What does it mean to be born again? That was Nicodemus’ question during his nocturnal visit to Jesus. Life moves forward, we can’t go back to the womb or even our childhood. But, the moral and spiritual arc of history and our personal lives can call us to new beginnings. Reminding us, even in retirement, that “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood” or turn our lives around.
There is a spiritual restlessness within each one of us. We may want life to remain the same. We are happy with the familiar and the predictable, but there is within us a quiet quest for something more that sometimes surfaces, calling us to new life and holy adventure. There is a movement toward something more than power, wealth, and success. We are made to learn and grow – relationally, ethically, intellectually, spiritually – we are meant to open the doors of our minds and hearts to learn new things. To hold on to the past is to go against the nature of life. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus noted, “you can’t step into the same waters twice.” And as one of his upstart students corrected, “you can’t step in the same waters once, by the time your foot touches the water, new waters are flowing.”
Life simply doesn’t stand still. We are made for growth and adventure, even if it is only the adventure of a good book, new friend, or a novel way of looking at a familiar place.
Studies tell us that the happiest children and the healthiest senior adults are committed to learning, growth, and fresh ideas. Openness to new ideas may even impact aging and dementia.
Sometimes you need to take a risk, leave the familiar to try another way, and that’s what Nicodemus did in his nighttime visit to Jesus. Nicodemus was revered and powerful, but something was calling him forward and he had to follow. As a religious teacher, he was expected to have all the answers but he didn’t. He knew he was risking his reputation by seeing Jesus. His colleagues would chide him, “What could you learn from this troublesome prophet, and critic of the religious establishment?” They might even question his loyalty and the quality of his commitment to the old-time religion.
Still, there is a divine restlessness. A need for growth, when we realize that our current faith or values are insufficient for what we will be facing in the future. When old familiarities are discovered to be inadequate to respond to new currents in society, politics, and religion. Then, we may experience that “coming to Jesus moment.” We may wonder what it means to be born again, born from above, to experience renewal, new values, and a new way of life.
That’s what Nicodemus wanted, but it was a struggle. “I’m an elder, I’ve been around seven decades, how can I be born again, how can I experience new life from above?”
And that’s Jesus’ call to Nicodemus. Look at your life. Where do you need to embrace new possibilities? What self-imposed limits do you need to challenge?
All of us have this restlessness. At 72, Judy was a couch potato when she joined the Pilgrim Place Fast Walking Club in Claremont, CA. Now she competes internationally in senior adult fast walking contests. Andrew had a story inside him, but he didn’t think he could be a writer. He took courage and joined a writing class and now spends an hour a day writing his memoirs and learning something new about his life daily. Sharon didn’t like politics, but when she saw photographs of children separated from their parents on the borderlands, she knew she had to do something. She began to read books, listen to podcasts and webinars, and then traveled to Green Valley, Arizona, to participate in programs helping immigrants on the border, providing comfort and caring for their babies. Steve always hated domestic chores, he flunked shop in high school, but he felt a call to help people find homes. He realized that home ownership provides stability, pride, and community. He began to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. In his own words, “I was drag on the others at first. I had no idea what I was doing. But some of the carpenters showed me how to wield hammer and use a saw, and now I’m pretty good at it.”
These folk were all born anew. They tried new possibilities, and they became new persons. They realized they couldn’t do it on their own, they needed mentors and teachers, and they needed God – they needed grace to tell them that they didn’t have to be perfect, they just needed to be faithful, and launch out, doing something creative and beautiful for God.
There is a movement toward healing in the world. When we read John 3:16, we discover it’s more than just a placard at a sporting event. It’s God saying to us – I love you and I have a vision for your life. But I also love this good earth, the right whale, the piping plover, the child on the borderland, the person questioning their sexual identity, the bullied Muslim, and the one who bullies.
God loves the world. God’s not out to destroy, God’s out to create. Don’t believe the fake news of the constantly re-dated Second Comings of Jesus. God loves this world and wants it to be better. God is not out to condemn you, God is out to love you, and when you say yes, great things happen.
We have a calling and a restlessness. There is more to each of us than we can imagine, and God wants us to experience that abundance. God wants us to take the next step – at the soup kitchen, the writing class, the senior center, as a tutor, house builder, companion, friend, protester, and earth lover. For God loves the world so much that he gives us Christ – each moment of the day – and when we welcome Christ into our lives, we will grow – we won’t perish – but have everlasting life, here and now and forever more. Thanks be to God!’’