Born Again

Born again. It's a phrase not unfamiliar to Lutherans, not necessarily because they use it, but because they hear it, usually phrased in a question, "Have you been born again?"

There are many different denominations in the Christian faith-many different ways of expressing one's belief in Jesus as Savior. Sometimes Christians get caught up in hearing exact words. If they don't hear those exact words, then, to them, the person is not a Christian, not saved.

It's rather like a husband who doesn't actually say "I love you" to his wife-at least very seldom; maybe on an anniversary or such. But he gives her a card that has those words in it. Or he buys her gifts, or does special little things for her, or to help her. All are his way of saying "I love you." But some women miss all the ways that their husband is actually saying "I love you," because they don't believe it unless they actually hear the words.

To me there is much more to being a Christian than whether one specifically says "I'm born again." Or "I've accepted Jesus as my personal Savior." Being a Christian is in the living, not in the words. What a person does speaks louder than words. For instance, the states that are the strongest foes of abortion, are the states (this is a true fact) that offer the least to women in poverty who HAVE the children. They actually consistently cut programs that help poor families, and especially ones that affect children. Now to me, that doesn't make sense. It would seem to me, that if one believes in the right of a child to be born, knowing full well the life of poverty that child is going to be born into, that one would ALSO support programs to provide for that child so that the child has a chance at some quality of life, has a chance to develop his or her God-given talents.

But that's not the way the facts and statistics play out.

When I think of Lutherans the phrase comes to mind, "still waters run deep." Some of the strongest men and women of faith are not ones that feel comfortable standing or waving their hands in the air; cannot shout praises. Sometimes I would wish that for them, but you see, that's my perception. I perceive that they're not happy or alive in their faith. I perceive that they're not excited about their faith. I perceive that they're stagnant, stuck.

Perhaps I might be perceiving correctly in some cases. We all need a bit of shaking up in our faith at times in order to keep on growing. But the difficulty is that when we get into perceiving that way, we our selves can become as 'stuck' as the person we perceive to be stuck.

We can get caught up in listening for particular phrases in order to tell if someone is truly a Christian, truly saved or not.

Worship liturgy is important to Lutherans. I find that we Lutherans often make apologies for our worship service. Oh yes, it certainly needs to have some lively hymns in it. Martin Luther's hymn words were set to German drinking songs. So let's not get haughty about what true hymns should sound like.

But liturgy means "the work of the people." Throughout the service the people at worship are involved in the worship. They don't sit back and listen, don't sit back expecting to be entertained. There is great depth to Lutheran liturgy. There are connections to a couple thousand years of saints before us who have worshiped and used the same phrases of Scripture. Don't let anyone ever tell you that Lutherans in worship are not connected to the Bible. Every part of our liturgy, all the words we sing and say in the LBW, the green Lutheran Book of Worship, or With One Voice, (WOV) the blue book of worship, are right out of the Bible. Line after line.

Worship is an experience of Christ. Worship is an experience of the Holy Spirit. Holy Communion is an experience of the presence of Christ. From the earliest days of the Christian church, every time the community of faith gathered, they celebrated communion. Lutheran churches are trying to get back to that. Here in our country, as our country was settled, Protestants have had an influence on Lutherans. In our new member classes I explain that Lutherans are not actually Protestants. We get lumped in with them because anything other than Roman Catholic in the Christian faith gets labeled Protestant. Martin Luther was not a protestor. He was a reformer. We are a church of the Reformation. Martin Luther didn't want to do away with the Roman Catholic Church, he wanted to reform it. He never intended to start a separate church.

He loved the mass (which, if you have ever attended a Roman Catholic mass, you will recognize as pretty much the same wording as we use in worship). And having said that, I need to say that the word "catholic" with a small "c" in the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, does NOT refer to the Roman Catholic Church, but the "catholic" or "universal" Christian church. That is, we are saying we believe that all who confess Jesus as the Christ are part of the Christian faith.

