“Born again” is a term I rarely use as a Christian or as a pastor. It conjures up an unconscious cult-like taste in my mouth that quite frankly makes me want to puke. I grew up hearing the “be born again” sermon that was hell-bent on getting your butt down the aisle and your soul saved from damnation alley.
The phrase “born again” has been embedded into the psyche of most conservative Christians. Regrettably, in American culture, it has kept God’s salvation fixated on “you and me” instead of “we.” Faith has been hyper-individualized, forcing it inward rather than outward.
But our faith should never be like leftovers from a fridge full of outdated religious recipes. Nor should our faith be spoon-fed to the masses with the utensils of political propaganda. No, our faith must come from a place of wholeness, a holy place for all people to gather around the table where Christ is serving a buffet of new possibilities. At the table, our faith is placed in a posture that refuses to divide over differences or break apart during a crisis.
Our faith, at its core, reflects who we are as a Church – a Church rooted in the love of Jesus Christ, a love that binds us all to one body. It’s the core of our spiritual DNA – a womb opened and willing to receive the Holy Spirit, to conceive new life, giving birth to more babies.
“Like the first Church formed by the fiery Spirit of God, the Church today must remember that we are an organic body, not old brick buildings.”
At the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, the angel told Mary that she would conceive a child and that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you.” At the beginning of the Book of Acts, as Jesus was about to ascend into heaven, he told his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” Against all efforts by puritanical religious nonsense, God is in the baby-making business. On that note, let’s not slip between the sheets of sensational theological conversations on conception or, for that matter, contraceptives. I’ll do my best to keep this PG – pastorally general.
Back to the point. The Holy Spirit is conceiving new life and needs a partner. The Church, the body of Christ, is called to be born again and again and again.
The first born-again moment for the body of Christ was a baby boom place about 2,000 years ago. Some observers at the time thought the feast of Pentecost had turned into some drunken hippie festival. That day there were thousands of Jews staying in Jerusalem, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When the people heard the sound, they came running. Like a campfire set ablaze by a gust of wind, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in different languages.
When the pilgrims heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on. Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it. It was complete chaos. The religious folks talked back and forth, confused and disturbed: “What’s going on here?” Others joked, “They’re all drunk on cheap wine and bad bourbon.”
It all looked like the scene straight out Walmart the day before shelter-in-place and lockdown directives kicked in. Then Peter stood and, backed by the other 11, preached a born-again message. “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight,” he said. “These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk – it’s only nine o’clock in the morning!”
Stunned, those who had gathered to hear Peter asked him and the other apostles, “Brothers! Sisters! So now, what do we do?” Peter said, “It’s not about doing, it’s about being. Change your life. Turn to God and receive God’s grace and forgiveness. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and your children, but also to all who are far away. God invites all to the table.”
Peter kept preaching and teaching for a long time, and nobody turned the YouTube channel. Even when he said, “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture! You no longer have to be imprisoned by corrupt capitalism and man-made religious regulations. Get out of the rat race. Follow Jesus Christ. Receive the Spirit of God that is already deep within you.” That day about 3,000 took him at his word, born again together, and chose to live another way, following the Way, the Truth and the Life.
“Our faith must come from a place of wholeness, a holy place for all people to gather around the table where Christ is serving a buffet of new possibilities.”
They changed their old habits, their old practices of faith that no longer worked. They opened their hearts to another way. The first Church, the Church born out of Pentecost, was darn near perfect. Everyone brought a dish for potluck meals. No one whined about sermons being too long or worried that receipts were lagging behind budget.
Then, somewhere along the way, we forgot our beginning. We, the Church, forgot how to be together. The Church became a physical position instead of a spiritual posture. Buildings became Church rather than the body of believers. In our efforts of doing Church, we forgot how to be the Church – a body willing to die and be reborn.
The body of Christ described in Acts was lean, agile and toned in all the right places. Everyone shared. Everyone let go of “me, me, me” for the sake of “we, we, we.” Like the first Church formed by the fiery Spirit of God, the Church today must remember that we are an organic body, not old brick buildings. The Church is not bound to one place, one space. And yet, these sacred spaces, these holy walls that we call Church hold energy.
Today, with our church buildings still empty and silent amid the COVID-19 crisis, we have missed the energy we experienced when we “came to church,” the lively buzzing of our body of Christ built up over time. These are the people we love, with whom we have shared hugs and hope along with our doubts and helplessness. These are the saints we have sat near week after week, those we sang with, those we cried beside. We miss gathering to worship God, to feel the Holy Spirit humming through our veins as we physically embraced our beloved sisters and brothers.
But now is the time for us to practice what we have been preaching all along. We must be born again. We must make babies. We must become a new body, a Church created in the image of God, sharing the love of Christ and carrying the fire of the Holy Spirit. We are not a building; we are a body. May we be a body in the infancy of innovative growth, a body vulnerable and yet powerful as the Church enters an unknown future full of new possibilities.
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