A new sermon for Sunday, 5th March 2023
‘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.’ John 3:8
Saint John Chapter 3 Verse 7 has been a favourite verse for generations of Christians. ‘Ye must be born again,’ were words that would appear on signs nailed to telephone poles, on billboards in towns, on noticeboards outside of churches.
The words have become a password for particular Christians, people who would claim to be ‘born again’, as if reciting the words gave them a spiritual superiority over everyone else. The words have become a narrow definition of what some people would believe to be Christian.
To regard oneself as ‘born again’ has become an excuse to live as one wishes. Charity is no longer required, justice is no longer required, love for one’s neighbour is no longer required. If getting into heaven simply requires a capacity to say the magic words, a spiritual ‘open Sesame’, then one is free of ethical constraints. One can live as selfishly as one likes and claim that salvation is by grace.
The narrow religion of those who claim John 3:7 as a password is contradicted by the words of Jesus in the following verse. There is a freedom suggested by Jesus which cannot be contained within the narrow spirituality of those who think the claim to be born again is sufficient to be fully Christian.
Jesus’ picture of what it means to be one of his followers is something far wider and more exciting than is expressed in the repetition of the words ‘Ye must be born again.’
Jesus suggests that to be one of his followers is to have a freedom that cannot be encompassed within the human mind. ‘The wind blows where it chooses’, the work of the Spirit is not subject to any human direction, it is certainly not subject to the definitions of those who would claim that their Christianity is the only sort and that anyone who would disagree with their claims cannot be a Christian.
‘You hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes’: Jesus doesn’t offer something neat or boxed. He doesn’t offer a spiritual package that can be fitted easily into a person’s life.
The Spirit is beyond comprehension says Jesus. You can’t presume to confine God to your own ideas, you can’t presume to tell other people that your understanding of God is the correct one and that their understanding is wrong. You can’t claim that your way is the only way to heaven and that everyone else is doomed.
Spiritual exclusivity is contrary to the words of Saint John Chapter 3 Verse 8. To claim exclusiveness is to contradict what Jesus says. Furthermore, to be exclusive is to contradict the words of Saint John Chapter 3 Verse 7.
Being someone spiritual, being someone ‘born again,’ being someone ‘born from above,’ is to be a person who has moved beyond the prejudices and the barriers of humanity. It is to be open to being someone altogether different, to being a person who is happy to respond to whatever leading might come from God.
‘So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit,’ says Jesus. His words point to his expectation of what his people should be like. To be born of the Spirit is to be a person who is prepared to accept uncertainty, it is to be a person of a genuine humility. But it is also to be prepared to accept all of the possibilities that might lie ahead.
These verses offer a vision of what it means to be Christian which is very different from what many people imagine, they offer a faith that is far wider than the narrow religion of many churches. To be Christian is to be beyond all human definition.
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