Home » Spiritual Direction » Lectionary Sermon for Pentecost Sunday

Lectionary Sermon for Pentecost Sunday

Romans 8:14-17     Born Again

In the record of the life and words of Jesus written by the Apostle John, we are told of an encounter between Jesus and an influential religious leader of the day named Nicodemus. Nicodemus wants to understand Jesus’s message.  Nicodemus is a religious man but he is also a seeker of the truth. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.” (Jn. 3:3 CEB)

Jesus goes on to explain this strange statement by saying, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.” (Jn. 3:5-7 CEB)

Thus, to be born of the Spirit is to be born again.  How are we born of the Spirit?  Some believe you are born again when you pray a specific prayer or state you believe in Jesus, that he died on the cross and rose from the dead.  Others believe this new birth happens through acts of ritual that covey grace.  Some believe it happens when you speak in an unknown tongue. Human beings have the ability to all fall into all kinds of legalism. It makes us think we have some control.

Who is right and who is wrong?  How do we really know if we have been born again or not?  John Wesley struggled with this question for years.  So did Martin Luther.  So should each and every one of us if we care what our ultimate destiny, our ultimate purpose, our true relationship with God is all about. If we would be seekers of the truth.

On Pentecost, the day we remember today, the Holy Spirit came in power upon Jesus’s disciples.  Those who witnessed this event were troubled.  We are told they called out to Peter, When the crowd heard this, they were deeply troubled. They said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

Peter replied, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away– as many as the Lord our God invites.” (Acts 2:37-39 CEB)

Birth is a gift.  We do not choose to be born.  Physical life is given to us.  Being born of the Spirit is also a gift.  We cannot choose to this on our own either.  God invites us.  God gives us the opportunity, the gift of God’s grace, to experience rebirth.  Again, in Jesus’s own words, “No one can come to me unless they are drawn to me by the Father who sent me, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (Jn. 6:44 CEB)

But again, how do we know?  How can we be confident that we have been born anew through the Spirit of God?  How do we know we are children, sons and daughters of God?

Today, if there is a question of a child’s parentage, a DNA test is used.  Is there a spiritual DNA test?  In a way, yes there is.  Our passage today gives us insight into how we can test our spiritual DNA.  It gives us insight into how we can know if we are born anew.

Paul gives us insight into the first step of this process.  He tells us those who are born anew are led by the Spirit.  So, the first thing we should look for in our lives is the role God plays in how we live.   Does God direct our lives?  A good way to determine that is simply, do you want, really want to live as God desires for you to live? 

Careful here, don’t confuse self-deception with willing obedience.  This test requires a true evaluation.  If you were to set down and make a list of your last week’s activities under two columns (one named things I did for God, and things I did for myself) how would you come out? 

The next step in determining our spiritual DNA is looking at how we respond to the circumstances and situations of our lives.  Do we let fears have too much influence in our lives or are we discovering just how much we mean to God? 

A religion of rules does not produce freedom, but slavery in fear of retaliation.  Rules are used to define what we are allowed or not allowed to do.  Rules do not define who we are.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. (1 Jn. 4:18 CEB)

However, a relationship of acceptance, a relationship of adoption has the power to inspire us to desire to follow the instructions of the one who has accepted us, adopted us, to please the one who has given us this chance.

Question, do we look at forgiveness as something to avoid punishment or do we look at forgiveness as an opportunity to love God for what God has done for us? 

Sometime back, I was with my daughter and granddaughter.  My granddaughter was told no about something that she wanted.  She started to pout.  My daughter did not scream at her or say, wait till you get home, but asked her if this behavior would change anything?  She then asked her how this behavior made her mother feel after she had already been very generous toward her that day.  The behavior stopped.  I am so proud of the parent my daughter has become.  She focuses on the relationship more than the rules. 

When the relationship is right, the rules become a delight more than a duty.

Note what the passage states next.  When we are born anew through the Holy Spirit, we can cry out Abba.  What in the world does that mean?  Abba is a term of endearment.  It is being able to say to God, daddy.  It is a term for trust, dependence, need, belief, and confidence.  What it means is that we have the opportunity to get as close to God as we want. 

This means that when we are weak, God will be our strength.  When we are worried, God will comfort us.  We are hurt God will hurt with us.  When we fail, God will be there to pick us up.  When we stray, God will call out to us.  When we are alone, God will be with us. 

How do we know?  God has promised.  A daddy keeps a promise.  And as we learn to cry Abba, we discover this is true.  Nothing builds confidence and assurance like experience.  Look at verse 16. 

How do you know you are in love?  Because you know.  Because of what you think, what you do and because of who the person you love is.  How do you know you are born anew?  Because of what you think, what you do, and because of who God is.

You know you are born anew not because of a creed, a prayer, or a ritual, but because of a relationship.  A relationship with incredible benefits.  A relationship without limitations.  A relationship in which we are given much, much more than we deserve. 

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to bring the presence of Jesus to those who are willing to respond to God’s call, God’s desire, and God’s purpose for our lives. 

Jesus told us, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come. The Spirit will glorify me, because the Spirit will take what is mine and proclaim it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine. That’s why I said that the Spirit takes what is mine and will proclaim it to you.” (Jn. 16:13-15 CEB)

Now, this is the final part of the spiritual DNA test.  Do you really want this vision, this statement to be true of you?  Is there anything more important in this physical life that is greater than what we are promised here? 

The thing about a child is that they can be swayed by the desire for instant gratification.  They will settle for what they can get now rather than waiting in order to get something far better. This is a terrible temptation. It is a temptation we must flee. Such an effort God will honor.

How can we know we are born anew?  When we can say with confidence and assurance, “I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters.” (Rom. 8:18-19 CEB)

Even so, come Lord Jesus, Amen.

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