Back to Index

Mystery and Wonder of Birth
March 5, 2023

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto

JOHN 3:1-5

Continuing the Lenten theme Mystery and Wonder, today we consider the Mystery and Wonder of Birth. I have had the honor of witnessing three birth. I was with Ellie when our son, Craig was born. Both of us witnessed the birth of our twin granddaughters, Julia and Melanie. 

Julia and Melanie were born by the caesarean procedure. Tim, their father, and their two grandmothers were allowed in the delivery room. I was stationed outside the room looking through the window where I witnessed the wonder of birth. After Julia was delivered, her nurse invited me to accompany them to the room where she gently washed Julia. I stood next to this precious baby while she wrapped her tiny hand around my finger! What a bonding, spiritual experience I still tell her about!

Last November, we held our three-day old great-granddaughter Ada Jeanne, marveled at the mystery and wonder of birth and how all the organs and muscles functioned in a tiny six-pound baby. Another spiritual experience! God is good.

Not only is there the wonder and mystery of a physical birth but a second birth as well. A leader of the Jews named Nicodemus (shall we call him Nick?) came to see Jesus. There is probably significance in John telling us it was nighttime. Nick not only did not want to be seen, but he was in the dark as well. Nick came to Jesus puzzled by what he had been hearing about Jesus. Nick came looking for answers. Jesus told him that no one can see the kingdom of God without being born anew, born of the spirit. That was Jesus, clear as mud, talking about birth and spirit.

Poor Nick didn't get it. He was too literal. "How can anyone enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born again?" "No, no," said Jesus, “born of the Spirit.” You've had a physical birth. You were born of water—your mother’s water broke . Now, you need a spiritual birth. No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of the Spirit.

Being born, not over again, but being born of the Spirit is a mystery and wonder. It's like the wind, Jesus answered. Can you see the wind? Do you know where it comes from, or where it goes? No, the wind blows where it chooses, beyond our comprehension and understanding. So it is with the Holy Spirit. You cannot bottle up the Holy Spirit and put it in a denomination or a church or a doctrine or a method, and say, "Aha, now I've got you." The Holy Spirit cannot be manipulated or controlled, just as the wind cannot be controlled.

Poor Nick didn't get it. He tried to understand Jesus. He tried to put what Jesus was saying within his own frame of reference, and what Jesus was saying did not fit. The mystery and wonder of God is that God is far bigger than our perceptions, bigger than our ideas, bigger than formulas, bigger than our neat theological treatises, bigger than our interpretation of the Bible, bigger than our church or any church, bigger than the Christian religion. 

The mystery and wonder is that God calls us into a relationship.There are several biblical words—salvation, redemption, deliverance, pardon, ransom, forgiveness, atonement, reconciliation, expiation, new birth, born again, born anew, born of the Spirit—that all mean a personal, one on one relationship with God in which you are transformed, like being born anew.

Sounds simple, but in practice it is difficult to enter into a relationship with God because of what is in the way. Last Sunday I listed why we are in such a mess—1) disobeying God, 2) coverup, 3) the blame game, 4) refusing to take responsibility for our actions, 5) self-centeredness. It is utterly amazing what we humans do to block a relationship with God, but God does not give up. God even gave his Son and Jesus gave his life to overcome all obstacles. A personal relationship with God is possible when you let God get through to you, when you accept the gift of God's love for you.  A relationship with God is a gift from God, not necessarily to be understood, but experienced.

I suspect there are some here this morning who don't have the foggiest clue what I am talking about. Some of you developed a relationship with God so long ago, you've forgotten what is to be without a relationship with God. You have taken your relationship with God for granted, and have lost the excitement. When I was in college and pastor of two churches, several of my members gave me advice, "When you go to seminary, don't lose your fire!" Do you know what they meant? Yes, too many of us have lost the wonder, the amazement of a relationship with God!

Perhaps some of you don’t understand what I am talking about because you have not experienced a personal relationship with God. You have yet to be born again. 

Born of water is the first birth where we grow, learn, work, marry, raise families. Born of spirit is the second birth where we are changed into disciples, filled with joy, overflowing with love and compassion towards others, hearing God’s call, courageously doing God’s work

You ask, how can I be born again? How do I experience a personal relationship with God?  First, admit you need a personal relationship with God. Secondly, accept God’s love, remember through participating in Holy Communion what Christ has done for you. Third, open yourself to the Holy Spirit. Let Jesus take your life. Turn your mind inside out. Ride the wind. Be born anew from inside out, top to bottom. 

© 2023 Douglas I. Norris