Now it is not for us to judge whether some one is "truly" a Christian or not depending on HOW they confess that, or how they express that. Not all denominations use the ancient Creeds of the Christian Church. Some have created their own creeds, their own say of expressing their belief in Jesus as their Savior. Fundamentalist churches use particular phrases.

Lutherans understand being "born again" happens when one is baptized. That's in Scripture. What one does with a baptized life is part of the journey, the path of following Jesus. But to judge whether someone is truly "saved" or not based on how they confess that, the words they use, is not something Jesus asks us to do. In fact, in his Sermon on the Mount he specifically asks us NOT to judge one another.

Some people feel that in order to be truly "born again" one must have had some incredible life changing experience, or at the very least, remember exactly when they came to take Jesus as their personal Savior.

Most Lutherans could not point to a specific time. Many Lutherans have just been Lutherans all their lives. They have been baptized in the church, brought up in the church, attended Sunday School and Confirmation, have attended worship regularly, but to point to a specific incident, a specific time, most can't do it. However, they DO recall specific memories of worship, such as their marriage or marriage of a family member or friend, or baptisms of their children, or children they are asked to be sponsors for, or even the funeral service of someone they loved. They can remember feeling the closeness of God, of Jesus their Savior, in moments like that.

I know Lutherans who have been brought to tears hearing a particular sermon; brought to an emotional moment during the singing of a hymn or an anthem. Lutherans believe in prayer and confession. In confession they understand that they repent and confess their sins and are forgiven. As we confess and hear the words of assurance that we are forgiven, we die to sin and are raised a forgiven saved person. Each day is like being "born again" as one is forgiven and washed clean of sin and can begin again. Each day we are "born again" in Christ as each day we re-live our baptism.

Does that mean I have at some point specifically said in front of a group of people, "I accept Jesus as my personal Savior"? No. Does it mean that I am not saved, not "born again"? Of course not.

What does it mean to say I am "born again"? It means to understand what Jesus is telling Nicodemus in our Gospel Lesson today. As I have said in sermons before, Scripture tells us that "the kingdom of God" or the "kingdom of heaven," is "within us." And this "kingdom of heaven" this "kingdom of God" is a new spiritual way of thinking. Jesus is trying to teach us to think spiritually FIRST (seek first the kingdom of heaven and everything will follow from that). He is trying to teach us that when we pray that God's will be done "on earth as it is in heaven" that he means that we seek first God's will in heaven, within us, and then, manifest that in our life as we live it on earth.

Jesus says to Nicodemus that one needs to be born again. Everyone is born of water (our physical birth) but one needs to be born of the SPIRIT as well. John the Baptist said that he baptized with water, but that the one coming after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

We are more than flesh. What is born of the flesh is flesh. What is born of the Spirit is Spirit. We are born again, as we turn to the God who we are told resides within us. We have been created by that God and never abandoned by that God. We are redeemed by that God through the expression Christ the Savior and we are sustained by God through the on-going presence of the Holy Spirit. So, we are "born again" each time we turn within and connect with our Baptism that tells us when we repent and confess our sins it is like putting those sins to death, and we are raised to new life, born again, through the forgiveness, love and mercy of God. For just as Jesus took upon our sin and put it to death and was resurrected to a new life from that, so it is with us. We are born again through our belief in Jesus as Savior. We re-live our baptism daily as we turn within and seek forgiveness so that we might experience the life of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

There it is in a nutshell. "ůso that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." John 3:16 is often called the "Gospel in a nutshell."

So, take comfort my dear Lutheran friends. Though some would condemn us to hell because we don't express our faith in the same words as those who use "born again" in a certain way, we nevertheless can be assured that Jesus didn't come to condemn us, but to save us, and everyone who believes in him experiences new life, whether they have a defining moment or not that they know that, still they have the assurance of Scripture---to believe in Jesus is to be born again with the promise of eternal life.

Amen--And so it is.

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