Grace and peace to you, my sisters and brothers in Christ,
Today we have the joy of welcoming a new sister into our family of faith. Jocelyn will be claimed as a daughter of God in the waters of her baptism. She probably won’t have any memories of this day, but throughout her life, it will be our job to remind her of the promises spoken to her today.
Just as each birthday might find her family telling stories of her birth, we, her baptismal family, are called to tell her stories of the birth that occurs today. Pictures, and the gifts she will receive: a towel and a candle, are all things that will remind her of her baptism. More important will be each of you, the community who will affirm her baptism and remind her of her status as a beloved child of God as she grows up in this church community.
It’s fitting that our gospel this morning is a story of Jesus talking about a new birth that opens the way to the kingdom of God. In chapter three of John, we meet Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a learned and respected leader of the faithful Jews. He comes by cover of darkness to Jesus. He’s seen something of Jesus, something of a power behind Jesus, something that has made him pause and consider what God is doing in this man. However, many of the other Jewish leaders have been skeptical and uncertain about this Jesus’ claims and orgins. So, Nicodemus comes by night, to engage in his own investigation.
We each come to Jesus in our own way, with our own questions. Maybe you’ve come to check out Jesus with the hesitancy of Nicodemus. Many of you were perhaps raised in a family where going to church, reading the Bible, and praying were part of what you did. Others may have experienced something- a glimpse- of God, or grace, or the unexplainable, that led them to explore more deeply the witness to Jesus. This is what happened to Nicodemus.
Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus’ probing isn’t to perform another great miracle, or to definitively explain his relationship to God. Jesus talks of birth. He talks first of being born from above, and then of being born of water and the spirit. He presents these as conditions for seeing God, or being a part of the kingdom of God.
Are you able to see God, or the kingdom of God, in our midst? Sometimes our vision can get dulled. Many people in our communities have a passing relationship with faith and the church. They are sort of connected, have had a history in the church, but have lost some of the activity and vibrancy they once had. A Sunday School faith hasn’t served them into adulthood, or a busy schedule has pushed church lower among many priorities. We get lulled into thinking God’s distantly approving of us when we’re good, and there for us when we need to be comforted. Nicodemus has been woken out of his comfortable faith by a startling encounter with Jesus. He doesn’t quite understand about Jesus or the kingdom of God yet, but God has somehow stirred him to engage a little deeper.
Since Nicodemus is trying to figure out who Jesus is, and what his relationship to God is, we should start to unravel this text by considering Jesus’ birth. As we’ll be confessing in our Apostles’ Creed, we believe that Jesus is “God’s only son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.” Jesus is the one who is born from above. Jesus comes from God and is born of a human mother to live among us.
In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, we hear a poetic witness to Jesus identity. Jesus- the Word- was with God from the beginning, through him all things were created, and then this cosmic Word “became flesh and lived among us.” Through Jesus come “grace and truth.” Jesus is born from above and God’s servant John the Baptist witnesses to his birth by the Holy Spirit. “John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.’” (John 1:32).
The Gospel of John does not contain an explicit account of Jesus being baptized by John. From the other Gospels, we might infer that it was at his baptism that John saw this vision of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus. The other Gospels tell of Jesus coming to John in the wilderness to be baptized by him. Jesus then is also born of water. First and foremost, the one who is born from above, or born of Spirit and water, is Jesus Christ himself.
As Nicodemus tries to sort out what Jesus is saying, he wonders how this talk of birth can apply to him. He points out that it’s impossible to crawl back into his mother’s womb. He’s getting confused by thinking Jesus is telling him he has to be born again. But Jesus is saying that seeing the kingdom of God comes from being born from above. There’s a different type of birth that ushers people into a new way of seeing.
Today, you may have heard people talk about a need to be “born again” in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. People think of this as a new start on life, or a new commitment to faith. Sometimes this being “born again” is connected with baptism. In our church, we don’t talk of being “born again.” But this text from the Gospel of John speaks of the importance of being “born from above.”
For Jesus, being “born from above” means being “born of the Spirit.” It’s about being given life from God. It’s about being united with the one who is born of water and the Spirit, who is born from above. This special birthing happens to us at our baptism.
Baptism unites us with Jesus in his birth and his death. Jesus is the primary one to be born from above. We join in this birth from above through Jesus, in the waters and promise of baptism. We join him in his death, which he died on the cross for the sake of the whole world. We are raised out of the waters, raised to new life, as Jesus was raised from the dead and the tomb to resurrected life.
The Holy Spirit comes to us, and God’s presence remains with us from the time of our baptism through eternity. Fresh from baptism, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. No matter where our lives take us, or how faded our vision of the kingdom of God becomes, God has already claimed us forever. From this day forward, Jocelyn will never be apart from God. The Holy Spirit will be with her forever.
Today we will plunge Jocelyn into the waters that unite us with Jesus for eternal life. This life is God’s gift to us through Jesus Christ. In John 1:13, we hear, “(The Word, the light, Jesus) gave power to become children of God who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” As an infant, we know that Jocelyn is helpless to communicate her dedication or her faith. It is not her professed will to be baptized. But it is God’s will to claim her through Jesus Christ, and to gift her with the Holy Spirit and life forever.
God has rebirthed us, making us born of water and the Spirit. God does this out of love, for the sake of the whole world. This water carries a promise: God claims us as God’s beloved children in baptism. We are all set on a new path when we emerge from the waters of baptism. We live in the kingdom of God right now. This whole congregation is called to see the kingdom of God around us and join in God’s work to make it more fully present. We learn part of this role through the baptismal promises we affirm at confirmation. We promise to: live among God’s faithful people,
to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
We are called to live for the sake of the world. How well Jocelyn’s parents, sponsors, and congregation live out their own baptismal promises will have a direct affect on her ability to live out hers. We form each other into a community that follows Jesus, living as people who have been born from above.
Baptism is the means by which we are born from above, born of water and the Spirit. It is God’s gift to us on the day of our once and for all baptism. It’s a gift that continues to shape us our whole lives. It’s what has formed us into brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, called to daily remember our baptisms and remind each other of the new identity and new life we have received through baptism. Together we witness to Jocelyn’s new birth through Jesus today.
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment