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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

I Swear This Isn't a Mother's Day Sermon

2013-05-12 Born Again Again

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

John 3

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Nicodemus Visits Jesus

3 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus[a] by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." 3 Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."[b] 4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"

5 Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You[d] must be born from above.'[e] 8 The wind[f] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." 9 Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" 10 Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?


Mother's Day sermons are HARD. I've looked through the Bible and as far as I can tell, Jesus never preached a single Mother's Day sermon. Moses had a tablet that said, "Honor your father and your mother." But then he moved on real-fast to murder, adultery, and theft. (You can preach good sermons on those.)

Mother's Day is wonderful. And it's also kind of an emotional minefield. It's hard - especially for a man - to preach a Mother's Day sermon without coming off as pandering or patronizing, or sounding like Tammy Wynette: "After all, he's just a man."

Not all of us are mothers. Not everyone has a greeting card relationship with motherhood. If you are, and if you do, God bless you. And thank you.

Not all of us are mothers; but every single one of us came from one. (It's true.) Not all of us have given birth; but every single one of us was born. So - male or female, mother or other - we all have that in common.

And here's another thing we all have in common: Each and every one of us has the chance to be born again in Jesus Christ.

Now, you might not remember being physically born. But being born anew in Christ is something you CAN remember. Something you can cherish. And more, it's something that can happen again. It's something you can work at - again, and again, every new day.


The Gospel According to John has this amazing story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus. Nicodemus came to Jesus with a question. What was it?

Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night. I wonder. Was Nicodemus lying awake in the middle of the night with this burning question on his mind?

Do you ever do that? Wake up at 3am and a question that scares you in the light of day sits on your head like a ton of bricks? Does that ever happen to you? Scary stuff comes out at night.

So, Nicodemus thinks, "Hey. I wonder if Jesus is up. I think I'll go see." And he does.

Amazingly, Jesus is available, 24/7. Nicodemus goes and, frankly, lays it on a little thick.

"Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God."

Whatever Nicodemus was going to ask after the pleasantries - we'll never know. Jesus takes the wheel and sends Nicodemus down a different road.

Jesus says, "I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."

Well. That was random. Whatever Nicodemus had on his mind, we're now talking about being born from above, born again, born anew.

Nicodemus takes it literally. "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"

And all the mothers are going, "Nuh-uhhhh! One ride per customer, baby."

Bless his heart - maybe he's not fully awake. He's getting all smart and biological.

And then, Jesus, in so many words, asks, "Really, you don't get this?" Jesus sounds truly bewildered. I guess to the Son of God it's so obvious. Birth is not about a particular process, on a particular day, to a particular person. To Jesus, birth is about waking up from your darkness and seeing things in a new light.


What keeps YOU from being born anew? What keeps YOU from seeing things in a new light, the light of Christ?

For me, personally, I would say, stubbornness. I'm stubborn. But really, stubbornness is just the tip of the iceberg. Deep down, in the darkness, I think it's a fear of being inadequate. A fear of not being good enough. (Anybody else in that boat with me?)

And feeling inadequate turns into defensive. And being defensive evolves into stubborn. So, I guess the real answer is that my fear of inadequacy keeps me from being born anew. Which makes sense, because newborns are pretty inadequate.

I was in high school, at a youth retreat at a friend's church. And the band - that was my first clue we weren't in Presbyterian-land anymore - the band, was singing this song. It was a song about being born again. And in the song, there came a part when you were supposed to stand up when the singer called out the day of the week you got saved, were born again.

"Sunday!" People stood up. "Monday!" People jumped up. "Tuesday!" I knew I did not want to be the only person left sitting at the end of the week, so I think I picked Thursday. Right there, I LIED. In church. In front of God and the band. Guilty AND inadequate!

I know that if I asked, a lot of you could tell me which day of the week being born again happened for you. And then I would feel even MORE inadequate. And Presbyterian. Which kind of go together.

If you can remember the place, the day, the hour of the birth of your faith, you are so lucky. If you can remember your first breath of faith, you are so blessed. But I'm absolutely certain you'd also say your first breath of faith was by no means your last.

