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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Today’s Reading | John 2:23—3:15

When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (NRSV)

Nicodemus, a Pharisee who undergoes a transformation from skeptic to follower over the course of three different scenes, is one of the more fascinating characters from the Gospel of John. It should be noted that Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of night, clearly worried about being seen with him but unable to avoid his desire to understand more about this man. What he receives, however, is confusion. Jesus speaks of rebirth, being born of water and the Spirit, and salvation—terminology that we don’t bat an eye at when referenced during a baptism service but terminology that seems to leave Nicodemus at a complete loss.

Nicodemus’s stunned confusion is a reminder of how truly radical the theology behind baptism is and how desensitized many of us are to the language surrounding the practice of sacrament. Baptism, as Jesus describes in this passage, is a fundamental and sweeping change in the life of a person—a complete and utter rebirth that leaves the baptized as a new creation.

Every month we welcome several newly baptized children into the life of this congregation, and on each Baptism Sunday, we as a congregation made promises to love and support these children as they grow. Just as we’ve become accustomed to the radical nature of baptismal theology, so too we’ve become accustomed to the radical promise we are making: each child that is baptized is one of our own, meant to be loved and cared for with all our hearts.

Dear God, may the meaning and promises surrounding baptism never become mundane to me; instead, may the incredible mystery that is your grace and love surprise and challenge me as if I were Nicodemus hearing it for the first time. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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