'Born of the Spirit'

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost
June 2, 2024

I want to start out today talking about a particular verse in this morning’s scripture reading. In our pew Bibles, 2 Corinthians 2:15 says that those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others, which is fine. The word evaluate is a translation of the Greek word ἀνακρίνω. That word might also be translated as discern, or even investigate. And what this verse is saying is sort of the main point of the whole passage: The more we embrace the Spirit of God within us, the better we’ll be able to discern what’s going on around us through the eyes of God. And the flip side of that is that other people might not be able to understand us.

So, even though this sermon is part of my series on John 3, I thought the best way to approach it was with this passage from 1 Corinthians. The passage we just heard tells us that somewhere, in the depths of our being, is a searching spirit. And it is there, within us, that we meet the One whose Spirit is already there, waiting to transform us.

When Nicodemus approached him one night, Jesus didn’t hesitate. Apparently Nicodemus was on the verge of a breakthrough, and so Jesus told him that life wasn’t just physical; it was spiritual as well. “I assure you,” Jesus said, “no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” [John 3:5].

Jesus makes it pretty clear what he’s talking about: “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life” [John 3:6]. Being born of water—that’s our physical birth, our biological birth. Being born of the Spirit is our re-birth, our being born from above. We can explain the body and its functions in everyday words—words everybody can relate to and understand. But the spirit goes beyond human language. It can’t be understood by the flesh or described in words that the world around us can understand.

That’s what Paul meant when he said that spiritual people aren’t subject to other people’s scrutiny or evaluation. It’s what Jesus meant when he said, “The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit” [John 3:8].

Nowhere is this difference more evident than when we gather around the Lord’s Table. We all know what food is—it’s something we need to stay alive. It’s the same with water. We can eat and drink enough to sustain our bodies, even when we’re alone. Of course, as Thomas Watson said, “Company adds to a feast, and is of itself sauce to provoke the appetite.” Being with others adds another dimension to enjoying our daily bread, because human beings are intended to live in community.

But when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, something else happens. It’s not our bodies that are fed by a bit of bread and a sip of juice. It is our spirits that are nourished when we receive bread for the journey and the cup of salvation. It is Jesus we remember when we eat and drink. It is his sacrifice we make part of ourselves when we share the elements of Holy Communion.

And because it is the same Spirit that moves all of us, we commune not just with God, but with one another when we gather at the table. That’s why we all serve one another the elements. That’s why we eat from the same loaf and drink from the same cup. And that’s why we wait until all have received before we commune.

I think one of the reasons Paul wrote what he did in today’s passage from 1 Corinthians, was that the people of this church were judging messengers by their appearance. They were attracted to the exterior packaging, and not the inner message. And so Paul needed to remind them to turn inward and to let their spirits be the judge. For it was not their brain, but their spirit which was in communion with God’s Spirit.

In the Lord’s Supper, this is just what we do. We don’t respond to a huge Thanksgiving dinner laid out in front of us, but to the remembrance of what’s really important. Our spirits are still for a few moments in our busy lives, and we are overtaken by the Holy Spirit who reminds us that there is One who gave his all that we might know who God is and what God is really about.

Contrast this to the spirit of the age. When I listen to music, it’s almost always from my phone. And on my phone I have playlists—songs that I have decided fit some category or another, and thus all go together. One of these I simply call “In the Car,” and I have actually downloaded these songs onto my phone so I can listen to them, no matter where I am, without wasting data. These are my favorite songs.

Another of my frequently-listened-to playlists is called 70’s. It’s the music I grew up with. Some of the songs on this list I simply included because I remembered them fondly. But I’ve noticed that when I actually listen to them—when they cup up next on the rotation—I am deeply disappointed. They were part of the spirit of the age back then, and they sound cheesy and shallow now.

How much of what appeals to us today is part of the spirit of the age? Stuff that’s popular now, will it stand the test of time? Does it actually mean something, or is it just a shallow expression of what marketers have decided we should buy, or what political pundits have foisted upon us to get (or keep) their party in power?

And so today, as we receive the bread and the cup, let us pause and let our spirits reconnect with God’s Spirit. May God search us and know us, and may we be reminded that the Creator of the universe loves us enough to dwell within us, guide us, and bring us through to the end.
—©2024 Sam L. Greening, Jr.