Open Up, My Soul
February 20, 2005
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Jesus and Nicodemus
1After dark one evening, a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus, a Pharisee, 2came to speak with Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are proof enough that God is with you."
3Jesus replied, "I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God."
4"What do you mean?" exclaimed Nicodemus. "How can an old man go back into his mother's womb and be born again?"
5Jesus replied, "The truth is, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven. 7So don't be surprised at my statement that you must be born again. 8Just 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."
9"What do you mean?" Nicodemus asked.
10Jesus replied, "You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don't understand these things? 11I assure you, I am telling you what we know and have seen, and yet you won't believe us. 12But if you don't even believe me when I tell you about things that happen here on earth, how can you possibly believe if I tell you what is going on in heaven? 13For only I, the Son of Man, have come to earth and will return to heaven again. 14And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so I, the Son of Man, must be lifted up on a pole, 15so that everyone who believes in me will have eternal life.
16"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning. This morning our topic is “Open Up, My Soul.” Be open. Be open to God.
When I was a child, there was a favorite thing I used to do on rainy days. There was a spot, out toward a corner of the property where I lived, where a fence came together. At the bottom of the fence, whenever it rained, a wonderful pool of water would gather. Oh, I would say the main part of it was about the size of the piano, and there were other little ponds that would gather in the yard near the main pool. To my father, it was a drainage problem. But to me, that was my lake. I loved it! I almost looked forward to rainy days, because if it was a real good rain, I could go out and my lake would be really full.
We had a pile of wood near that lake, boards that my father used for construction. I’d try to build a little boat out of them and sail them on my lake. And I’d look at the little tributaries, the rivulets that fed it. I’d get down on the ground to study them. The grass shimmered beneath the surface of the water. The breezes that blew were fragrant with the air of spring. I’d watch the little blades of grass dancing underneath the water and think about how, in the winter, the ice would cover it over and the grass would be frozen underneath patterns of crystal.
I was a strange kid. I loved looking at things like that.
Let me tell you what I really liked to do. I’d take a shovel or a stick and make a rivulet between the other little ponds and the main lake. It felt so good when I got the pond open and could watch the water trickle along to the lake. Maybe you had games like that when you were a child.
There is something wonderful about opening up ways for the flow. I told you that story from my boyhood because maybe we need, today, to tell our soul to open up, to open up to God.
How is it going with your soul? Is it open, or is it constricted? We hear, in this morning’s gospel, a story about a man who had constriction of the soul. The gospel tells us that, by night, a man named Nicodemus came to Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, we are told. Now, this was one of the fellows whom Jesus was always being challenged by. He came by night -- he was sneaking in. He didn’t want anybody to see that he was a friend of this Jesus fellow. He came because he was curious; there was something about Jesus that was knocking at his door.
Nicodemus said to Jesus, “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.” I have a question for you – who is “we”? Nicodemus didn’t say “I know” – he said “we know.” Could it be that it was the group of Pharisees who were running the whole operation, the Sanhedra? Here is Nicodemus letting the cat out of the bag. He said, “Look, we know that we’re at odds with you, Jesus, but secretly, we know that you’re special.”
Now, wouldn’t you think that Jesus would have rewarded that? Wouldn’t you have expected Jesus to say, “Good idea, Nicodemus. You’re on the right track”? But His response is strange. Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Does that hang together for you? Is that an appropriate response to Nicodemus’s statement? Well, it was, because Jesus said it. But it isn’t apparent. Why? Here’s a clue: Nicodemus is saying, “Jesus, intellectually we can tell you who you are. You have to come from God. We think so.” And Jesus said, essentially, “Good, but not enough.”
It’s not enough to say that Jesus is a god, intellectually. What He wants us to do is say, “Jesus is of God, and because of that, I’m changed inside. Because of that, I am born again. That realization makes life new for me. Everything is different now. The flow is open between us and God.” That’s the key. That’s what being born again means. It means being born anew, in our minds, to know that there is more to life than meets the eye, and that the flow is open. That’s what Jesus wants – not simply intellectual assent, but the transformation of our soul. He wants us to be born again and again and again and again.
My question is this: do you need a born-again experience? Now, my friends, I don’t want to turn you off here. It’s important to have an initial born-again experience as you accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. That’s very important. I have that experience; you probably do, too. If not, it’s a great time to ask Him into your heart. But I believe that Jesus wants more than that. I believe He wants us to be born again and again and again, as we move stepwise up the mountain of faith – especially if our souls have become constricted, if we have become little pools that are not yet flowing to and from the big lake.
In your prayer life this week, I invite you to open up your soul, open up to God. Is your soul opened up to God’s mercy, grace, healing, love, and blessing? Or is it a little bit constricted? Do you ever work in the yard during the summer? You get the hose out, turn on the water, and realize that the water isn’t coming through, because there’s a crimp in the hose. You go and straighten it out, and there’s a flow. Are there crimps in the hose of our soul?
What are some of the things that can prevent the flow of God’s goodness, love, grace, power, and healing? One of them is fear. Is fear putting a crimp in the hose of the flow? I tell you this – the silliest things I have ever done in my life, some of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made, are because of fear. I was afraid that there wouldn’t be enough, or I was afraid of what people would say, or I was afraid that I just wouldn’t succeed. And those are the things that I focused on as I made a mistake, instead of having faith that we are loved by an infinitely powerful God with infinitely powerful love. Let faith replace fear. The crimp is fear; the open door is faith. Oh, that is my prayer for you, that faith would replace the unnecessary fear in your life. Open up, my soul; open up to God.
What else is a crimper? Grudges and unwillingness to forgive put a crimp in the flow of being born again and again. When we hold a grudge, when we hold hard feelings toward someone, it blocks the flow of God’s love in our lives. When we do not forgive ourselves for mistakes or for bad choices, it puts a crimp in the flow of God. Let forgiveness reign in your life. Let it go to God, and let the power of God’s love and energy flow within you.
And what’s another crimp? Feeling as though you’re going it alone, feeling as though God doesn’t have a place in your life. Oh, the third door opener is the Father. My friends, please know that you do not act alone, but the very power of God is empowering you as you are born again and again and again into the flow of God’s mercy, power, love, and healing.
Jesus speaks about this in verse 8: “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.” Jesus is pointing to the invisibility of God, yet the power of God. Wind is invisible but powerful. You have the power of God flowing within you, blessing you. God is not only “out there”; He is also “in here”, lifting you up and giving you the courage to live life in an abundant way.
And so, my dear friends, as you go into this week, I invite you to be open to the flow of God’s possibilities.
In closing, out on the lawn of our church you’ll see a sign this morning. “Yes, we are open Sundays.” It’s a gentle joke. But the church is open Sundays so that all of us can be open all week to the flow of God’s mercy, grace, love, and healing. May you be open to it this week. Because God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2005 Anthony J. Godlefski