Sunday, April 3, 2016

Are You Born Again?

Acts 5:27-32; John 20:19-31


Have you been born again? Some of you are thinking who kidnapped our minister and would you please bring him back. Unless the text is John 3 and we are discussing Nicodemus, the “born again” language seldom if ever comes up in our conversations. Most folks I know speak of faith as something inherited. I was baptized in a Presbyterian Church in Georgia. My grandfather was the Clerk of Session. When I became a member of the Presbyterian Church, my father was the minister. From the moment I was born, my parents and my community talked about Jesus. Being a child of the south, believing in God was as natural as eating grits and washing them down with a Coke. When a person tells me they are born again, my first instinct is to say, “Bless your heart. How did you live all these years without God?”

Then I befriended some Pentecostals and Southern Baptists. It seems many of them had a “come to Jesus” moment. This caused me to reevaluate earlier assumptions and realize we all don’t have the same faith story. Many of you have had faith experiences that are very different from mine.  Some really smart guy named Fowler once explained that our faith journey is really a pyramid.  He said the closer we get to the top, the more seriously we are engaged in the moral aspects of our faith. He also insisted everyone is equally faithful, regardless where they are along their personal spectrum. Despite the wisdom of Fowler, when I encounter someone who appears to be at a different spiritual place, I revert to my old bad habits and think, “Bless your heart.” My theories on faith development, all of which are prejudiced by my own experiences, make it difficult for me to remember that the road to Godliness is quite diverse. That’s why I am glad on this week after Easter we revisit the Thomas Story.

 Remember Thomas? He is the guy that had to see the nail prints in the hand and feet of Jesus. Through the years we have been pretty hard on him, and perhaps with good reason.  Was Thomas asleep when Jesus dropped all those clues about the resurrection? Where was Thomas when the women were running back and forth from the grave? Why was he absent the first time Jesus showed up? But then again was he the only doubtful disciple? Thank goodness for persuasive women. Until the other ten disciples had their personal encounter with the unimaginable, we didn’t hear a peep out of any of them. Oh by Acts 5 Peter was a house on fire. But before his personal encounter with the Lord, Peter was already checking into purchasing a used fishing boat. 

Anyone here ever seen Jesus? I have faithfully encountered the Jesus story for 65 years. Somewhere along the way it stopped being the faith of my parents and became my personal encounter with God. But I have never seen Jesus. I have never touched the holes in his hands? Instead of having an eyewitness account, my faith development has grown because of doubt rather than proof. That may seem strange but look at the things we asked to believe:

Jesus is the Son of God.

Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

When we die we will be with Jesus.

Are you kidding me? The rational mind cannot fully comprehend the possibility of these statements. That is why I love the story of Thomas. Once Thomas has been introduced to the savior’s hands and feet Jesus said, “Blessed are those who don’t see and believe.”

I suspect many of you have driven up and down the Blue Ridge Park Way. I prefer the Skyline Drive. You have to pay, or get a season pass for the Skyline Drive, and this keeps a lot of folks from making the trip. Being a bike rider, the fewer cars I encounter the more I enjoy myself. You miss a lot when you drive. The first three to four miles of the Skyline Drive are uphill. It is amazing what one sees when only traveling 6 or 7 miles an hour. I not only notice the flowers, I get to count each of the pedals. What has amazed me the most is I will be peddling along and look up at what appears to be sheer rock. Yet in the middle is a bush or a tree. Somehow, through the smallest crack, vegetation has emerged and survived. Even more amazing is as the tree expands, the rock begins to crack. The Appalachians have been here for a millions years and a little plant is compromising the mountains we love. If I had not seen it with my own eyes I would never believe it. But each year the plant grows, and each year, the cracks increase.

What on earth does that have to do with faith? Unless you get on a bike and peddle up a mountain you might never encounter this strange phenomenon of nature. You have to take my word for it, much like we have to take the words of the gospel writers. I can’t prove the resurrection any more than I can prove the existence of God. My faith is based on the stories of others and how my personal journey verifies those stories. But more importantly, my faith is based on the doubts I have encountered concerning what I once imagined to be the truth. Those are my born again moments.

It simply is not good enough to hear the faith stories of another and assume it to be true. Would you buy a house based on the e-mail of a realtor you never met? Of course not! Then why would one believe in the story of a resurrected Lord simply because every year we celebrate Easter. If you exist on the faith of another, then that faith will fail you. But what happens when you encounter the story, struggle with the story, roll it around in your heart and mind and then, throwing caution to the wind, live the story.

Scripture is the message our spiritual ancestors wrote because they wanted us to experience God, if not in the flesh, then in the word. They wrote slogans for living. They wrote about events which are more truth than fact. They wrote down the stories of Jesus. And then they wrote how Jesus turned their lives upside down.   Some of the stories are puzzling, some are troubling and a few I even find offensive. But I keep coming back to them even though I might see them differently today than yesterday.  From those stories arise my doubts, my truths and my proclamations of what I believe. Each time I encounter the story I am born again, because each time I encounter the story, there exist the possibility of hearing the voice of God in a uniquely different way. And that both excites and frightens me.

Can a flower compromise a mountain? Can a man be resurrected from the dead? Christianity has not existed all these years because it confirms or rephrases common sense. From generation to generation Christianity has told an unimaginable story based on the many faces of God and asked each hearer to listen from the depths of their heart.

“Blessed are those who have not seen yet have come to believe.” And to that I might also add, “Blessed are those who continue to struggle to discover the mystery of God. May our doubts, and perhaps even our fears, lead us a new birth of understanding and faith.      

To God be the glory.    Amen.

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