As we head into the New Year I am reminded of the following story. There was a little boy with an ice-cream cone gets on a lift with his older sister. The ice cream begins to melt faster than he can eat it, and it's making a sticky mess down the side of the cone. The Lift stops, and an elegantly dressed lady in a full-length fur coat gets on. She turns and faces the door with the children standing behind her. The little bloke is now struggling to keep up with the melting ice cream. He looks at the back of the woman's beautiful coat and gently begins to wipe the ice cream off his hands and onto her coat. "Be careful, Billy," says his sister. "You will get fur in your ice cream."
This story illustrates for me the power of perspective and context. Sometimes how we see something depends upon where we stand. As we begin this New Year I’d like us to seek to live from the perspective of God's rich grace shown us in Jesus Christ. Although we are at the second Sunday of the season of Epiphany and even though the set reading is telling us of Jesus call to Philip and Nathanael I would like to look at the exchange between a man named Nicodemus and Jesus over religious matters.
In the conversation Jesus says something that has guided our faith ever since. "I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above," Jesus says (John 3:3). Nicodemus is confused and questions what Jesus means. It is a fair question. Just what does it mean to be "born from above," or to use the more familiar rendering, to be "born again"? In a word, it means to live with a new perspective.
Nicodemus had a problem, but it was not that he did not have religion. After all, he was a Pharisee, the most religious group in Jesus' world. The Pharisees knew all about religion and could recite the law. Their lives were dedicated to following the proscriptions of the Hebrew faith. Nicodemus' problem was not that he did not try to be good or religious or righteous. It was something else. To this religious man, Jesus says, "be born from above." Poor Nicodemus does not have a clue as to what Jesus means.
Sometimes we don't either. Jesus is inviting Nicodemus to live from the perspective of grace. Jesus' invitation is to discover a faith that carries you rather than a faith you have to carry. Jesus is talking about the amazing grace of God that, when we see it and experience it, makes all the difference in our lives. Do we see life as a prize that has to be won or as a gift to be received? Are our days spent trying to acquire more stuff or becoming aware that all we need has already been given to us by the gracious hand of a loving God? Into a world caught up in keeping the rules, Jesus invited people to embrace the lessons of grace.
When we become aware that life is a gift to be received rather than a prize to be won, we become freed to live by cooperation rather than competition. In this New Year this is the perspective I would like us all to embrace. What if we lived as though everything we need has already been provided for us? There is enough air, water, and food for all God's children. There is enough shelter, and Jesus tells us to not worry about your life.
In other words, God loves you and is looking out for your well-being. What a difference it makes to live from this idea with clothing, and money for all to live in comfort on this earth. We are challenged to live as if we are rich beyond measure, because we are held every moment in the hands of a love that will never let us go. Has there ever been better news than that?
There is enough, and we don't need to hoard or be fearful. We can share; we can give. There is enough. That is the perspective of grace. There is enough. We are invited to let that perspective birth us into a new way of living in this New Year. Be born again, and again, and again until grace fills every moment, every breath of your life, so you might show the world a new way of living.