Recently I talked a little about yoga a sermon, but it went quickly and I want to bring it up again and expand on it because I think it’s a great illustration of how we get stuck; as Christians, as a nation, as a church…
Because I used to practice more regularly than I do now, there are these moments in class when I mutter to myself, I used to be able to do this or that; a certain pose, that I’m no longer able to do. Never mind that it was over 6 years ago and my body has changed. Never mind that I took that time off for Seminary and it took up till the last few months to get back, my head tells me, if I used to be able to do it, I should still able to do it.…
So my head is saying one thing, but my body and breath is saying another.And when we get stuck in our heads, or into the world of supposed to…then on a yoga mat, you can’t open yourself up the full expression of any given movement. Each movement carries into the next, it’s called a flow and the breath is deeply connected, you can’t separate them, unless you go into your head and ego and try to muscle your way into a pose because you think you’re supposed to be able to do it, because you used to be able to do it…and its a great way to incur yourself. Instead, the breath and body know better. And to give into where you are now is not a defeat but a letting go of what is in the past so that you can move into a new expression of that same movement. Maybe a gentler expression, a modified expression, but whatever it is, it’s new and it’s connected to breath and eventually from that place is born a full expression of what you are meant o be doing.
God, and specifically the spirit (as we are on our second week of Pentecost) is constant working in us to help us become the fullest expression of who we are born to be. Whether individually, as a church or even as a country, we cannot live into that becoming, that growth, that change, that expression if we are stuck on what we used to be. We cannot go back to the good ol days….not in our bodies, or our culture….And believe me, I’d like to. Specifically the 70’s..with one telephone on a wall with a cord (just ask Wayne, he’ll tell you) and throw out all the cel phones and the computers…But we can’t go back…because we are simply not who we used to be… We are more aware now, more advanced, more educated, for better or for worse…
The reason I’m expounding on this metaphor is because of this morning's scripture.Here is this wonderful biblical character, Nicodemus….who comes to Jesus in the night time while it’s dark and there are like 300 different interpretations of this one phrase…at night- in the dark. Some say it was for fear of what others would say…because there was a division in Judaism between those who were following Jesus as the son of God and those who weren’t. So Nicodemus shows up at night out of fear of what others might say, out of fear of being ostracized, fear of societal norms, fear of being outcast.
Another interpretation is that at night and darkness, is a common metaphor for John to describe people who have yet to come to know Jesus Christ, to accept him and redeem themselves. So it’s not a fear, it’s a spiritual darkness.
And by now you know me well enough, you know which side I’m on…it’s both. Both and...
Whenever we are living in fear of what others will say or do, we are living in spiritual darkness…we’ve all been there; what will they think, what will they say…But where there is love, where there is integrity, where there is curiosity, what they think shouldn’t matter, because ultimately it’s between you and God…But Nicodemus isn’t there….
And yet he’s curious enough to enter into conversation with Jesus. Skeptical maybe, unsure, but enters into the conversation without contention, asking questions….
“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.”
Nicodemus is showing his hand, basing his curiosity in Jesus on the signs, the healings, the miracles that Jesus has performed….
But Jesus answers in a way that takes us away from the earthly signs of healing and miracles and says this-
“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Perhaps inferring here that people’s belief in him shouldn't depend on whether they have seen the signs, but rather to open themselves up to what God is doing now, from above.
Nicodemus, who takes this literally, says 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?” This is one of those great pieces of dialogue that depends on delivery. You could say it snarky…or as a genuine misunderstanding.
Misunderstandings can be a wonderful opening for growth…
Judith Mc Daniel in Feasting on the Word describes this particular misunderstanding between Nicodemus and Jesus as having a purpose. To allow the reader to catch ourselves and see the ways in which we fall into a a spiritual rut. To speak prayers or scripture we’ve memorized without thought..to go through the motion of going to church on Sunday and then forgetting God throughout the week, or to be stuck in the place of…But this is how it’s always been done, this is how I’ve always understood things, but Jesus is doing a new thing, which makes the elders of the church nervous… To see what God is doing now…in us, in our church or in the world…requires we open ourselves up to being born from above…Letting the old die and allowing God to take us into a new expression of who we can be now. God does that, not us. And I am seeing signs of this in our world, the pendulum will swing back and we will be better and stronger because of the chaos we are experiencing now.
“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 the spirit.
This world has its ways, it’s understandings, it’s beliefs, we as part of that flesh have our beliefs, the way we understand this world and the ways that have worked in the past…so we hold on to them, even when they've stopped working for us because it used to work for us…and now it doesn’t but rather than opening ourselves to the spirit and to all the new ways that it might work now, we tend to muscle through because allowing something to be born requires a death of the way something used to be. And that is not easy, especially if it’s something that used to bring us joy.
At the beginning of every yoga session, the teacher invites us to exhale and let go of anything that no longer serves us, just for that hour. As we are about to enter into that hour, to be present to that hour, something has to go. The worries of the day, the phone call that just made us mad, the person who cut us off in traffic, the kid who won't return our phone call, the spouse who is waiting for a diagnosis, or even the self who is waiting for diagnosis…Because in that hour of flow…in that hour of breath…….there is an opportunity to deepen one's experience and expression of that experience. In our faith the opportunity to deepen our relationship with the God who comes to us as Jesus Christ and as Spirit from above- requires we let go of the worldly attachments…and be born into this new life of trusting that God will carry is into a new thing, a new creation.
We are works in progress…We grow…we become…we are born again and again….So if you’re practicing your faith outside of worship, one of the first questions you can ask yourself is; How am I stuck? What am I holding onto, what idea, what thought, what way of being, that sed to serve me, but is no longer serving me, that I can finally let pass away, and open myself up to the spirit from above that I might be born again?
Frederick B wrote…“If you tell me Christian commitment is a thing that has happened to you once and for all like some kind of spiritual plastic surgery, I say …you're either pulling the wool over your own eyes or trying to pull it over mine. Every morning you should wake up in your bed and ask yourself: 'can I believe it all again today?'…
If your answer's always yes, then you probably don't know what believing means…At least five times out of ten the answer should be no because the no is as important as the yes, maybe more so. The no is what proves you're human in case you should ever doubt it. And then, if some morning the answer happens to be really yes, it should be a yes that's choked with confession and tears and great laughter, not a beatific smile, but the laughter of wonderful incredulity."
In our trinity, we often baptize in the name of God the creator, Christ the Redeemer…the Redeemer because Christ comes to recover humanity from our self-defeating ways that keep us stuck in a physically absorbed life. The third piece in the spirit, who we call sustainer because if Christ came once and for all, the Spirit calls on us again and again and again to live into that new life.
Nicodemus, the same man in John’s gospel who came to Jesus at night in darkness, later on in John’s Gospel…defends Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin…and eventually anoints Jesus’s body at his burial….His journey from spiritual darkness….to a display of public spiritual devotion…is our journey…It may not be a linear progression, but all of us as a work in progress has committed to take a journey….
Maya Angelou said…
I’m always amazed when people walk up to me and say I’m a Christian and I think Already? you already got it?
This is not a rehearsal, this is your life…and it lives in Jesus Christ….and sustained by being born from above, again and again, and again.