“A Holy Makeover”
1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus 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." 3Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." 4Nicodemus 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?" 5Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' 8The wind 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." 9Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" 10Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11"Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? (John 3:1-12, NRSV)
Joey is lost. He is alive, but not really living. A recovering alcoholic, absent father and divorcee; Joey lives in a constant state of discouragement. In an attempt at a fresh start, Joey relocates to another state, eager for a more simplistic life. At 47 years old, Joey becomes the director of an outdoor education camp in Lawson, Kansas. While the great outdoors are indeed a better fit for Joey’s new lease on life, he carries his old wounds with him. His friends and staff counterparts are eager to help Joey tap into the goodness of life once again. Joey seems stuck in a perpetual rut of despair. But this all changes the day the Fabulous Five enter into his orbit.
The Fabulous Five - Antoni Porowski, Bobby Berk, Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France and Karamo Brown – travel around the country to help people wake up to their lives. On Netflix’s hit series, “Queer Eye”, the five men bring their unique gifts to people struggling along life’s way. In each episode, this charismatic and compassionate bunch helps to remake people’s lives. For those who struggle with identity, they bring their affirmations and insight – helping the down and out to reclaim a new sense of purpose. For those whose lives have become chaotic or disorderly, the group works to restore peace by helping define their intentions for the life they truly desire. For those living in the wake of grief and unbearable loss, the men help the heartbroken to witness life through a new lens. They help them to once again see the beauty in the world and to use their heartache to birth goodness. The Fabulous Five is helping people wake up to their lives.
Something like this takes place in our scripture lesson today. Jesus calls Nicodemus to wake up to his life. Jesus calls us to see things from a new perspective that we might become more alive. The Pharisee, Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the middle of the night, as the text states. Perhaps his Ambien had worn off, or perhaps his mind had been swirling with thoughts about this mysterious Jesus. After all, Nicodemus, though skeptical, witnessed Jesus perform miracles and speak of Heavenly notions. Nicodemus arrives at the home of Jesus searching for answers. Some scholars believe that Nicodemus greets Jesus in the Mount of Olives, where he often camped out while visiting Jerusalem. Nonetheless, in a master attempt to conceal his curiosity in Jesus, Nicodemus seeks him in the stillness of a dark night. As a highly regarded Pharisee, Nicodemus and his cohorts are often the examples in Jesus’ illustrations of hypocrisy and calloused living. Perhaps being seen with Jesus might have tarnished his public image and possibly brought disgrace to his law – abiding colleagues. Jesus had recently disturbed the philosophies of many with his clearing of the temple and overturning the money tables. Many, including the Pharisees are in the midst of deciding what to do about Jesus. This meeting is both highly secretive and seemingly urgent as Nicodemus searches for meaning and insight.
The story draws us in as we empathize with Nicodemus standing in front of Jesus filled with questions and confusion. With his background as a religious leader and one who follows the law closely, I imagine he seeks a formula of sorts for faith. Like some of us, perhaps Nicodemus is hoping for Jesus to hand him a colorful brochure on the necessary steps to achieve our best selves. I imagine Nicodemus with a hint of both doubt and curiosity calling out to Jesus, “Tell me how all this is possible. Tell me what I need to do in order to experience this higher living. Nicodemus is looking for a blueprint for the Spiritual life.
Theologian William Loader sheds light onto the meaning of “being born of the Spirit.” He exclaims, “John plays on the word, pneuma, which means spirit and wind. People like the Nicodemus stereotype remain at the level of miracles and fail to see what is really going on in Jesus and going on in believers who now live at this level of the Spirit. Being born of the Spirit is talking not about a new mystical height of experience but about a way of living out the life of God in the world. When you see like this, you see the connection between Jesus and God and you see God in Jesus not trying to compete for adoration in this market of miracle workers, but seeking to establish a relationship of love and community. The focus is life. The means is relationship. The motive is love.”
Jesus calls us to wake up to our lives. He calls us to a new way of understanding the world – a new way of seeing ourselves and one another. Being born of the Spirit means seeing beyond the mundane so that we bring to light the extraordinary. It means at times taking that which is frightful and transforming it into the sublime.
Ryan Meeks, pastor of Eastlake Church in Seattle shares the story of his journey and battle with cancer. In a recent sermon he shared through his tears, saying, “Mark Manson once wrote, “Death is the light by which the shadow of all of your life’s meaning is measured.” Meeks responds, “Death is our cheerleader. One of the biggest gifts of my cancer journey is realizing that death is on my team. It’s like it says to me daily, ‘LIVE’! He goes on to say, “some of you who are chronically late, I have good news. You’ll make it to one of your appointments on time. Death. And while we will not miss our appointment with death, many of us miss our appointment with life. Waking up means dying to old ways of seeing and old ways of living. It means saying yes to life.”
Jesus says to Nicodemus, “The wind 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.
