Kim: In the interest of full disclosure, I need to say this: This two-people sermon thing was not my idea. I tried it one other time and it didn’t go well…or at least not like I’d planned.I’m not saying I have control issues… Actually, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I have control issues. So, sharing a sermon—that’s not something I ever planned to do again.
But then Rochelle comes and says she wants to preach a sermon with me. If it were anyone else…but it’s Rochelle. So, I said yes.
Then, wouldn’t you know? The text we get for this tag-team sermon is the one about Nicodemus….the one where Jesus says, “You must be born again.” Last week I referred to the penchant of preachers in my denomination of origin always asking, “Do you know that you know that you know…?” One of their favorite ways to complete that question was: “Do you know that you know that you know that you’ve been born again?”
In fact, every sermon in that tradition ends with an invitation to be born again, or to “get saved.” They were really big on saying “once saved, always saved”….but then they kept asking us if we were surewe were saved. I was so confused! In truth, when it comes to being “born again,” I’m about as confused as Nicodemus was.
Kim, I hear what you’re saying and I know that you have experienced something that didn’t necessarily bring you closer to God or your faith. However, I believe when Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “born from above” he isn’t necessarily talking about that ‘born again’ experience that you and so many others have experienced – be it positive or negative. I feel in a way that I have been ‘born again’ because there are times, especially lately, when I have felt that God has renewed my soul, renewed my spirit. This renewal of my soul and my spirit have allowed my heart and my mind to explore God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and my faith in a whole new way.
God puts things in our path that help us grow and learn. These might be struggles or they might be joyous events but each one of them has the opportunity to renew our faith in God. This congregation has stood beside me through a celebration of a union, heartache at the loss of a relationship, joy at the promise of a new relationship, devastation at the loss of a pregnancy, struggling through infertility, celebrating with us as we enter the world of adoption, and all the while supporting my faith and reminding me that I was a child of God and that God is well-pleased with me.
Yesterday when the Pilgrimage Writing Group met, we discussed grief, sadness, and disappointments in our lives. As the group drew to a close, we all realized that even in the grief and sadness, we could find God in the midst of our faith. When I look back at the past 11 years that I have been a member at Pilgrimage, I never thought I would be standing here with you co-leading a sermon. Just like I bet Nicodemus never thought he would have the courage enough to meet Jesus at night in order to ask him questions and to learn.
The events in our lives that bring us to a new sense of self are a renewal or a rebirth.
That’s a helpful way to think about it! Being born again isn’t just a one-time thing—like it was in my denomination of origin. Being born again is a process. It’s like we’re born again over and over again.
There’s an idea I’ve learned from the Benedictines that sounds a lot like this. It’s called “conversion of life.” If we’re attuned to what’s going on in our lives and are trying to grow from each experience, then we undergo lots of little conversions all the time.
Like the one I experienced in seminary. Most of you know that I went to seminary to become a children’s minister….because that’s all I had seen women do in the church.For my degree program I had to take one communications course. Just for fun, I took Intro to Preaching to fulfill the communications requirement. We didn’t actually preach sermons in the class. It was lecture-only.
One day toward the end of the semester, I arrived early for a chapel service. Shortly after I sat down, my preaching professor, Dr. Bugg, slid into the pew beside me. He said: “Kim, I want you to take Preaching Practicum with me.” (That’s the class where we’d actually preach sermons.) “No,” I said. “I don’t need that class to graduate.” Undeterred, he said: “I’m going to be on sabbatical next year…So, think about it for a year, then see what you think.”
If Dr. Bugg hadn’t sat by me in chapel that day, if he hadn’t made a special effort to invite me to take his class, I neverwould have taken another preaching class in my life.
When he came back from sabbatical, I did take preaching with him….and was “re-born” as a preacher. Dr. Bugg was my first preaching “midwife.” He helped me in the arduous of process of giving birth to my true calling as a preacher. Thank God for Dr. Bugg!
I had a similar experience when it came to my being a teacher. I had the Dean of Students take me aside after a conference for freshmen that I had helped plan and he suggested that I think about teaching. If he had not had done that, I truly wonder if I would be a doctor right now instead of being up here with you.
Ok . . . so now that we have a working definition for being ‘renewed or reborn’, what happens next? As a child, we learned about the world as we grew and then what? Nicodemus’ faith also began to grow as he learned more from Jesus during their meeting. Then in John 7:45-52, Nicodemus’ faith blossoms and matures. When questioned about why they did not arrest Jesus, Nicodemus answers, ‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’ Nicodemus stands up for Jesus not only in public but also in front of the Pharisees. He was maturing in his faith.
Jen and I recently welcomed a new kitten, Olive, into our home. Watching her discover things for the first time has kept us entertained for hours. Seriously, who knew that stairs or shoelaces in my sneakers could be so much fun! Now, after the initial surprise of these new things has started to wear off, Olive has become bigger, bolder, and a little more mature. She is starting to challenge herself a little more. Instead of just running up and down the stairs, she has decided to see what it’s like to take them two at a time! She is still trying to make sure she is experiencing new things within the context of what she is comfortable with.
