I have to use some photos from last week and other sthat you may have not seen. My MOM spent a good part of her Saturday in a meeting in Salt Lake and then in a doctor office for some time also. So there was no hiking adventure with pictures to go with today's message. So let's get to it shall we.
Sometimes what we think is most familiar is also the most unknown.
It's easy to get comfortable, to get in a rut. Thinking “outside the box” requires flexing some mental muscles, pushing out the walls of thoughts and expectations we find reassuring and familiar. There is perhaps no more faith-defining expression in Western Christianity than the concept of being “born again.” After two millennia it's a phrase that is so familiar it has become unknown.
In the first century, to the Pharisee Nicodemus, Jesus’ insistence that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” sounded utterly bizarre. The term Jesus used to describe this required rebirth was “anothen,” a word that had two distinct meanings. “Anothen” could be understood to mean “again,” or it could mean “above.” “Anothen” had both a horizontal (this-world) and a vertical (heavenly) connotation.
But Nicodemus simply could not accept any way of entering into the kingdom, of experiencing God’s presence, other than adherence to the Torah. By clinging to the literal, Nicodemus sought security and refuge in his old belief system which protected him from the notion that God had sent a new presence into the world, a new possibility, Jesus the Christ. To the left-brain literal mind, the metaphor of being “born again” was ridiculous.
One of the hottest areas of religious research right now is neuroscience and theology. The modern mapping of the human brain’s activities by neuroscience and psychoneurolinguistics has revealed that our brains have learned to delegate. The brain itself has bicameral hemispheres, divided by a membranous cartilage known as the “corpus callosum:” essentially we have a “left brain” and a “right brain.” This division is not a “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” kind of segregation. There is always intimate communication between the two halves through the left and right brain. Together these dual strengths have given us astonishing advances in science, the beauty of art, structures for politics and power, and the magic of music.
When Jesus announces that God is working in a new way, through the “water” of the new birth and through the winds of a new spirit, Nicodemus cannot get beyond the rational literalism of his left brain, and utters one of the most uncomprehending statements in all of the Bible: “How can this be? Must I enter my mother’s womb a second time and be born?”
Twenty centuries later, the Church has fallen back into the original confusion that "Nick-by-night" showcased with Jesus. But even as the church has claimed the “born again” label, we are still stuck in "Nick-by-night mode". We still want to limit our faith to logic and reasonableness, to what we think and intellectually comprehend. That is why churches have more by-laws than by-products. That is why we cling to doctrines and dogmas instead of promises and possibilities. That is why “church” is a noun, not a verb.
Instead of pitting our “left” brains against our “right” brains, the children of God’s creation need to embrace their “whole brains.” Hope for right-brained people comes from the fact that Nicodemus eventually defended Jesus, and ultimately joined with Joseph of Arimathea in claiming Jesus’ body, providing the Messiah with a respectable burial. Nicodemus might not have given up being a Pharisee. He embraced the message and mission of Jesus and dared to be registered on the radar of both Jewish and Roman both by defending Jesus and by helping to claim the body of an executed criminal of the Empire. Nicodemus had finally “let go” of his former worldview with its boundaries and barriers.
“Letting go” is not just a mantra for college kids on Spring Break. “Letting go” is what Christians need to embrace every day of their lives. Instead of trusting in “make-sense” reason and sensible logic, we need to trust equally in our sense of awe, our sense of mystery, our sense of beauty, our sense of the divine. “Letting go” is what disciples of Jesus should do best.
MOM took her youth to see the movie Frozen. “Let It Go” is the theme song of this movie and is sung at the moment in the movie that the eldest daughter of the King and Queen, Elsa, flees her kingdom for the mountains to isolate herself and let go of the rigid expectations of not revealing her “gift.”
Elsa's “gift” is that everything she touches turns to ice. Her parents taught her that her gift was a menace to others, and so she had to hide it her whole life and suppress her true self. As a result she wrapped her hands in gloves and did the same to her heart. She rejected relationships, especially with her sister, Anna.
After the King and Queen died, Elsa was crowned Queen. At the coronation, her "gift" was accidentally revealed and she fled her sister and her kingdom and went to be alone in the mountains where she could use her gift freely. Elsa doesn't understand her true gift until the end of the film, when a gesture of true love changes everything she knows to be true.
Anna had been accidentally stricken by Elsa's freezing power. If the cold gets to your heart, you can’t be healed: Anna was slowly dying as the coldness approached her heart. Although her true love is on his way to save her, when Anna sees that Elsa is threatened, Anna steps in front of her sister to save her. As she does she turns to ice. But when Elsa is thrown out of her "icy" isolation and throws her loving arms around the frozen figure of Anna, her tears melt the ice that enwraps and entraps Anna, and Elsa’s own heart is melted as well.
Her power which she thought must be hidden was the exact thing that could heal. In breaking free of her isolation (ice-olation), Elsa saves herself, her sister, her kingdom, and all are reunited. At that moment, Elsa realizes that her gift depends on her spirit. If she uses her gift in love, and not ice-olation, she can melt all the ice of the frozen kingdom, and make beauty through love instead of coldness. Love is the stuff of life, of relationships, and of true beauty.
In many ways, the “Let it Go” theme of Frozen is the story of Nicodemus. Jesus is encouraging Nicodemus and the Nicodemus in all of us to “Let It Go.” We must let go of our control, let go of our fear, let go of our cold certainty and yield to God’s Spirit.
Love and relationships must trump fear. Spirit is everything. Jesus challenges Nicodemus to enter into a new dimension, to be born of the Spirit, to trump his fear and allow his spirit to be changed. But to open ourselves up to the mystery of the Holy Spirit, we must let go of our fear of the unknown, the untested, the unexamined.
I think control is the major thing that prevents us from "stepping to the right.” In the movie Frozen, Elsa’s obsessive control prevents her from freeing up her gift to be the healing and loving touch it was meant to be. Nicodemus's ice is his rationality, his left-brained logic and control. He is stuck in a left-brain paradigm when God has given us two-brains for a reason, and wants us to be whole human beings. If we dwell only in our left brain, that is a very cold place indeed. Our left brain is our place of cold rationality. Our right brain is our place of hot relationality. Warmth comes from bringing the hot and the cold together, the warm place where we feel ourselves open to the mystery, the beauty, and creativity of the Holy Spirit.
And finally we need to let go is our certainty. Not let go of assurance, but certainty. There is a big difference between assurance and certainty. We can have full assurance of faith but with our faith harboring much uncertainty.
God cares less about what we know than about how we love and whom we love. And love is not about certainty or security. We cannot be “certain” about God; we can only be in relationship with God. To be born of the Spirit means to allow the spirit of Christ to live inside of you. Are you willing to let go of your certainties of who God is and what God can do?
All babies are born with clenched fists. Growing up is the process of relaxing your hand, unfurling your fingers, and opening your heart…in love and relationship. We are born with a grasping reflex. We have to learn a yielding reflex…to let go of control, let go of fear, and let go of certainty. Let it go. Let go to God.