A Homily for the first Wednesday of Lent
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to be born of water and the Spirit. Amen.
What does Jesus mean by “born again”?
In common usage, this phrase ranks up there with (and is often seen as synonymous with) “evangelical” as a term to distinguish between types of Christians. “Well, you have your Catholics, your mainline, and your ‘born-again evangelicals.’”
Here in the South, it’s not uncommon for someone to ask, “Have you been born-again?” or “Tell me about when you were born-again.” I would wager that most everyone here has been asked this question – as surely as you’ve been asked which SEC team you root for.
In the Lutheran tradition, though, this metaphor is not a common part of our vocabulary – which is strange considering how frequently the third chapter of Saint John pops up in our cycle of readings – four times in the three-year Revised Common Lectionary and, by my rough count, a whopping six times in the old two-year daily lectionary. Even in my short tenure here, this is the second time in eighteen months that I’ve preached on this text IN THIS PULPIT – and given that it’s among the most-cited texts in Scripture, that’s not by choice.
This language is familiar to us both from culture and Scripture, yet we so rarely utilize it.
Among our Baptist sisters and brothers, this is common language. To be born again is to experience conversion and to be able to pin-point the moment in your life where you realized your sin and gave your life over to Christ. Maybe you were thirty-five and had been living a wild life, maybe you were a four-year old pastor’s kid, the expectation is that you can point to that one distinct moment where your faith began.
But you’d be hard-pressed to find a “born-again” Lutheran because we don’t really talk like that. My hunch is that we ignore the language of being “born again” because we’re not quite sure what it means. Certainly some Lutherans (and Catholics and Anglicans) can point to a single moment where they began to fully live in to their faith, but ours is a tradition of life-long movement. As Luther writes in the Small Catechism, the Christian life is about dying daily to sin – not just at one moment in the past but each and every morning.
What then of being born anew? It is in our Baptism that are reborn, passing through those waters into new life. In this font, we not only die to the old self but are brought forward by water and the Spirit, born again from above into new life through Christ.
During this Lenten season, new Christians are preparing to be reborn through this wondrous Sacrament. They are fasting, praying, and learning the Catechism. Their sponsors and congregations are praying and fasting with them. This is the ancient origin of Lent – a time to prepare for rebirth as spring brings birth and new life to the world around us. And as we move towards Easter, let us then set aside this season and prepare for the Paschal feast, when we will re-affirm our baptismal covenant and celebrate with the newly baptized and the whole Church that God has granted us new birth.