was still something missing. She just wasn’t sure what it was or how to find it.  Her friend Sara kept inviting her to visit her church. Maybe this Sunday she’d go. She had gone to church with her family, but Sundays at college were for sleeping in. But maybe Sara was right about the whole knowing God thing. She’d call her tonight.

I titled today’s sermon Spiritual Birth.  Not particularly original, but to the point. New Birth, Born Again, Regeneration, New Creation. It is one of the most central ideas in the New Testament: a belief that we are spiritually dead inside until God literally regenerates us.

It is said that Christians don’t believe in re-incarnation. And certainly in the Hindu form we do not. But we do believe that we can literally be made new, re-incarnated, re-created at a fundamental spiritual level.

There is an irony here. Spiritual deadness is not related to behavior. Good and bad, all human beings are spiritually dead unless this regeneration takes place. 

“Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.”

Nicodemus was a really morally good person. The pharisees were the straight arrows of their day. They followed the ten commandments, were faithful to their wives, gave money to charity, and upheld order and decency.

But after hearing about Jesus, or perhaps hearing Jesus, Nicodemus began to wonder if there might be more.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he says there is something more and it is called grace, God’s entry into our life that we get when we put our faith in God.  This spiritual re-birth can only happen when we let go put our trust in God.  Paul says this faith ingredient is the most important part of what Abraham does.

Putting faith in Jesus is Jesus own idea. He claims that that our trust, belief, faith, or any other type of confidence is to be placed in him.  In this short passage from John’s gospel  he twice says believe in him and have eternal life.

“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.”

To believe in Jesus means to decide to believe in him. Now, faith is always risky.  I believed my cousin John when he told me we would get rich selling apples that we picked in his backyard.  I think we made 20 cents. After that I didn’t have quite as much faith in John’s business advice. 

What are some of the risks of putting faith in Jesus?  Maybe Jesus himself was a phony. Or maybe Jesus was sincere, but self-deluded and his followers are also self-deluded. Nice people but naive and foolish.

There is one way to find out if Jesus really can give us a spiritual rebirth. To pray and put our faith in him.

All faith involves certain risk.  Here is my challenge to you. If you have committed your life to Christ, keep moving forward. But if you have never consciously put trust in Him consider doing so. 

I remember the first time someone asked me if I had been “Born again.”  I had no clue what they meant.  It was a girl in high school  “Paul, have you been born again?” she asked.  Since I didn’t know what she meant I sort of muttered “I don’t know.” “Well, do you believe in Jesus?” She asked.  “Of course.” I replied. I believed Jesus existed. I didn’t have any faith in him, but I was sure he was a real historical character.  I had lots of church experience but not much God experience.

You may be like me. Your parents took you to church and you got baptized. Perhaps you were baptized as a baby or a young person, perhaps you did first communion or confirmation. But you just did those things because someone else thought you should or you were going along with the crowd, or doing what your parents wanted. 

I know I tried to fill my spiritual dead place with drugs and excitement. And both worked for a while, but they also began to have very negative consequences.

Finally, I gave in admitted that my life was going nowhere fast.  When someone told me God could help I was ready to give it a try.

And so, I prayed and began to turn my life and decisions over to God, not knowing exactly how that would work, and not even sure it would work.

Looking back I realize several things that helped me follow Christ.

First, and most important was the decision to trust God.  We don’t always think about it, but making a decision is the starting point of any change. 

The people who helped me were very clear. “Deciding to follow Jesus”, they said, “means decide to stop following other things For you it definitely means stop following drugs.” 

Fortunately they also guided me to people who knew something about recovery, not just giving my life to Christ.

If you need time to think about it, to weigh your options, want some help just thinking about all this God stuff, get in touch with me.  I’d be happy to listen, and then if you want, give you some resources to think it through.

Or perhaps you’ve lost that sense of spiritual connection and intimacy with God, and you've asked God to deepen your love for him and to give you a deeper knowledge of his love for you, but there still seems to be something missing and you aren't sure what to do. Again, feel free to call, text, email, or meet, let's connect.

Let us pray.

“Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.

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