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6/7/09 - The Rev. Dr. Margaret Guenther - Trinity Sunday

posted May 21, 2010, 6:30 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:31 PM by Terry Brady ]
There is irony, even humor, in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Picture it: these two men, in an intensely patriarchal society, solemnly discussing the mechanics of birth. Both of them, of course, have been born as all of us have. But neither had given birth and, given the customs of the times and what we know of their two lives, it is highly unlikely that either had witnessed a birth or even listened in on "women's talk" of obstetrical adventures.

It was Jesus who brings up the subject. He puzzles Nicodemus, because he gives an answer before the question can be asked: "Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

This is probably more than Nicodemus wants to know. The imagery is unexpected feminine and earthed. Jesus does not say "observe the law" or "study Torah" or "give alms" but rather he forces Nicodemus to think in terms of intimacy, human bodies, fertility, and transforming experience.

And Nicodemus is literal minded; according to current jargon, a real left brain type. So he visualizes the scene the absurd scene of a grown person returning to his mother's body to be born anew and he ponders the difficult logistics: how can a person be born again when he is old?

There is humor in this scene two learned men, teachers, rabbis, trained in the intricacies of the law and presumably worshiper of an abstract, invisible, indeed unknowable God. And here they are, talking about birth that mysterious, joyous, painful, dark and bloody process by which new life enters the world.

Think for a minute about what it means to be born.

It means emergence into light and air, after a long time in confined darkness. To be born is to be thrust from this sheltering darkness into light, to feel the pressure of the atmosphere, to be exposed to heat and cold, to feel gentle breezes and harsh winds. To be born is to become open and vulnerable.

To be born is to experience human touch for the first time, to know intimacy and relationship. So with birth comes identity, the identity of a name bestowed, the identity of being son or daughter, part of a family.

And to be born is not easy. Research and imagination, and perhaps our own vestigial memory tell us that it is a difficult passage. In many ways, it is the first trauma, the first involuntary step on the long journey.

To be born is a transformation, as dramatic as the coming forth of Lazarus from the tomb. To be born is to become fully human. To be born is to begin to live.

It ought to be enough to have to do it once!

As I thought about this Gospel over the past few days, I found myself thinking about the time when I worked as a hospital chap¬lain. I loved it when my rounds took me anywhere near the newborn nursery. Then I would detour and stand for a few moments looking at the lovely new life, carefully aligned behind the big window. I would stand and marvel at the newness, the perfection, the beauty of it all. And sometimes new parents would be standing there and it was at first amusing, then touching, and then compelling to watch them in the presence of the newly born.

They expected nothing of these tiny, useless creatures. Sleeping, yawning, even red and screaming the newly born were objects of delight and wonder.

There was something holy in the moments of celebration of new life. Yet I always felt a twinge of sadness as I watched the delight of those earthly mothers and fathers because I knew (as an earthly mother myself!) that it was too good to last. I knew about fatigue and impatience and the sheer wear and tear of families living together to say nothing of our own sinfulness, that sinfulness which even the most cherubic baby grows up to experience and embrace all these forces that dim and tarnish the delight, the holy wonder. If only it would last! I would think.

It can and does, you know. Our response to the wonder of human birth, our delight in its wholeness and promise, may grow dim. But God's delight in our birth as his children never dims.

It is hard for most of us to accept the fact of God's delight in us. In other people yes. In all the rest of creation yes! But not us! We do our best, but in our imperfection we are scarcely objects of delight.

Yet that is what this Gospel is telling us, linking the metaphor of birth with a reminder of how God feels about us, for tucked in this story of Nicodemus and rebirth is the familiar verse one many of us learned as children in Sunday School: Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.

That's the good news. In our earthly birth and in our new birth in Christ, God loves us so much. The old Latin translation says it even better: God so delighted in the world that he gave us his son.

So with Nicodemus we reflect on the wonder of birth, our new birth in Christ. And like Nicodemus we may say: how can this be? We are grownup dignified people in dignified clothes and with dignified jobs and dignified identities. Some of us even have gray hair and wrinkles, and all of us are getting a little shopworn.

It is ironic and there is humor in the picture.

Jesus our teacher is encouraging us to think of ourselves as newborn infants, born anew, reborn mysteriously still ourselves, yet new and whole as objects of God's delight.

We delight him just as surely as those newborn babies in the hospital nursery delight those who love them. (And we have done just about as much as they have to merit that delight.)

Yes, we are called to walk in his way. To work, to pray, to study. To come together as his people in the sacraments. To repent–which after all means redirecting our steps-- to forgive, to love.

But that's not the real news. The real news is God’s love for us, his love for us as earthly children born to earthly parents and his love for us as children born anew in the mystery of baptism.

For God so delighted in the world, that he gave us his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. My dear friends, from our new Christians-- especially these very young ones baptized today –to the oldest among us: please have a lovely day reflecting and celebrating on how delightful you are!