Choosing to Be a Church of Life: Choosing Life Over Death

John 3:1-21 (Common English Bible)

Jesus and Nicodemus

3 There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”

3 Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”

4 Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?”

5 Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ 8 God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said, “How are these things possible?”

10 “Jesus answered, “You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? 11 I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. 16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.

19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. 20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”

 

Thoughts on the passage:

In 2006, a United Methodist pastor by the name of Paul Nixon wrote a book I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church.  The impetus for the book was the continued decline of Protestant churches in general, but specifically The United Methodist Church.  Nixon believed that we are not called to be a dying church and felt that we could resist this decline by addressing six critical choices.  Over the next six weeks we will be studying those six choices and asking ourselves what sort of decisions we need to make.  Do we want to be a dying church, or do we want to choose to be a church of life.

I love numbers, but when it comes to the church it seems like numbers really don’t love me.  Almost any number you look at points to the continued decline of the denomination that I was raised in and the church I love.  I do not believe things have to be this way, but it seems that despite all our efforts, the numbers are still against us.  I find myself echoing Nicodemus’ question to Jesus “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb a second time isn’t it?”  How can a church be born?  What hope do we have to resist the decline and death that seems to be all around us?

While Jesus never explicitly answers the question he does seem to respond by making the distinction that we need to be born both of water and the spirit.  We are not just tied to our physical selves (the waters of birth) but also to our spiritual selves (the power of the spirit in rebirth).  In other words, what might be impossible for us is not for God.  To think about this in terms of churches, our rebirth is not something that is up to us, but needs the winds of the Spirit working through us.  We could have the best staff (I think we do), the most amazing building, the best members, and even the best pastor (probably some room for improvement in this area), and without the work of the Spirit we are powerless to find new life.

Just because we need God for new life to happen does not mean that all we need is God.  Jesus shows that clearly in the second part of our passage today.  He talks about the light coming into the world, but people still choose darkness.  God can be ready to work through our congregation, but we can still choose to do nothing.  We need to make a choice, what do we believe in, life or death?

In the movie “Shawshank Redemption” there is a line, “Get busy living or get busy dying.”  We need to make this choice, life or death and then we need to get busy with either one.  If we believe in life, we cannot act like we are dying.  Jesus says “Whoever believes in [the Son] will not perish but have eternal life.”  This is the life that is promised to us.  If we believe in the power of Christ than we are not doomed to die, but instead are offered eternal life.  Do we live like we believe in life instead of death?

This first choice we are looking at does not tell us a lot about what we need to do but it does need to tell us how we are to act.  If we choose life it will show in all sorts of ways.  It will show in the trust we place in the power of the Spirit to work in our lives.  It will show in all the other choices we make that are based on the resurrecting power of Christ to transform even the worst form of death into a symbol of hope.  It will show in the energy we bring to worship, the energy we bring to our meetings, the energy we bring to everything we do in this church.  If we are choosing life than we are choosing to let that Spirit of God blow through our lives and make everything new.

We are talking about superheroes this week so I will use them as an example.  Superheroes make a choice to be who they are.  Bruce Wayne makes the choice to put on his armor and become Batman.  Superman chooses to remove his disguise as Clark Kent the mild mannered reporter and save the world.  They make these choices each and every time they decide to help others.  We are asked to make the same choices too.  Do we want to choose life or death?

Where do we start?  At a personal level we can start by making a choice each and every day to choose life instead of death.  We can make a choice to follow God and place our trust in Christ instead of ourselves.  Bishop Ough developed a prayer to help us focus on asking God to breakthrough our lives.  We could just start with the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer and pray that each day.  It starts with that choice we make, are we going to believe in the light, believe in life, believe in God and place our trust there or not. 

Questions to Ponder:

Who is someone you know who has chosen life instead of death?

When is a time you have found it hard to believe in God’s resurrecting power?

What does new life in the church look like to you?

How can you pray for new life in your own circumstances?

Prayer: God of love and life, we turn to you in darkness and despair.  Help us to trust in your Spirit which is blowing through our lives.  Help us to recognize the new life that you offer to us in Christ.  Give us the courage to turn to you and make that choice to follow you.  May we find the strength each day to place our trust in you.  AMEN