Blessed to be a Blessing
The First Sunday of Lent we talked about “desire” and how this is a gift from God, but a gift that can become distorted when our desires foster rivalry and division which can lead to violence, divorce, or war. From the beginning of time, distorted desire has created a dualism of “us vs. them,” good vs. bad, and all the blaming and scapegoating that goes with it.
This was our first Lenten lesson as we enrolled our Candidate for Holy Baptism. Jesus refused to let his desire to do his Father’s will be distorted by Satan’s temptations. He was famished by hunger, his physical well-being threatened, and he allowed himself to remain completely powerless in the face of this testing. Doing so, Jesus was able to stand alongside people down through time that experience the same struggles and temptations. We prayed that our Candidate would be given Jesus’ strength as she approached Baptism.
This Sunday the teaching centers on the “Call” of God. Our world is fully entrenched in an “us/them” dualism fostering division, blame, and scapegoating. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit (Adam blames Eve: The woman gave it to me to eat), and one of their two offspring, Cain, murders his brother Abel, out of anger and jealousy over God’s favor. Cain founds the first city and endows it with his spirit.
Something must be done. God calls Abraham and Sarah to leave Ur, their familiar home city, where they were, in terms of “us/them,” clearly “us.” God promised that he would lead them to a new country, but in leaving their old homeland, they would never be “us” again, instead they would be forever outsiders, bringing blessing to others. The blessing Abraham and Sarah received from God was to be a source of blessing for others. God was attempting to do away with the destructive dualisms people had lived with from the beginning. Abraham and Sarah were old and had to trust God’s promise to enable them to bring about offspring without knowing how it would be done or work out. Abraham and Sarah surrendered in love and trust to God without complete knowledge of what the future would bring or the ultimate success of their part in God’s enterprise.
Learning to live without thinking dualistically is what Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus in the Gospel.
Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again/ from above.
The Greek word that translates “born again or born from above” is anothen. Yes, it can mean “born again,” and that’s what the King James Version translated it. Nicodemus takes it literally and asks Jesus about how a person could enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born again. But Jesus meant the second meaning (as the NRSV translates it) “born from above.” In other words, a new birth in thinking and way of relating to others brought about by the Holy Spirit (the need to be born of water and Spirit). As God began with Abraham and Sarah, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are doing with Nicodemus, the disciples, and anyone who would listen (obey): breaking down the “Us/Them” dualism which is based on exclusion(they are not of us) to thinking always of “We” based on inclusion. God is our Father, the Father of all, as Jesus taught, making everyone brothers and sisters. No one excluded. This is what it means to be “born from above.”
Being “born from above” comes out of contemplative thinking (Rohr), willing to suspend judgment about differences, us/them thinking, and live in the light of oneness with God’s creation and all humanity. (I’m thinking of how much division has been caused by “born again” thinking)
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might saved through him. (John 3:16-17)
Most of the time we think of “eternal life” (zoe aionios) in this passage as meaning when we die and go to heaven. But the Jews never, and Jesus as a Jew, never thought or taught it meant “getting out of this world” as we have come to think. For them “Eternal Life” meant living now, in this age, here and now, in an extraordinary relationship, friendship, with God, begun now, and continuing forever. As the Gospel continues, Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but to offer all people this relationship with him, beginning with repentance (radical change of thinking) from an “us/them” divisive way of living, and instead seeing all people as related to his Father and as our brothers and sisters. Eternal life starts here, not when we die. This is how Jesus saves the world: by more and more people repenting, being bornfrom above, refusing to live in us/them categories, living in mercy and forgiveness, and loving God with all their hearts and their neighbors as themselves. We are blessed, not as a personal possession, to the exclusion of others, but as a blessing to others.
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.