March 5- sermon- Kristin LeFeber

Sermon Text... 


Good morning everyone!


First and foremost, I want to thank our kiddos – all of them.  I love working with you and learning with you.  You are all very bright and a lot of fun.  I’ve learned more about God, by getting to know you.    

As we’ve seen youth Sunday is a great time to get our kiddos involved in leading worship, and they’ve done a great job!  I really appreciate the effort and bravery they have put into today. 

But youth Sunday, to me, is also about generally celebrating the kiddos of our congregation – kiddos who are just as much a part of our church as anyone else.

We are who we are because they are here.


Ok.  Today we heard two readings from the Bible: a Psalm and a story from the gospel according to John.  I want focus on the story – it’s one of my favorites.


And in it we meet Nicodemus.  The story tells us that Nicodemus was a Pharisee – which means he was part of a group of Jewish people who were very strict about following the rules, no matter what.  Now, Jesus was a fan of the rules, but often taught that there should be exceptions to them, that love always comes first. 


So simply speaking Nicodemus and Jesus ran in different crowds – they would have been in different friend groups in school, if you will. 


But regardless of that, Nicodemus is interested in Jesus.  Nick can tell from his observations that Jesus is special and he wants to find out more.  He is drawn to Jesus. But he is kind of embarrassed about his interest in Jesus so he goes to see him in the middle of the night so hopefully no one will see him, so no one will know.


And Nick goes to Jesus prepared with a grand opening line.  He calls Jesus, Rabbi, or teacher, showing that he looks up to him, and he tells Jesus he knows he is from God.  He says he knows from Jesus’ miracles and other signs and works that Jesus must be from God.  Nicodemus gives Jesus this huge compliment.  And then how does Jesus respond?  He doesn’t say thank you or even you’re welcome. 


Jesus tells our buddy Nick that he has to be born from above or in other words born another time or in another way.  Imagine that.  You walk up to someone you’ve been admiring and say to them you are one of the coolest people I have ever met and they say “you’ve got to be born again.”


That would certainly confuse me!  And Nick is clearly confused as well.  Maybe you are to.  What does Jesus mean?  We certainly can’t really be born again – Nick says so himself - so what is Jesus getting at?  Why does he respond this way?


Well first, Jesus knows what’s really going on.  He knows why Nicodemus is really there.  He realizes that Nick is really coming seeking answers and so Jesus cuts right to the chase and gives Nick an answer to a question he didn’t even ask.


I don’t know about you but, in my life, God often gives me answers to questions I didn’t even know I had – and sometimes they are answers I don’t even like.  But part of having faith in Jesus, as Nicodemus is learning right from the start, is trusting those answers.


So back to the answer Jesus gives:

Specifically Jesus says, “we can’t see the kingdom of God until we are born from above or as I think of it, born again.”  The phrase “born again” gets thrown around a lot, especially in certain Christian circles.


So.  What I think about being born again?  Well, before we get to deep into that piece let’s talk about the Kingdom of God, let’s talk about the piece Jesus promises.  Where or what is the Kingdom of God?  First, let’s mention that the four gospel writers use the term kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven which refers to the same thing about 80 times.  It is an important concept to following Jesus. 


And I think when Jesus uses these phrases Jesus is referring to earth, to right here, to this world we live in and what it would be like if everyone put God first – as if God were king or queen or ruler.  Imagine that.  What would the world be like if everyone chose to put God first?  It would be pretty great. 


But, according to Jesus we can’t get closer to living in the kingdom of God or even glimpse it until we put God first – until we are born again and as I imagine it: again and again and again.


I look at it this way: before you are born for the first time out of your mother’s womb you have no idea what the world is going to be like, you’re in the dark!  Like Nicodemus!  But then once you’re in the world you start to learn!  You start to grow! You see it!  You live it! 


So to be born again in the way Jesus is talking about is to experience things and see things and live things in a new way – in a Kingdom of God way.  By remembering to put God first – and each time we do that we learn more, we grow more, we glimpse living in the world Jesus promises. 


So, how can we put God first in our lives?  Thankfully there are many ways, God gives us lots of opportunities to put God first –


In fact, we may have even put God first without realizing it when we were little through our parents in baptism.  Many of us here have been baptized as children or in some cases, like with my own children, dedicated to God as babies.  During these sacraments and rituals parents promise to raise their children in the faith, to teach them how to put God first, and officially join them to the church family. 


Another official time of choosing to put God first or being born again is through confirmation.  Here at Federated we have ten high schoolers who are learning about what it means to be an adult in the church and who may choose to be confirmed and become members of Federated in their own right.  By being confirmed they are saying they want to put God first in their lives and are committing to trying to do that for the rest of their lives.


Though I was confirmed it wasn’t until a few years later when I was 16 that I consciously began to put God first.  Until then I didn’t think about God too much, but during a youth group retreat something really clicked for me and I realized that God was calling me to follow the teachings of Jesus and put that first.


And while baptism and confirmation and moments of spiritual clarity are extremely important steps in the faith journey we are faced with choices every day – do we put God first?  Or not? 


Again God gives us lots of opportunities to put God first – some are easier than others.  For example, choosing love and kindness over hate and anger.  Choosing to include someone instead of leaving them out.  Choosing to send a note or text to someone you are thinking about instead of doing nothing.  Choosing to work for justice, for those that have less, for the health of our planet.  Choosing to spend time talking or listening to God in prayer or meditation. 


Now, I don’t know about you, but I forget thinks a lot and I don’t always make the best choices.  It’s been that way all my life – even after that youth group retreat.  I put things ahead of God all the time.  I ignore opportunities to show love or kindness, I decide coffee is the most important thing in the world, I forget that God loves me. 


But the good news is that even though we forget we can always remember again.  God does not give up on us, so we should not give up on us either.  We can always try again.  We can always change the way we look at things or how we act.  We can always start again and choose again to put God first. 


And I think this is what Jesus is telling Nicodemus – whether he asked about it or not – by telling Nicodemus that he needs to be born from above Jesus is teaching him that he needs to remember to put God first.  Nick sees something special in Jesus and I think Jesus is telling Nick he can have that special thing too – he can live in the Queendom of God and so can we! By remembering to put God first - by being born again and again and again and again.  Amen.