What Does it Mean to be Born Again?
Here we are in the second Sunday in Lent, we're continuing our journey together through the season of Lent. And as I said last Sunday, it is a 40-day period in which we are intentionally, purposely preparing ourselves for new growth and new life. And so fittingly enough, our gospel reading for the second Sunday in Lent is one in which Jesus says that we must be born again.
Now, what does that mean to be born again? Well, most of us are familiar with the term “Born Again Christian.” That's kind of become a popular term in our lifetime. It actually just started in the 1970s. It was a very popular movement in the evangelical church in the United States, a group of very conservative Christians who proclaimed that they were Born Again Christians. They proclaim that Jesus was their personal Lord and Savior. And they believe that everyone must accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, in order to be saved.
And this group of Christians tends to take the Bible literally. Which is kind of ironic if you think about it, because in today's Gospel reading in which Jesus speaks of being born again, he also says not to take his words literally. Though, as we just heard, Nicodemus comes to Jesus. Now Nicodemus was a religious teacher. He was a Pharisee. He knew scripture backward and forward. If there was a course in Scripture, he would get an A. And everybody would come to Nicodemus when they wanted answers about their faith. He was a well-respected religious teacher.
And yet we find him here, going to Jesus in the middle of the night, under the cloak of darkness. I guess he didn't want anybody to see that he needed to go to Jesus for some answers himself. He asks Jesus, “How do we inherit? How do we get into eternal life? And Jesus says, ‘You must be born again.’ And Nicodemus doesn't get it. Because Nicodemas is a literalist, he says, ‘How can one be born again? How can you go back inside your mother's womb?’ And Jesus says, ‘How can you be a spiritual teacher and not get what I'm saying?’
Because Jesus, of course, was speaking, not literally, he was speaking spiritually, symbolically. For Jesus, the term ‘born again,’ means we must die more and more to our false self, to our ego self, so that we can awaken more and more, give birth to the true self, the Divine Self, the Christ self.
And it's not a one-time proclamation, that you say, ‘I've declared Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior,’ and boom! I'm saved! Being born again is an ongoing process. Some spiritual teachers say we're born again every day. And some say we're born again every moment.
Every day, every moment, every minute, we get to choose, are we going to be about something newer, something truer? It's about letting go of the things that are no longer serving us, all of the things that are getting in the way of our discovery of the light within us.
That's what being born again means.
And yet, as we've seen in our lifetime, the very literal interpretation of this Gospel passage has led to so much division, so much misunderstanding. It is also from this Gospel passage, that we hear that famous quote, John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that God gave His only Son. Whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.’
I would guess that this quote John 3:16, is probably the most famous Bible quote in America today. You go to a NASCAR race or a football game, you see people holding up signs that say, John 3:16. You see it on hats and T-shirts and bumper stickers.
I shared with you last year that one local mechanic’s shop had in their newspaper ad, ‘Come in and recite John 3:16 and receive a free oil change.’ No joke! What is it about John 3:16 that evangelical Christians love so much? Why is it the Bible quote that they want to share with everyone?
Well, I'd like to believe it's the first six words, “For God so loved the world.” Wouldn’t that'd be amazing, if that's what they wanted everybody to know. God loves you so much.
Sadly, however, I think it's the latter part of the quote that they're trying to emphasize. Jesus is the only way. No one can come to the Father except through him. There's no other way. You must accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior in order to be saved.
But that is not what John 3:16 is about. That is a literal interpretation of Scripture, which we've shared before is the lowest level of meaning. Scripture is meant to be understood spiritually, symbolically.
When Jesus says, “I am the way,” he doesn't mean him, Jesus of Nazareth, he means The Way, my Way of Living, my way of loving, my way of serving, my way of forgiving. That's the way that leads to salvation, to freedom. Notice in this passage of John 3:16, Jesus refers to the Son of God, or the only-begotten son. Why would he be talking about himself in the third person? I mean, why would he say, whoever believes in Him will have eternal life? Why wouldn’t He say, whoever believes in me will have eternal life? Because he's not talking about himself. He's not speaking of his human, Jesus of Nazareth, self. He's speaking from his Christ self, from His Divine Self. I've shared with you before Christ and Jesus are two different things.
The Christ existed billions of years before Jesus. When God birthed everything into existence, there was the Christ. Jesus was a human being 2,000 years ago, who through his life's journey, discovered that light was within him. He became one with everything. And then he made it his mission, to go out and not to say, I have the light worship me. He made it his mission to say, ‘You're the light.’
And, and my mission is to teach you how you, too, can discover this light within yourself. That's why he said, ‘All the things I've done, you can do.” “These things in greater”. He wanted us to awaken to the light that is within us. So he said, “Follow this way. love people unconditionally. Forgive people 70 times seven times, over and over again. Serve the least of these in your midst. Because Jesus knew when you follow this way, you die to the ego, to the false self. And when you do that, you will awaken to the light within you. The Divine Self, the Christ self. That's what John 3:16 is all about.
Meister Eckhart was a Christian mystic who lived in the 13th century. And he said, “This is God has not begat only one son. The eternal is forever begetting the Only Begotten. The eternal is forever begetting the Only Begotten. He said that in the 13th century. So you can see why the Christian church branded him a heretic.
Now, a more recent Christian mystic was the Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, who passed away last year. Probably in our lifetime, he was the greatest scripture scholar. And he said, ‘Christianity is not about The Divine becoming human. Christianity, is about the human becoming divine.” That's what Christianity is. Your discovery of God's light within you.
So my friends, Lent is the perfect opportunity for us to examine – What are the things in my life that are keeping me from my light? What are the things I need to let go of, fast from, give up? Give up the things that are no longer serving you, so that you can awaken more and more to who God created you to be – the light of the world. So may you find time, not only each and every day this week, but each and every day during the season of Lent, to connect with that light that is within you, so that you can hear the truth of your being, the truth that Jesus says will set you free, not in the next lifetime. But in this one.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
Rev. Thomas Shepherd
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is speaking to one of the leaders of the Pharisees, a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus is confused about what Jesus means when he talks about being “born again.” Jesus explains that it isn't a literal rebirth, but a return to Source. Jesus himself was “born again” when he was baptized by John and somehow, in that process, awakened to his true spiritual identity and spiritual purpose. John didn't impart that new awareness to him; it had been in him all along, just as it is within us. Jesus calls us all to “convert” our lives from a belief system centered on separation from a punishing God to a new awareness of our intimate Oneness with the Power of God. Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). In other words, the “rebirth” is a surrender of human demands and limitations and a return to the Oneness with Spirit that is our true source and identity. The “rebirth” isn't bestowed on us from without; it's about discovering who we truly are. This surrender can't be defined or justified to our mortal mind, any more than people at that time could define the wind, except by feeling its effects as it passed. When we are “born of the Spirit” we express as the wind expresses, in the loving guidance and flow of Holy Spirit. This may seem to the mortal mind like a loss of power and identity; in Truth, however, it represents a new dimension of freedom and empowerment.
What did you think?