A reflection on John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The summer of 1985 I studied at San Francisco Theological Seminary. It was a wonderful time and I had many inspiring teachers. One particular teacher taught a seminar on worship and liturgy. He was a visiting teacher from a seminary in Australia. A week or so after I had flown back to our home in Hamburg, I received a call from this professor wanting to talk with me. He had rented a car and along with a girlfriend, driven all the way across the country. He wanted to stop at our house with his friend. He told me that his life was in complete shambles and he wanted to talk to me about how I experienced peace. And so we invited him and that night he confessed to me how confused he was about life! I was quite surprised. And so we talked that evening and then finally went to bed. The next morning, we noticed during the night he and his friend had slipped away, leaving a brief note saying he was off again on his wild and confused journey. We never saw or heard from him again.
Nicodemus, the story goes, came to see Jesus at night. We are not certain why he came at night but perhaps he was embarrassed or it was just a good time to do business. Maybe he was too busy during the day to take time to ask questions about his soul. That is not uncommon for “spiritual leaders”. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? The priest and the Levite were apparently too busy with church business to stop and help the hapless traveler. I always felt that pressure when I was a busy pastor.
After Nicodemus giving a complementary address, Jesus went right to the heart of the matter and said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.” The phrase “being born from above,” or the commonly heard phrase, “born again,” simply means to become aware of one’s Higher Self, the Christ Self.
Nicodemus seems to believe he then must enter another mother’s womb and be born again but Jesus goes on to say this is a “spiritual birth” or spiritual awakening birth. “That which is born of flesh is flesh, but that which is born of Spirit is Spirit.” In other words, Jesus is referring to a “born of Spirit” idea.
In Baptism it is also referred to in similar two parts. One is the water baptism, given perhaps to infants, youth, or adults, but the other is the “spirit baptism,” the moment or time when the recipient awakens to that Presence within.
“Being born from above,” is a direct confrontation with our spiritual self in contrast to one’s body or ego self. Stuck in our ego selves, it’s like living lives with basic attention to the visible world, including our bodies. Then suddenly we become aware of a whole new world which is the unseen spiritual dimension. Perhaps this might be comparable to falling in love.
Can you remember the time when someone outside your family said they loved you? Some of us hear this in our adolescent years. It’s an intoxicating statement to hear. Yes, it’s fairly common to feel that you are loved by most family members although some children do not have that privilege. But can’t you remember those first dates and those first loves when somebody simply said they loved you! It was a wonderful, intoxicating feeling that someone who knew so little about you seem to love you so much. Of course after they got to know you better, they probably didn’t love you so much and let you go!
Being born again is awakening to the understanding that you and I are deeply loved by a Creator who knows everything about us, even more than we know about ourselves. And this love is an unconditional one which regardless of what we do or say will love us forever.
The story of Jesus is the story of God telling us how much we are loved. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life!” Later on in this book of John’s Gospel, we read Jesus saying we are one with Him, the Son, and with His Creator God. In other words, God’s Presence has been with us all our lives and even before. We did not realize it. We were asleep to it. And then a messenger tells us of this love and when we receive it by faith and practice remembering, our attitudes and lives can be drastically changed.
When our lives are changed in this born again experience, we actually become aware of our oneness with the Son, correct? That’s why I titled this talk, “God so loved the world that He gave You, You!” The Presence has been with you all the time. Only you had not been aware to it in your sleep. It’s especially humbling when your reputation has been that of a spiritual teacher and you never realized it. But it is not unusual.
The other morning I saw an interview with the Hollywood movie director named Tom Shadyac. He directed such well-known comedy movies as “Ace Ventura,” “Almighty Bruce,” “Pet Detective” and “The Nutty Professor.” Success of such movies and made Tom Shadyac into a millionaire and he lived in a huge mansion in the Beverly Hills part of Hollywood. One day he had a bicycle accident in which he was nearly killed. During his convalescence, Tom had awakening to a deeper consciousness of who he was. After a long period of reflection, he sold his mansion and moved into a small trailer park where since he has lived very simply. He said he now actually knows his neighbors, and loves living simply outside of the huge mansion where he did not know neighbors, feeling at times like he was in a prison. I am anticipating seeing his newly released movie which is his spiritual story called, “I Am”.
Yes, the God who is a part of our being loves this world and loves you as a part of Himself. And when we awaken to this presence, we are brought to a new purpose in life where before perhaps we had nothing outside of blind vanity. A teacher once told me that outside of our relationship with Christ, we do not amount to anything! We simply live a few years, like puppets on a string and then dying, are no more. We arise from the dust of earth and then disappear back into it. That’s what it means to live a life which perishes in contrast to one that experiences eternal life. One ends in oblivion, the other goes on! One is wiped out in the tsunamis of living, the other is indestructible!
Have you not ever felt your busy life in making money and taking vacations and getting married and having children are all for naught? Many show such in their faces and their lives being full of sadness and loneliness looking for something to satisfy. The awareness of this Higher Self brings a sense of eternal purpose without changing a thing around but your awareness!
We destroy and crucify this Higher Self, or the Son of God, by staying asleep in our sins or our errors. Every time we give into anger, in defending ourselves, or in attacking another we but cover over and hide this Inner Self. That is why one of my favorite lessons from one of my favorite spiritual books, A Course in Miracles, is titled “I can but crucify myself”. It is the explanation that when we attack ourselves or another, we are hiding the very awareness to my Higher Self, or Myself as the Son of God.
Thus the more we can live with a sense of defenselessness, the more we are aware of our Higher God Self. Without this awareness, it’s like driving an automobile on flat tires or with cheap gas; it just doesn’t go very well. So the story of crucifying Christ is not just one of nailing the man named Jesus on a cross, but it’s an allegory of how we destroy and crucify our own inner power called the Son of God.
Yes, God so loved the world that he sent you, You! To remain asleep from this awareness is to be asleep in the darkness of despair, of hopelessness, of endless fear, doubt, and distrust of others. It can very easily be done inside an organized religion. We thus awaken and recognize this Christ within ourselves by seeing it within others.
There is a story of a Jewish monastery in which the monks were constantly bickering with each other. The head monk or Abbott wondered what he could do to stop the bickering but then came upon an idea. He announced one morning that one among them who was the holy Messiah they had been awaiting! In time he would reveal himself. And so then on over a long period of time, each monk treated the other as if he was the expected Messiah! And the bickering stopped and peace returned!
The truth is that each of us carries within the Anointed Messiah! That is our Higher Christ Self, our oneness as the Son of God. Try living each day with this awareness and you to will experience much longer periods of serenity, peace, and a wonderful power to overcome all the fear and danger of our short lives in this temporal world. As Wayne Dyer one said, “Believe it, and you’ll see it!” Amen.
Shared on March 20, 2011 with the folks at First Presbyterian Church in West Seneca, NY.