"Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.'"
Lately, my days have been filled with relocating my mother-in-law to a nursing home and cleaning out the apartment she has lived in for almost twenty years. It has been a sad and frustrating job. Fiercely independent, stubborn, and increasingly forgetful, she has clung to the familiarity and security of her apartment even when it was no longer safe or reasonable for her to continue living there.
As I throw away, give away, and pack away the belongings of a lifetime, I am struck repeatedly by the stages of our lives and the unwillingness to embrace the progression and necessary changes. Her closet is filled with clothes that are yellow and dusty with age. There are boxes and bags of fabric and sewing accessories from her career as a seamstress that she left more than twenty years ago. There are drawers and drawers packed full of old bills and cancelled checks that she was afraid to throw away. Unable to adequately clean, her furniture and belongings are covered with layers of dust and dirt, yet she resisted any help and fired the home health aides and nurses I employed for her, insisting that she was managing fine. Easy as it is to judge the overwhelming clutter of her life, I must admit that I often become equally attached to my own belongings. Sorting through my mother-in-law's collection of a lifetime, I am struck by the burden of material things as well as the traditions and routines which I cling to even when they are no longer useful.
In John 3:1-20, the Pharisee, Nicodemus, comes to Jesus under the cover of night to question his miraculous signs and revolutionary message. Eager to learn from the master, Nicodemus was confused by Jesus' insistence that he must be born again in order to know God. What was wrong with the way he was living his life now? Why should he change his familiar beliefs or his comfortable behavior? What was wrong with the tradition and the laws that he currently followed? Because the teachings of Jesus are now traditions, it is hard for us to understand the dilemma that Nicodemus faced. As a Pharisee, he was a Jewish leader and scholar. Changing his beliefs meant changing everything he held dear. It was not only threatening to his livelihood, but also to his very life and his acceptance among his peers. What Jesus was asking was truly akin to being reborn again.
In a similar way, Jesus' message of rebirth is as relevant for us today as it was for Nicodemus 2,000 years ago. We may not be Jewish scholars, but we can become equally entrenched in stale and stagnant traditions. We can refuse to consider new ideas and ways of doing things. We can create a small world of sameness and comfortable familiarity while we refuse to recognize the diversity all around us. We can relegate our relationship with God to comfortably familiar verses and traditions which have become meaningless and rote.
Being reborn is more than leaving behind the old. It is embracing the new and moving forward within the framework of God's plan. Like Nicodemus, Jesus calls us to be bold in becoming a new creation even when it is both uncomfortable and challenging. Lent is a time for Christians to be born again. It is a time for soul-searching, reflection, and turning away from previous behaviors and beliefs that are holding us back from the life of light and joy that God desires for us. However, it is not just a time of giving up bad habits and unproductive behaviors. It is a time of renewal and rebirth.
Like Nicodemus, we are called to be reborn into a new relationship with Christ. We are called to be new creations which shine the light of God's truth and mercy. We are called not only to be different, but also to make a difference in the world.
Psalms 119:49-72 or 49
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Lynne's blogs: lynnewatts.blogspot.com/, caringforthekids.blogspot.com/