And I'm also sure you'd say that there've been times when you felt like the breath had been sucked right out of you. When you've felt like there's no way your faith could hold enough life to see you through to tomorrow. Times when you've felt totally helpless, inadequate. Defensive.

"What do you mean, I'm not good enough?"

"What do you mean, that's not right?"

"It's always worked before!"

Nicodemus got defensive when Jesus spoke to him. "Born anew? Are you kidding?" he asked, "How can these things be?"

Inadequate? Sounds like it. Defensive? Absolutely.

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. And, as far as we know, he left at night. The light tried to shine in the darkness. And Nicodemus just didn't get it. Not that he didn't have a high IQ. Being born anew, born again, born from above would have meant confessing that on his own, he WAS inadequate. It's hard to get scarier than that. Maybe that's what was keeping him awake.


I asked Wanda to read the scriptures today, for what I thought were obvious reasons. I mean, how often can you get the grandmother of newborn quadruplets to read on Mother's Day? Birth, birth, birth, birth. New life times 4. Even Nicodemus would get THAT symbolism.

You hear someone's going to have a baby, and you say, "Congratulations!" It's scary, but it's exciting. You hear someone's going to have quadruplets and you go, "Wowwww." "Better get your rest now." The excitement and the peril get magnified.

New life is like that. Even spiritual new life. It's exciting, but there's peril. Because you don't know which way the road's going to turn. Are you up to the challenge? Are your gifts adequate? In the dark of night the worries all get magnified. The answer, the HONEST answer, is at best, "I don't know."

"I don't know how I'm going to make it."

"I don't know if I'm even going to get through this day."

If you've ever felt like that, you're not alone. You're not alone in fear.

What Jesus is here to tell us is that we're not alone in life.

Whether we think about it or not, every single one of us - every single one of us gets a chance every day at being born again. Every morning the sun comes up - and so far, so good - it keeps coming up. And every day the light calls to us.

"Hey, James! Hey, whomever! You were asleep, and now you're awake. It was dark and now it's light. It was yesterday, but now it's now. THINK about it."

The day is born. And with it, so are we. Every day, the earth and everything in it has this God-given chance to start over. Every day, you have this God-given chance of new birth.

Every single day, every single one of us who's lucky enough to wake up gets the chance to be born again, born anew, born to life - and whatever it brings. Excitement? Maybe. Peril? Absolutely. The world's a scary place and scarier all the time. I mean, who in their right mind would ever choose to birth new life into it?

God would. God did. God does. Once God did it in the form of the baby Jesus. And today, God's doing it in the heart of the woman, the man, the person that is you. Wake up. Take a deep breath. And start anew.


The writer, Heather Kirn Lanier, wrote an article last week that I think she thought was for Mother's Day. But when you read it after what Jesus says about being born anew, I think it speaks to all our fears of inadequacy, our shared sense of peril, as well as to our hope in being born again, again.

Her first child has a rare genetic defect. And now she's waiting and wondering about her second, who's due very soon. She writes:

You, Aspiring Parent, thought you were signing up for burping and night feedings and fingerprints on your windows, for Little League and pubescent door slams and an eventual first day of college. You weren't. You signed up for uncertainty. You signed up to stand at the edge of a cliff and jump off...."


I wonder if that's how Mary felt the day Jesus was born. I wonder if that's how God felt the first day you were born. I wonder if that's how Nicodemus felt the night he couldn't sleep.

I wonder if that's how YOU feel about the gift of new life.

What keeps YOU from being born anew? Again?

I can almost guarantee you that this very minute, somewhere, there's a teenager yelling at her parents, "You know, I didn't choose to be born!"

And that is true.

The miracle of Christ is that you do get to choose to be born anew, born again, reborn in the light of Christ. It's not easy. It takes work. Again, and again and again. But the light does shine, even in your darkness. And the darkness does not overcome it.

Let's pray.

O God, you know our fears. You know how we rationalize our failures and our failure to change. You know we're afraid of new life. Take our hand and lead us out of our darkness. We're not sure exactly what that means. But help us not to be so afraid to figure it out. In Jesus' name. Amen.