2nd Sunday of Lent (March 16 • 2014)
ROCKINGHAM UNITING CHURCH
Modern neuroscience has shown to us that young brain is more flexible than old brain. In old people’s brain, the neural paths in the brain have already been fixed. It is therefore harder for the brain to create new neural paths because that would involve undoing the old paths and creating new ones, which explains why old people always find it hard to learn new thing like a second language or how to use a computer. A young brain, however, has not developed as many neural connections as an old brain. Their neural system is still in the process of making connections. That’s why it’s easier for children to learn new things and with much greater result.
Modern neuroscience can throw light on Jesus’ saying today about being "born anew" or "born from above". It is indeed hard to “unlearn” something to be able to learn something completely different. Jesus, however, didn’t talk about modern neuroscience. He talked about a different way of being, of living our lives; a way of seeing things differently.
In our reading today from John’s Gospel, we are introduced to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a pious Jew, and possibly even a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council in Jerusalem. He was a teacher and must have had his own disciples. He represented the Jewish religious authority at the time.
In the story today, we are told that he came to meet Jesus at night, which was a usual time for scholars to have a debate. But, I think there is something more that John wanted us to know. In his gospel, darkness versus light is indeed one of the central themes in Jesus’ ministry. In the beginning of his Gospel, John proclaimed that the light has come into the world, but the world did not see it (1: 10). The light has come into darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it (1: 5). Nicodemus, the guardian of the Jewish tradition, was indeed still in the dark. He had seen the light, but found it hard to accept it.
The problem with Nicodemus, therefore, was not that he lacked education, but because he was too educated. He had developed his own way of thinking. He was a respected man who was well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures, Yet, that night, a man, younger than him, asked him to be “born again”; to leave all the things that he had learnt in the past so that he could see things differently.
In other words, Jesus invited Nicodemus to leave his old way of being and embrace a new way of being. It may be hard for someone like Nicodemus to accept something that was totally different from what he had known, but the only way for him to be "born from above"; to be "born of the Spirit" was to give up the things that he dearly held.
Friends, often it is indeed our knowledge or pride that keeps us from opening ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, leading us to new possibilities. To be led by the Spirit, something has to be “born again” within us. To be led by the Spirit of God, we have to be “born anew”, which means that our life has to be transformed; that the way we see things has to change.
In the movie: The Whale Rider, Koro was a respected elder of a Maori tribe in New Zealand. He runs a special school that teaches the boys in his village the tradition of his Maori tribe. Koro has been waiting for someone to continue the leadership of their great ancestor, the Whale Rider, who, according to legend, came to the village riding on top of a whale from Hawaii. Koro hopes that one of the boys in his school would finally become that person.
So one day, Koro throws into the ocean the Rei Puta, a whale tooth that is the symbol of his tribe. He then asks the boys from his school to find the tooth. According to the tradition, whoever finds the tooth will be chosen as the one who will continue the Whale Rider’s legacy in the tribe. None of the boys, however, finds it.
In the meantime, Koro’s granddaughter, Pai, is interested the be the leader, but Koro always discourages her. Even though she is a direct descendant of the Whale Rider, as a girl she is not allowed to join the contest. No woman ever assumed the position before. But, Pai is not giving up. Behind Koro's back, she learns her tribe’s tradition, which is reserved only for the boys. When Koro finally finds out that Pai has been learning to do things that she is forbidden to do, he is enraged by her disobedience. Koro fears that Pai’s disobedience will disrupt the harmony of his tribe.
His fear becomes a reality when a group of whales is stranded on the beach near the village. The people in the village immediately come to their rescue, but their effort comes to nothing. Since whales are spritual creatures for the tribe, Koro sees the tragedy as the direct result of Pai’s disobedience. Koro believes that Pai has indeed disrupted the harmony.
When the people from the village finally give up, Pai ignores Koro’s order not to approach the whales and creates even more damage. She approaches the largest whale that, traditionally, belongs to their ancestor, the Whale Rider. Pai whispers to the whale, asking it to return to the ocean. She then climbs the whale and sits on its back. Suddenly, the whale starts moving and, slowly, makes the effort to return to the ocean. The other whales stranded on the beach immediately join in and, not long, all of the whales finally return to the ocean with Pai riding the largest one.
The event opens Koro’s eyes. Something out of the ordinary has happened. No one can ride the largest whale except the Whale Rider himself. Against his understanding of the tradition, Pai, his granddaughter, has indeed been chosen to continue the legacy of the Whale Rider. Koro also finds out that Pai has previously discovered the Rei Puta, the symbol of the tribe.
After the ordeal, Pai is taken to the hospital. There, Koro admits his foolishness and ask for her forgiveness. The old norm has been turned upside down. A new era has arrived and he, the guardian of the tradition, has to leave his old understanding behind to accept it.
“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," said Jesus in our reading today (John 3: 8 NRSV). Those who are born of the Spirit are those who are open to the mystery of the movement of the Spirit. No one knows where the Spirit comes from or predicts where the Spirit will go; those who are born anew, however, will be ready to follow Her.
Friends, God works in mysterious way. It may sound like a cliché, but I believe that it is true. The Spirit of God works in ways that are beyond our comprehension and we are invited to trust Her; to go where She goes; to leave our old habits and ways of living behind to follow Her; to be like Abram, in our Genesis reading today, who dared to travel with God into unfamiliar territories, knowing that God would go with him on his journey.
As a nomad, Abram and his company's survival depended on him staying with his family. Ancient families were nothing like modern family. A family in ancient time consisted not only of one’s nuclear family, but of the whole extended family. They had to stay together to survive: to find and grow food; to protect themselves from bandits, other tribes, or wild animals; to multiply.
Therefore, leaving his family behind was a ‘gamble’ that only a few dared to take. Yet, Abram trusted God and he left his place of comfort and security to go to an unknown destiny.
Friends, where does the Spirit lead you today? Who are the people that the Spirit of God ask you to meet? What situation that the Spirit asks you to address? What are the things that we need to leave behind to follow Her voice?
The Spirit still guides us today. Sometimes She guides us through the voice of a friend who reminds us about the most important thing in our life; a friend who, in times when we have to make difficult choices in our life, promises to be with us no matter what. Sometimes the Spirit guides us through our devotional reading. Sometimes She guides us when we witness the beautiful sunset on the beach or the mysterious mist that covers the bush land early in the morning. Sometimes She speak to us through the music and songs that we listen. Sometimes, She guides us through that soft voice that we hear deep in the recesses of our heart, asking us to abandon our old ways and embrace a new way. And, it is up to us either to ignore Her voice completely or to listen to it and follow Her wherever She asks us to go.
Let us pray.
Wind of God, blow through us and refresh us. Blow through us and heal us. Blow through us and bring us new life. Blow away the things that prevent us from seeing your life in the whole of creation, and show us ways to help the healing of your world. Amen.
Burt, Susan and Friends (Eds.), Seasons Fusion for Congregational Life -Lent Easter 2014, New Zealand: Wood Lake Publishing Inc. (2013), p. 43
 Same As Above
 Shirey, Anna, Seeing Things Differently, on CSSPLUS! Website (https://store.sermonsuite.com – retrieved: March 11, 2014)
 Burt, Susan and Friends (Eds.), Seasons Fusion for Congregational Life -Lent Easter 2014, New Zealand: Wood Lake Publishing Inc. (2013), p. 43