Born of Water and the Spirit

Almighty and gracious God, as your Spirit flows through the water of baptism, may it flow again through this congregation, helping us to remember our baptism, our rebirth in water and in Spirit. And may your Spirit speak to us and to our hearts this day through the message and through this service of worship where we give you our praise and our glory. In Christ's name. Amen

How is one made right with God? That is the overall theme of these texts for today, "How are we made right with God?" Well, for Abram, it was in trusting and believing when God told him he would have a child despite his age. So in the Hebrew Testament, we see that one way we are made right with God is through trusting in what God has said. In our New Testament Gospel lesson, we hear about Nicodemus, the leader of the Jews, who goes to Jesus at night because he's afraid people will see him going to speak to Jesus. Jesus was becoming unpopular with the Jewish leadership and that would put Nicodemus in some peril. So at night, under the cover of darkness, he goes to see Jesus and asks him these deep questions, recognizing Jesus' authority, especially as a rabbi or teacher, but also as one who is from God. And Nicodemus acknowledges that no one can do these signs and wonders unless they are from God.

Nicodemus wants to know the answers to these questions. And part of the big question is, "How are we made right with God?" And Jesus answers, 'When one is reborn, reborn of water and the Spirit.' The question is posed two times, and Jesus answers it twice. It is a new ritual and way for the Christian church, a way of baptism, a way of being reborn of water and Spirit. In Hebrew Testament theology and faith understanding, for one to be made right with God, one must trust and be obedient to God. But if one has sinned, one could make sacrifices to God. Not just money gifts, but the sacrifice of living animals. Blood must be spilled to reconcile for one's sins. And so the temple had set up a means for people to come and to buy doves or lambs, or whichever animal it is that the priest said must be sacrificed for this particular sin.

But Jesus doesn't teach that practice to those who follow him. He teaches a different way of obedience to God and that forgiveness of sin comes through him and is imparted through being reborn of water and Spirit, a cleansing. In Hebrew Testament theology, when you give the sacrifice, that is a cleansing. Blood has been spilled for that sin and the person is made clean. What simpler way for us to understand being made clean than Jesus himself being baptized in the River Jordan and then passing that tradition on to us. How many of us take a bath daily? It is necessary for us to be clean, especially in the United States, whereas in Europe they think we're overly clean with the number of baths we take or how often we shower. But we understand the necessity of being clean. In our spiritual lives, it is also true that we yearn to be clean, as clean as we can be. And through this symbolic washing away of that which makes us unclean, we are reborn anew as children of Christ, as children of the Spirit. So we are born of water and Spirit when we receive baptism in the church. Something for us to remember.

Now, many of us here were probably baptized as infants. Some are baptized as adults. It doesn't matter what time of your life one is baptized, but the significance of the symbolism, of coming forward and willingly being washed clean, being transformed, being reborn of a new Spirit with a new perspective, is what can give us hope, it can give us guiding direction in our lives, and helps us understand that yes, we are a people also who must trust in God.

Now, if you could have seen one of the kids as he was walking up here this morning very hesitantly when it was time for the children's message, you'd have thought something horrible was going to happen to the poor little guy. It was just a priceless expression. Did any of you witness that? It was almost as if I had asked him to come up and do the sermon. I could imagine that face on many of you if I said, "You know, I'm not feeling well. I have to step out. Could you give the message for today?" Well, that would be a very scary moment and I imagine we would make all kinds of faces and maybe even say no. But we are all born of water and Spirit, and God gives us ability, sometimes special abilities in special moments. But the fact that we can trust that we are safe in God's house, that we are safe in the presence of Christ, that we are safe and that the Spirit abides with us should help take away some of our hesitation for the things that are most difficult in life and for the things that might be most difficult for us as personal challenges. So I don't necessarily think that if I invite you to preach at the last second that you won't give me those faces, but please be encouraged that the Spirit abides in each of us and that God gives us that power and that strength to be able to rise to the occasions that we must and that we can trust that the Spirit is with us to guide us. We can trust that through baptism, through the receiving of the sacrament of Holy Communion, that God cleanses and restores us back into a right relationship with God. We no longer must make the blood sacrifices required in Old Testament theology, but we must come to Christ again and again and be renewed.

Now, upon the next baptism, I'm going to do Reaffirmation of Baptism. So if you don't want to get sprinkled, the next time we announce a baptism is coming then you might want to jump out before I come around, but we're going to do that. We don't do that very often, but once every couple of years. I think it's important symbolically for all of us to again be sprinkled with the water of baptism to remind us of who we are and whose we are, and that we can trust in God's new way of forgiveness and grace and that we can allow us to forgive ourselves and each other of those things which haunt us most.

So let us be a people of the Spirit. Let us be the people who are reborn and renewed in Christ, not just at our baptism, but every day and every time we call out to God in prayers of thanksgiving, in prayers for help, in our prayers for others, let us remember we are reborn of water and the Spirit. Let us pray.

Holy and amazing God, you touch us through this Sacrament of Baptism and you claim us as your own people in Christ. You bestow upon us your Spirit to be our light and our guide through all things. Help us, O God, to trust in these traditions from the church, but also that we may trust in you, O God, that you have given this gift through Christ so that we may be a new people with a new vision for what you have in store for humanity and for all who are faithful in Christ. Help us to do our best each and every day, that we may be renewed each time we come to you, O God, and ask for that renewal. Touch us with your grace and fill us with your Spirit of hope and joy, through Christ who makes us one in you.


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