Mid Week Faith Lift
June 11, 2014
Born of the Spirit-What Does That Mean?
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
This is our second week of Bible stories from a metaphysical perspective, and today we are exploring the story of Nicodemus from the Gospel of John. This was not on your “pick” list, but it is a bookend to the story we did last week of the Samaritan woman at the well, so for the sake of balance and completion, we will look at what is up with the story of Nicodemus. John uses the character of Nicodemus to contrast the old thinking and practices, which Jesus challenges, with the new to which Jesus points. Let’s look at the story.
John 3: 1-21
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the realm of God unless they are born again.[a]”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[d]
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.[e] 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”[g]
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (NIV)
Whew! This is a lot…what does it mean. Well, let’s look at it both historically and metaphysically in order to discern the teachings of Jesus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a member of the ruling class in Jewish life and a symbol of Jewish hierarchy that Jesus constantly dings. He was more than just a bit curious about Jesus, but he comes to Jesus at night, in the dark…unlike our woman at the well who encountered Jesus in broad daylight at high noon. This is already a different experience. She had nothing to lose by being seen with Jesus. Nicodemus is a man of privilege; he has everything to lose but his is drawn to Jesus against his better judgment. He addresses Jesus as Rabbi, a position of great status in that world and he acknowledges that somehow Jesus is related to or connected to God. He gets that much, but he can’t quite figure out how. In the Hebrew consciousness, God is very much “outside” of us…in the innermost part of the Temple or on wheels in the Ark of the Covenant. And we don’t ever look at God directly and we certainly don’t see God when we look at each other!
And yet, the Jesus message is exactly that…a new consciousness that is a direct experience of God. When Jesus responds to Nicodemus with “Very truly, or Verily, it is like he is saying “Hark! Listen up, pay attention!” This is capital “T” Truth! “Unless one is born anew, one cannot see the realm of God.” The idea of born anew in the Greek is to be “born from above” and the Greek word “basileus” means realm, or kingdom. Now historically, a kingdom designated a place and “realm” designated more of an experience. Metaphysically translated this would be unless one is spiritually awakened, one cannot allow the Presence and Power of God consciousness to rule in his/her life. In Unity, the word Kingdom designates the totality of God Consciousness and we experience it individually as Christ consciousness, which is contained in the Kingdom. Well, duh!?! This is the mystical language of Spirit, which the mystical writer of John understands and which we in Unity embrace as “Truth.”
But since he is leading with his intellect, Nicodemus doesn’t get it and asks the very concrete question…”How can you possibly do this? You can’t!” is his conclusion. And Jesus very clearly states that we experience a physical birth and then also a spiritual birth or awakening. The birth of water is a reference to the birthing process and the water in the mother’s womb. But “Spirit gives birth to Spirit” and it is not something we control or that we can understand with our intellect. One does not try to explain the nature of God, one just opens to the experience of God, as Jesus so clearly states. Nicodemus is unable to even grasp this and his answer is “How can this be?”
He is stuck in his head and just can’t get to his heart to open up to the Presence of God within him. He is stuck in the old consciousness….notice that in this story, we have only men: Jesus and Nicodemus. It is all about our thinking nature, which can only take us so far. Even when it takes us a long way, it stops short of truly awakening to the true message of Jesus, of a new consciousness and a new way of Being. Even when Jesus tries to coach him by calling him Israel’s teacher and referring to Moses, who lifted up the serpents to heal the Israelites in the time of captivity, Nicodemus does not yet have the ears to hear the message. He is identified with and attached to his position and the old consciousness. And it is clear that his training, position and status are not enough to lift him out of himself, even though he really wants to “get it.” It is not by our will that we are awakened…..it is by surrendering our will to God’s will that our ears, eyes and hearts are opened. Nicodemus has no clue how that happens!
What Jesus has said is that we begin with our physical birth and being centered in the self—in self-consciousness. We cannot move beyond seeing life from the center of the self, as separate from all other life. But when we are born of Spirit, we awakened to that greater reality of God as the Center of all life and we can move to center ourselves in God and move out of our illusions that we are the center of the universe. When we are stuck in our intellect, in our ego, it is all about me and there is no room for God. “I did it, and I did it MY way!” “My way or the highway!” screams our ego. We are like Nicodemus, stuck in our thinking self and unable to even see the activity of God at work in our lives, even when it is there.
It is not surprising that the people who most resonated with the Jesus message were not the Pharisees but the poor, the sick, the down and out, the disenfranchised losers and women. These folks have nothing to lose because the culture did not allow them success or access to the wealth of the community. It is only in the next chapter of John when a Samaritan woman shows up to speak with Jesus that the Jesus message really takes hold. Metaphysically it couldn’t be clearer that it is when our thinking (head) nature and our feeling (heart) nature are united, then a new consciousness is born.
Our job is to surrender the ego (over thinking everything) and letting God be God in us…allowing the realm or experience of God to be established in our whole Being. Then we will dwell in the Kingdom forever, walking in faith even when we cannot see any positive outcome at all. When we live in this Truth, we will come into the Light and we are able to “Be Still, and Know.” In 12 step programs, it is the 3rd step… “I can’t, God can, I’ll let God!” Or when people call Silent Unity with absolutely horrendous stories, the prayer was always “when there seems to be no way, God always opens a way.” To be born of the Spirit is to wake up to your true nature and allow the realm of God to be established in your life and all that you think, say and do. It is to let go of thinking your way through all challenges and instead, praying your way into each one so that more of God can be revealed. And we all get that at some level, like Nicodemus….and at some level, just like Nicodemus, we don’t!
May this be the day that you really get it!
Blessings on the journey,