Sunday, March 8, 2020

Born of water and spirit

Today we have a Pharisee, Nicodemus sneaking over to see Jesus in the cover of the night. But why? Who were the Pharisees.  Besides the accounts in Mathew when Jesus throws at them the seven woes, as Christians, we do not hear much about them.

Matt 23:31-33 "Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?"

 Matt 23:13 "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in."

So, who were these Pharisees?

Per that font of wisdom Wikipedia; “The Pharisees /ˈfærəˌsiːz/ were at various times a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought in the Holy Land during the time of Second Temple Judaism. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Pharisaic beliefs became the foundational, liturgical and ritualistic basis for Rabbinic Judaism.”[1]

As we hear throughout the Gospels there are two major groups, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. There were conflicts between the Pharisees and the Sadducees one, the Sadducees were more Hellenistic or Greek allowing only for the written law with Greek philosophy, while the Pharisees honored Oral history of the Torah, the prophets, and the writings as well and they supported the belief of the resurrection of the dead.

“During the start of His ministry the body of Pharisees would have been interested to hear what Jesus had to say. They were interested to hear what any teacher in Israel had to say. The problem that they had with Jesus was His monumental claims and the authority in which He spoke. No man had ever spoken like this man, and no man had ever won the favor of the masses so quickly and so thoroughly. He even went so far as to claim that He was the very reason for Torah and the fulfillment of it. Their opposition against him grew to the point that they had plotted His death. When Jesus was to be arrested, the Pharisees were among those that came to take Him away:”[2]

John 18:2-3 "Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons"

So why Let this Pharisee in?  Why have an audience with him?  Well for one we know Jesus believed in the teachings of the Pharisees.

Matt 23:1-4 "Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore, whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.”

Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees is that they were hypocrites however, as in any group, not all were hypocrites and some were very good men.

“It is also important to note that all of the Pharisees were not like those described in Matthew 23. The gospels contain references to Pharisees who were admirable men. Nicodemus is an excellent example of what a Pharisee ought to have been. He was genuinely a seeker of truth (John 3:1 ff.) (Todays reading), spoke out for justice on behalf of Jesus (John 7:50) [i.e. Here Nicodemus ask the others to hear Jesus out before condemning him], and remained a follower of Jesus even after the disciples had fallen away (John 19:39) [i.e. when Nicodemus brings herbs and aloe to the tomb].

Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin and he looked for the kingdom of God (Mark 15:43), he was almost certainly a Pharisee, he also did not consent to the decision to do away with Jesus (Luke 23:51) [i.e. in Luke he disagrees with the Pharisees decision]. He was a disciple of Jesus "secretly, for fear of the Jews" (John 19:38) and he made final provisions for the body of Jesus.

There were no doubt many such Pharisees who believed in Jesus, yet probably secretly. Even those who were not necessarily believers could display admirable traits: Gamaliel argued for open-mindedness (Acts 5:34 ff.); others warned Jesus of an attempt on His life: Luke 13:30-31 "On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to Him, "Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You."[3]

In Luke, there are at least three separate occasions in which Jesus dines at a Pharisees home.

So, in this conversation we hear Jesus tell Nicodemus that he must be born from above or anew.  The issue here is Jesus seems to be saying one thing and Nicodemus is understanding another thing.  But the Greek word used in the line has two meanings.  Even in our language today being born “anew” would not make us jump to the conclusion that one means for us to be being physically born again.  But this confusion and this statement may be part of Johns intent.

And then, according to the seven times Journal; “Jesus' reply seems unrelated to Nicodemus' statement. Why did He respond in this way?

According to some commentators, Jesus' response was to Nicodemus' inability to "see" beyond a certain point. The Pharisee was willing to acknowledge that Jesus was "a teacher come from God," but was not willing to accept Him as the Messiah, the Savior of the world, the Son of God.

Thus, Nicodemus was unable to "see," or experience, the operation of the Kingdom. He had only seen a visible sign, but was unable to "see," with spiritual perception, the invisible Kingdom of God.”[4]
I believe Jesus is trying to get the Pharisee, Nicodemus, to move beyond his tradition to move past a practical theology and into a spiritual, more esoteric way of viewing life. A new way of being in the world.

I like the way Jesus explains it in the message Bible;

“5-6 Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.”[5]

“We are spiritual beings having a human experience” I am sure you may have heard this said before.  Dr. Wayne dryer likes to quote it and attribute it to de Chardin but there is no proof that Chardin ever actually said it.  But that is beside the point.  The point is we are spiritual beings and we must renew ourselves make ourselves anew by spirit.

So how does one go about making oneself anew to be born from above?  Prayer and practice!  Just look at Christ’s ministry it is all prayer and practice. If he is not teaching us how to be in the world if he is not leading either by example or parable then he is teaching us to pray or going off to pray.

Richard Rohr reminds us that “Jesus’s own style of teaching in stories, parables, and enigmatic sayings was undoubtedly learned in his own prayer practices.  He clearly operated from a consciousness different from that of the masses and even that of the religious leaders who largely fought him.  Most seemed to misunderstand him, or even ignore him, despite what seem to be astounding healing and miracles.”[6]

Even Nicodemus who sought out the teacher still confused what Jesus was trying to say so that Jesus had to explain it again.