Pastor and theologian Rev. Alyce McKenzie ponders what this might look like in our lives and in the life of the church. She notes, “If we start letting the wind of the Spirit blow through our souls, our church, our families, who knows what might be blown out and what might blow in? Resentments and prejudices we have cherished for decades might blow out the window. One of us may sit in church next week and sense some of our usual sorrow, wafting out the back of the sanctuary, in its place a fragrant breeze bearing hope. Next week when we come to church, some people we don't recognize may be sitting on the back pew or standing behind the pillar looking in, waiting for an invitation to come into the arena of light and warmth. And we may feel our feet moving in their direction. Anything can happen when it comes to wind. The fog might lift from a whole church that thinks their best days are behind them. A whole church could feel the brisk, energizing breeze of hope, and purpose stronger than their pain. If we say yes to the question, "Do you want to be born again or born from above?" the belief in Christ we now recite with our lips could become the blood running through our veins.
Like Nicodemus, I wonder what we come in search for in the darkness of our doubt. I wonder what curiosities of life and mystery we ponder. I wonder what urgencies of our spirit keep us awake at night? I wonder what questions we have for our redemptive God as we see and experience the world around us. I wonder what Jesus might say to us, should we seek him today? “How can these things be?” we insist. “What does it mean to be born anew- to be remade? To wake up to life?
Perhaps for us in this time and space, being born anew means trusting that circumstances aren’t always as they seem. Perhaps being born of the Spirit means realizing the most significant things in this existence cannot be bought, earned, or displayed. Maybe being born of the Spirit means having an awareness that every single breath that fills our lungs is a gift and a glimpse of the Holy Other. Perhaps being born of the Spirit means losing yourself in a moment with someone you love. Perhaps being remade means understanding time as more of a commodity than money. In being fully present in our body and spirit, we realize that this life is significantly concise compared to all of eternity. Perhaps being born of the Sprit means seeing beyond human conflict to a place of human connection. Maybe being born of the Spirit means confronting the realities of death but discovering forms of resurrection.
Author and theologian Rob Bell sheds light onto the human life that has been born from above. In one of his spiritual reflections entitled, “Resurrection”, he proclaims a life of Spirit – a life of newness and resurrection. He declares, “…This world matters - this world that we call home, dirt, blood, sweat, skin, light and water - this world that God is redeeming and restoring and renewing. …Resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters, in this body – the one we inhabit right now. So every act of compassion matters. Every work of art that celebrates the good and the true matters. Every fair and honest act of business and trade matters. Every kind word – they all belong and go on in God’s good world – nothing will be forgotten. Nothing will be wasted. It all has its place.”
The Fabulous Five understands this truth. That every part of someone’s life has the potential to serve as a catalyst for love and relationship. In Joey’s case, the group helps to bring his son Isaac back into his life – to begin again. Isaac shares a moving story about how when he was younger, he and his Dad would take long road trips; just the two of them. Along the familiar highway where they drove countless miles there was an exit with an entertainment attraction. Isaac reflects on this memory saying, “Time after time, we would drive past the exit. Dad would look over at me and always say, “Someday we’ll go there together. But it never happened. We always just kept driving.” As the episode concludes, Joey enters his newly updated apartment, his son by his side. Joey stops mid step, fixated on a piece of artwork hanging front and center in the living room. It’s a canoe paddle painted by Isaac that reads, “Today, not someday.” Joey, moved by this sentimental gift, vows to his son to wake up to their life together. “Yes, son; today. Not someday. That will be our new mantra together.” Joey proclaims.
Unlike the calculated formulas for an enlightened life, perhaps life born of the Spirit is much broader – and much more robust than we imagine. Perhaps being born of the Spirit is a mysterious longing we possess and seek our entire lives. It is a daily, moment by moment process that calls for our attention and our awareness of this life. Like Jesus reminds Nicodemus, “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about Heavenly things?”
In every breath, the thin veil of this existence and the next calls us to wake up. Jesus calls us to a higher way of thinking and a more connected and compassionate way of living. Life born anew brings awe, wonder and mystery. Life born of the Spirit wakes us up to that which is before us. May it be so. Amen.
God of peace,
The season of Lent can be barren and lonely, but we know that you are always with us, even through the wild wilderness. Our lives O God are lived in seasons of transitions and transformations.
We ask today that you would cast off the shadows of whatever we assume will sustain us, so we can receive the light of the unknown things you have in store for our lives.
During this season of Lent may we accept your invitation to come out of our safe places-to let go, to open up- not to forsake the things and people we treasure but to learn to hold them tightly and freely.
We thank you for this family of faith where we find sanctuary, friendship and encouragement for the journey. We ask that you would continue to build us together as a church family, helping us to see the greater needs both in our community and in our world. We ask for peace for those who have lost loved ones. We pray for your guidance as we experience the suffering of all those in need.
We pray for those in places of harms way or those separated from family today. May they know your peace and sense your comfort.
We pray this morning for those members who are in need of our continued prayers.
May your spirit guide us and give evidence of the places in our lives that need mending. Open our hearts that we may see you with fresh vision and we might sense your presence in a new way.
We ask these things in the name of Christ,
Prayer adapted from Lavon Baylor’s “Led By Love”
 Markquart, Edward. www.sermonsfromseattle.com.
 Loader, William; First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages from the Lectionary “Trinity”. www.staff.murdoch.edu
 Meeks, Ryan; Pastor of Eastlake Church Seattle. Sermon preached at Gracepointe Church in Nashville, TN.
 McKenzie, Alyce; www.patheos.org.
 Bell, Rob. (Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church) Resurrection. www.robbell.com.