As I have matured in my faith, my path has changed. Just like I’m sure Nicodemus never thought when he was meeting Jesus under the cover of night that he would be brave enough to stand up for him in public. I never thought that I would be taking theology courses and standing up in front of my own congregation giving a sermon or organizing spiritual retreats for the women I worship with. Then it just happened. And now, just like my kitten Olive with the stairs and Nicodemus with the Pharisees, once you experience something that is a more developed, more mature self, what do you do with it?
I had discovered a love for and call to preaching, but I was Baptist at a time when the Southern Baptist Convention was in turmoil…and very unfriendly to women preachers. What was I to do? How was I to continue growing into my calling to preach?
The next midwife on my journey was the pastor of Virginia-Highland Baptist Church, Tim Shirley. I started attending Virginia-Highland after Allen and I got married. From the get-go, Tim invited me to preach. Often. He was the first pastor ever to invite me to preach in a church. And he always treated me as a professional and a colleague. He never was threatened by me and always was gracious. Without Tim’s invitations, without his confidence in me, without his grace, I never would have found my calling to pastor… I never would have found my calling to be your pastor.
So you have had someone, a midwife of sorts, help you through a process, a ‘rebirth’, that you never expected for yourself. You didn’t nor could you have done it alone. You needed a mentor. Same for me . . . only it’s been you and this congregation that have helped mentor me into my rebirth. Through small groups I have been a part of or different roles I have held in the church, every experience has shaped and formed me as I’m reborn in my faith. In the teaching world, we say that the best way to really learn something is to teach it. If you can wrap your brain around something so well to help someone else through the learning process, you have learned it. In our lives, we have all had some sort of mentor or midwife that has helped us, guided us, through something new. Given us strength to believe in ourselves and push us ever so gently into what God has intended for us in our lives. So, Nicodemus was first a ‘baby’ in his faith . . . meeting Jesus at night to ask questions and listen to his words. Then he finds the courage he needs to stand up for Jesus and his newfound faith . . . and then in Chapter 19, Nicodemus becomes a mentor. He and Joseph of Arimathea work together to do something uncomfortable and new – kind of like preaching a tag-team sermon J They do something so intimate and important – getting Jesus’ body ready for burial. But they do this scary and new thing TOGETHER. Nicodemus mentors Joseph and TOGETHER they prepare the body of their faith leader, their teacher, for burial.
Neither of them could ever go back to being the men they once were. They could never undo what they had learned or experienced. Instead, they needed to figure out how to live their lives in the presence of everything they had learned and experienced. They needed to grow into their new lives as mentors and teachers.
Yes…Nicodemus does become a mentor to Joseph—he brings the death spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. But Joseph is the one who thinks to go to Pilate and claim Jesus’ body…so maybe they were mentoring each other. Maybe they were midwifing each other as they each were being re-born into public disciples.
In many ways, through the midwifery of Dr. Bugg and Tim Shirley, I was able to claim my calling to become a preacher and a pastor. I, too, am now a midwife–over the years, I’ve been present for many re-births. It has been a joy to “attend” those re-births.
And, yes. Rochelle is one of the people I’ve “midwifed.” As a teacher of preaching, watching Rochelle grow into a seasoned preacher has been rewarding. Accompanying her, answering her questions, giving her opportunities to grow in her God-given gift of preaching—all that has been a blessing of the deepest sort.
Then she went and asked to preach a sermon together. (Sigh.) My first response (which I didn’t share with her) was: “It’s not going to work.And even if it did work, I don’t want to.” But, it’s Rochelle….so I decided to give it a try. I confess, though, that I wasn’t happy…
…until I asked Rochelle why she wanted to do this.“Why a tag-team sermon?” I asked. She said that often during my sermons, she has conversations with me in her head. She often sees things from a different perspective. “I thought it actually might be cool to do that out loud, to give people the chance to hear things from two perspectives in one sermon.’”
What she said made perfect sense. When she said it, I realized that I needed to get over myself. Much to my controlling little heart’s dismay, I don’t have a corner on the interpretive market when it comes to the Gospel. Every sermon doesn’t have to be of the tag-team variety…but sometimesit helps to hear the Gospel preached “in stereo.” Sometimes the message actually is stronger when we preach it TOGETHER rather than always going it alone.
Just look at what happens when Nicodemus and Joseph get together—they prepare Jesus’ body for burial….the burial that makes possible Jesus’ re-birth from flesh-and-blood human being to living Messiah three days later. Now, that’s interesting. I guess you could say that Nicodemus and Joseph become midwives for Jesus’ re-birth.
Which is what happens any time we attend each other’s spiritual re-birthing processes.Whenever we work together, whenever we accompany each other in whatever re-birthing process we’re going through, whenever we serve as midwives to each other, somehowJesus is born into our midst…again
Rochelle: …and again
Kim and Rochelle: …and again.
Kim: (Pause) In the name of our God,
Rochelle: who creates us,
Kim: redeems us,
Rochelle: sustains us,
Kim and Rochelle: and hopes for our wholeness. Amen!
Kimberleigh Buchanan and Rochelle Lofstrand © 2013