John 3:1-17 Isaiah 6:1-8
How many times, on any given day, do you have to give proof that you were born? My guess is: not very often at all, especially if people can see that you’re alive, so they can deduce that, yes, very obviously, you were born. Following on from this, then, I would suppose that the fact that you’re alive is more important than the proof of your birth. Although you may need to show a birth certificate at some point, to give evidence of the date and place of your birth, you don’t go around showing it to everybody all the time, when they can see it’s quite obvious that you were born. Last week, we celebrated the birth of the Church, Pentecost. It was that first Pentecost, when the promised Holy Spirit came upon the disciples as they gathered, which gave ‘birth’ to the Church, the Body of Christ on earth. So what about the birth certificate of the Church? Or of your own ‘proof’ of your ‘rebirth’ in Christ? How do we go about giving evidence of our existence as living members of the Body of Christ?
Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who came to visit Jesus by night, was challenged about this. He was a religious teacher; the Pharisees being the religious authorities of the time. But it took some reassessment of his spiritual understanding for Nicodemus to see why he could not be complete without knowing his need for the renewal inside him by the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Baptism with water was already an ‘outward sign of an inward grace’, of a turning towards God, recognising him as Lord. But baptism by the Spirit, or being born of the Spirit, takes our faith to the next level. Those words of Jesus that he says in John 10: ‘I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly’, are an expression of the same thing. It’s not enough to have an academic knowledge of the divine; you need to make it your own, in your heart, to allow faith to have an effect on your life. That’s when the ‘proof’, if you like, becomes visible, not just on paper but ‘in the flesh’.
So, then, how does it all happen? Well, I know that some Christians have a wonderful, dramatic, spiritual experience, that comes like a flash of lightning and in which they feel the presence of God very strongly and distinctly. It’s that particular moment in life that they refer to as the pivotal moment of either their conversion or the renewal of their faith. However, for many others it’s not like that; rather, their realisation of being renewed by God comes on much more gradually, as a dawn followed by sunrise rather than a light-switch moment. Does that matter? Well, no, of course it doesn’t matter which journey one travels in that respect, as long as it leads to that completeness of being ‘born of water and the Spirit’, as Jesus says to Nicodemus. In Judaism, God was already known to the people for who he is as Almighty, the One True God, but through Jesus, God becomes their Father. And through the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they can have a relationship with him and the Trinity. In that famous Rublev Icon, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the figures are placed around the table in a way that invites the onlooker in. No more distance, but relationship and intimacy, between us and the divine. Mind-boggling, isn’t it! And one of the signs of human life is relationship.
For too long now, we’ve had to keep other people literally at arm’s length. For many it’s proved to be detrimental to their health. How ironic, if it weren’t so sad!
The signs of life that we project as re-born Christians should be the proof that we have been made new in Christ. Those signs are love, kindness, generosity, humility, patience and self-control. We can’t show that to others on paper! We can’t just wave about our baptism certificate… Rather, we should wear it on our sleeve. That way, nobody will ever ask for a ‘re-birth certificate’; because they will see for themselves that, obviously, we are alive in Christ, as it makes a difference for all to see. If we haven’t done it yet, let’s be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Then we can show the world that we’re really alive, in the way we are connected to God, as he guides us into the ‘heavenly things’. Amen.