Saturday, February 16, 2008

By the way, are you born again?

Fr. Tim Fountain
Sermon for Lent 2, 2008

Born of the Spirit

Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above (or anew or again). John 3:3

"Born again" – we hear it as a controversial label
A spirituality based on personal enthusiasm
Conservative politics
Aggressive personality

So, what is "Born Again"?
Greek gennao anothen = "to generate/give birth from above/anew/again."
It is to receive an inward and spiritual life not included in our natural birth. (John 1:11-13)

Different Christian traditions can confuse us about how this rebirth takes place –(warning – gross oversimplifications on the way):
Traditional/liturgical churches give away new birth as God’s gift, conferred by baptism.
Baptist/ "Born Again"/other Protestant churches withhold new birth until one consciously repents of specific sins and personally accepts Christ as Lord and Savior.
Pentecostal/Charismatic churches don’t recognize one as reborn without the activity of "sign gifts" such as speaking in tongues or spiritual healing.

A full Biblical explanation of rebirth in the Spirit harmonizes these "competing" Christian points of view:
New birth is a gift from God, not based on our own good deeds or emotions (Romans 4 – Today’s Readings). Faith is a gift to the ungodly – Liturgical churches are right!
New birth is about leaving our current ways to live God’s way. Abraham (Genesis 12:1-4a – Today’s Readings) leaves all that is familiar and supportive to go "as the LORD had told him." Baptists are right!
New birth is the exercise of God-given gifts in the mission of the church (example coming up). Pentecostals are right!

The fullness of being "born again" is in our current prayer focus, Ephesians 4:7, 11-16
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
Rebirth in the Spirit is a gift. Like our natural birth, it is not our own doing. Thus sacramental baptism, in our tradition, is treated as "regeneration" – the washing away of original sin and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is done for us, not by us.
11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Rebirth in the Spirit gives us supernatural gifts to do Christ’s work in the world. Some of these gifts, like teaching, are similar to things done in day-to-day life; others, like healing, are dramatic signs that the Spirit of God is at work.
13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.
Rebirth in the Spirit means that we must be changed. We grow and mature and learn lessons. Just like with natural birth, we are not "complete" when "born again." There is a lifetime of change in store – changing from the ways of the world to the Way of Christ.
15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
We are changed to be more like Christ, both individually and as members of the church.

A question: Are you born again?
Have you received sacramental regeneration in Holy Baptism?
Has your life changed over time, based on your understanding of Jesus Christ?
Are you exercising your God-given gifts in the mission of the church?

A challenge: The next time we have a Bishop’s visit, I want every adult at Good Shepherd to make a sincere, public reaffirmation of faith. I want all of us to say with confidence, "I am born again." AMEN.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Tim+. Nicely balanced. John 3 provides a fine example of what I like to call "3-D Christianity." That is, that biblical religion is three dimensional: evangelical, catholic, and charismatic. In the case of John chapter 3, the 3 dimensions are illustrated by elements like these: the evangelical dimension of faith is emphasized by the famous vs. 16, that those who BELIEVE in Christ have everlasting life, and the stress on personal conversion in this encounter with Nicodemus. The catholic dimension is least evident, but appears in the passing allusion to baptism in the mention of being "born of WATER and the Spirit" in 3:5. But not least, the charismatic dimension is seen in the strong stress in the first part of the chapter on the role of the Holy Spirit in entering into the Kingdom, being born of the SPIRIT.

And yes, I think it's a wonderful idea to have the whole congregation renew their baptismal vows and make a public rededication of themselves to Christ when the bishop comes for his next visit. Fantastic idea.