Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
For too many people, communion in God is communion only with an idea. They get wrapped up in the idea of some mystical force. Like Bette Midler, they believe that “God is watching us from a distance.” And so they worship only the concept and its majesty. The truth is, we are those people. Whenever we live as if God doesn’t matter; whenever we fudge the truth or sneak to do evil; whenever our prayers are nothing more than a list of complaints and demands; whenever we do not define our existence by what God says and gives to us through His Son, in His Spirit—then God is just an idea, a good luck charm. When you’re wrapped up only in the idea of God, then the focus is on nothing but signs and wonders. “God” is simply a way to explain why things happen the way they do, something to make you feel more comfortable when you feel insecure.
It’s that idea of God—the almighty Being who produces spectacular signs—that Nicodemus has in mind when he comes to Jesus by night. Nicodemus wants to know how Jesus got this idea of God working so well for Him. Jesus is turning water to wine and healing the sick. He has such presence and speaks with unprecedented authority. And you know that “no one can do these signs that Jesus does unless God is with him.”
The answer Jesus gives, though, has nothing to do with God the concept, and everything to do with the Persons of God. Jesus talks about birth—not to point to another miracle and wonder in life, but to express a relationship with the Father, relationship through the Son, relationship in the Holy Spirit. To have God as your God is not to have some correct idea or to stand up for some pious thoughts. To have God as your God is to have God as your Father, His Son as your brother, and His Spirit as your breath and heartbeat. To have God as your God is to be in the Family.
So Jesus talks about a second birth. It’s not just another spectacular event that makes us part of some other worldliness. It’s not the way we finally get caught up in a mystical divineness. It’s a concrete reality: Holy Baptism is the way in which we are born into God’s family. In those waters, the Father becomes our heavenly Father. In those waters, God becomes no longer an idea and concept; He adopts us. That is the point Jesus is making to Nicodemus. God is no longer just “God;” He is now “Our Father who art in heaven.” We have union with a loving Family. So do not marvel when our Lord says, “You must be born again.” He is not demanding that you go through some religious experience or work yourself up to some emotional high. In Baptism, you are joined to your God and Father; your God lives and moves and breathes in you and through you and for your good.
You cannot pull yourself up to heaven. You cannot reach the loftiness of the Holy Trinity. But your heavenly Father has sent His Son. He came to be your Brother. And as the true and righteous brother that He is, our Lord Jesus endures your suffering, carries your cross, dies your death, and restores and renews your life. In this way, Christ Jesus unites you to His Father. You now have the right to call God your Father. Our Lord Jesus more tightly and intimately binds and unites you to your God. That happens in the Holy Supper, for in partaking of Christ’s body and blood, you commune with God; you abide in Him just as He abides in you.
This is the love the Father has for you. He is not interested in being some abstract God, keeping you at arms length. Instead, God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ brings you into His family and unites you to Himself; He gives you all the rights and benefits of being a son of God and an heir of the heavenly kingdom. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.