We often tend to focus on Jesus’ miracles but Jesus had a strong prayer life. “Jesus himself seemed to prefer a prayer of quiet, something more than social, liturgical, or verbal prayer, which is mentioned only a very few times.  What we do hear are frequent references such as ‘In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place to pray.’ (Mark 1:35; also in Matthew 14:23 and Mark 1:12-13) Luke describes him as praying privately before almost all major events. There are the forty days alone in the desert, which means he must have missed the family-based Sabbath observances and the public temple services.  And of course, there is his final prayer alone in the Garden of Gethsemane.”[7]

Richard Rohr Points out that Jesus taught us “You should go to your private room, shut the door, and pray to your Creator who is in that secret place.” (Matthew 6:6)  This is again rather explicit and also intimately invitational, especially because most homes of his people would have had no such thing as a private room.”[3]
But some people Caught what Jesus was teaching, he was teaching of seeking a quiet place.  This quiet private space does not need to be physical.  It can be spiritual, it can be done in group much as it is done here today.

“We need no wings to go in search of
God, but have only to find a place where we
can be alone and look upon Him present
within us.” These words were written by St.
Teresa of Avila in her book The Way of

One way to look upon God present within us is to sit quietly, breathe slowly and focus on a word or phrase from the Bible.  Allow whatever calls to you maybe in the daily reading or through the ancient practice of Bible roulette.  Sit with the phrase or word for just 5 minutes in the morning, do it again 5 minutes somewhere in your lunch hour and again at the end of the day.  This is one way you stay connected to the spirit of God.  You stay washed anew from above.

Maybe you’re a person who needs something more concrete more rigorous.  There is the liturgy of the hours.
“The Liturgy of the hours consists of;

Matins (during the night, at midnight with some); also called Vigils or Nocturns or, in monastic usage, the Night Office
Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at Dawn, or 3 a.m.)
Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = approximately 6 a.m.)
Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = approximately 9 a.m.)
Sext or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = approximately 12 noon)
None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = approximately 3 p.m.)
Vespers or Evening Prayer ("at the lighting of the lamps", generally at 6 p.m.)
Compline or Night Prayer (before retiring, generally at 9 p.m.)
This arrangement of the Liturgy of the Hours is attributed to Saint Benedict. However, it is found in Saint John Cassian's Institutes and Conferences,[12] which describe the monastic practices of the Desert Fathers of Egypt.

You can see if you are living a monastic life in community with this schedule Christ and God are always in your heart and on your mind.  For the average me, I mean the average Joe, this is a bit umm shall we say tight.

But there are lighter versions around such as the divine hours as interpreted by Phyllis Tickle there are four books for each of the seasons and a special book for Christmas time.  They consist of prayers listed day by day with morning, midday, and vespers, now if you are really disciplined there is also an order to be recited right before bed.

The concept for those who practice the hours is that all over the world there are Christians everywhere praying all the time the same psalms and songs and prayers.  There is the universal connection to the other and each other.  The problem still is this is a much-disciplined practice and very difficult for those who live normal everyday first world lives.”[9]

There are many, many ways to keep yourself refreshed and anew.  There are many ways to seek out the connection from above.  You are called to do so.  We as Christians are called to do so.  We are called to take time on the Sabbath, we are called to walk the path, the way of Christ and in that way we are called to be born anew in the spirit daily.

For some that may mean a walk on a quite path, for others that may mean doing something artistic creative and yet highly focused.  For others, it may be chanting or meditating.  Still for others it may be dancing.

I would encourage any and all to seek out a retreat for yourself some quiet time that is just between you and God.  Perhaps you need to journey with someone to talk out your spiritual needs?  I also strongly support the concept of having a spiritual companion, friend, spiritual director.  This is a person professionally trained to walk with someone on their spiritual journey.  They are there to help you notice the all the richness of the path you are on.

I encourage you to seek out a spiritual practice that works for you. The season of lent is always a great time to do this.  Instead of giving something up one can take on a spiritual practice. It is a way to seek to be born anew, form above, everyday. May God continue to bless us as we continue our spiritual journey amen!

[1] wikipedia, The Pharisees, February 27, 2017, accessed March 6, 2017,
[2] Bible History Online, Jesus and the Pharisees, 2016, accessed March 6, 2017,
[3] Bible History Online, Jesus and the Pharisees, 2016, accessed March 6, 2017,
[4] Vance A. Stinson, "Born From Above" ... Or ... "Born Again?,” 2012, accessed March 7, 2017,
[5] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message Remix: (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), 1929.
[6] Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: Crossroad Pub., 2009).
[7] Ibid.
[8] Joseph Shore-Goss, The Persistent Widow's call to us...Pray Constantly, October 24, 2016, accessed March 7, 2017,
[9] Joseph Shore-Goss, They will produce Much fruit, May 10, 2015, accessed March 7, 2017,

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