Upgrade has become an important element in our modern lives. We upgrade our technology for bug fixes and performance improvements. We upgrade our services when we’ve accumulated enough points to move from one level to another. We upgrade our products when our personal preferences allow it. We live our lives from one upgrade to another.
Technology has also given us a new set of metaphors to use when talking about topics that are difficult to grasp. In fact, metaphors and stories were the primary means by which Jesus communicated his message. Most of us are not moved to action through a lecture (and I do consider sermons a lecture). Even more of us are not motivated to change because of a sense of obligation. But suck us in with a good storyline or a metaphor that catches our attention, and we’re hooked. Not only do we listen, but we think about and consider what we heard for a long time afterward.
Our passage for today has one of the most familiar Bibles verses. It is also one of the most familiar stories. And it has some metaphors that made a lot of sense to the Jewish leader who came to Jesus with his questions, but not so much for us 21st-century [Western] readers.
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘Youmust be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ~ John 3:1-17
This awesome passage of scripture has sadly been co-opted to bludgeon people into salvation – as if that is even possible – or used as the secret code to get inside the exclusive [but not magical] kingdom. That binary way of thinking – either/or – is the old operating system we came with already installed. This passage tells us we have the choice to upgrade.
God’s love for us is such that we are offered the opportunity to upgrade. We are given the choice to move from the either/or (binary) operating system of the mind to an operating system of the heart. Western culture considers matters of the heart to be based in emotion and, therefore, unreliable. Wisdom tradition, of which Jesus was most familiar, considered the heart to be the the organ of spiritual perception. The heart was the highly sensitive instrument for keeping us aligned.
Saint Sam (happy birthday!) and I recently had a flat tire. He could see the uneven wearing of the front tire when he removed it. In fact, the other front tire had also been wearing unevenly. Sure enough. The car needed to be realigned. Putting new tires on an old alignment only guaranteed that the new tires would wear unevenly too. By replacing worn tires and doing an alignment, we performed an easy upgrade on our [old] car.
The upgrade Jesus is talking about in this passage is not so much difficult as different. Under the old operating system something or someone either is or isn’t. They either believe like me or they don’t. They either are from my tribe or they aren’t. Decisions about how to relate to someone are based on which side of the / someone or something falls.
The upgrade to the spiritual operating system is a completely different set of behaviors. Now it’s not whether or not someone is from my tribe, but that since they are part of the human family, I am to treat them as if they are from my tribe. And it doesn’t matter whether they believe like me or think like me or look like me. In fact, none of that matters. My new operating system guides me into being aligned with God and “see” things and people as God sees them.
Lent, this time leading up to Easter, is all about re-thinking our lives and how we live our lives. It’s a time when we can delve into our upgraded operating system and discover all the new features brought to us in the upgrade. It’s exciting because it’s like having a new life! Exactly the point Jesus was making with Nicodemus.
Have you upgraded? What are you discovering about your upgraded operating system?