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A Renovation of Our Heart

A Life Worth Living - Sermon #03 - A Renovation of Our Heart

Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • May 07, 2017 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor

 

Preamble

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time, 100th or 1000th, we are honored that you are here today. Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, because you listen to the podcast, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful for the gift that you are. We pray for you before each celebration that you would experience welcome, acceptance, and peace. We also hope that you will find a little bit of space today to have a transformative encounter with the living presence of the loving God during your time with us!

 

Be Born Again

I want to continue our series, “A Life Worth Living” by revisiting the exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus.

 

If you have a Bible, a Bible app, or if you have already committed the entire text to memory, we will start reading in John chapter 3, verse 1 through verse 4. Page 727 in the House Bibles.

 

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.3Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” 4“How can anyone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:1-4, pg 979)

 

Jesus uses a metaphor here, “being born again,” to alert Nicodemus, a religious leader who had dedicated his entire life to God that he had to start over. Jesus was saying that everything that Nicodemus had done up to this point was not enough. Nicodemus had to become like a newborn in order to learn a new language, new practices, and new ways of seeing, hearing, experiencing, and connecting with God already present and at work.

 

Nicodemus was trying to earn his way to God, Jesus was saying God is already present. But for Nicodemus that was not how God worked. (You can start to see how they were at an impasse.) Jesus was revealing the very God that Nicodemus had spent his entire life serving, but Nicodemus could not see it or understand it. For Nicodemus and us, Jesus wants us to get caught up in the goodness of God that produces joy and invites and welcomes the renovation of our heart by the Spirit of God. Maybe this is why Jesus says,

 

5Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5–8)

 

This renovation of our heart by the Spirit will expose to us the ways that we have traded in the good and beautiful life by believing and trusting the lies and false promises of the Empire, instead of the goodness of God.

 

In many ways, we are just like Nicodemus, we serve our already constructed picture or image of God, and God be damned, if God shows up and does something different or new.

 

Jesus calls us, this followers, to live counter-culturally in the world. Love your neighbor as yourself, and love your enemies too. Develop deep empathy for others because you have been deeply loved. Develop self-awareness, so that you can see yourself soberly as someone who needed to loved; some worthy of love. When you fail, which you will, do not be afraid, God still loves you. Admit your wrongs, your missing of the mark, your sins and repent, make amends where necessary and seek forgiveness always. When you are wronged or hurt, don’t seek revenge, instead work to forgive, as you have been forgiven. Trust in God, seek humility, and be faithful.

 

But when we think Jesus is just being unreasonable or overbearing we fail to realize that Jesus is trying to heal the world using us. He’s not just healing the world, he’s healing us and through us, he’s is healing the world. Our being born again starts with our surrender, but it has to involves our transformation too.

 

How can we start to trust and believe that our transformation is taking place or happening? We need space for introspection. We need to space to pay attention to what is happening with us. We need to be attentive to the slow and steady work of the Spirit.

 

Now, I have a hard question for us, “Are you experiencing joy?”

 

You may be asking, what’s joy got to do it? Well, I think our experience of joy can be a helpful indication of whether we are living “abundant lives” or lives that are just full (with stuff).

 

To Come Alive, Fully Alive

Jesus says something in Matthew 13:44 that’s striking,

 

44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. (Matthew 13:44)

 

I love that the emotion that Jesus describes is “joy” when talking about what someone has when they discover the goodness of God.

 

Joy.

 

Many of us are just eking out these quiet lives of desperation, trapped in false narratives about ourselves and God; where we are experiencing more of the fruit of the Empire (fear, exhaustion, anger, emptiness, lust, apathy, shame, greed, and envy) than we are of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).

 

If we are experiencing more fruits of the Empire than of the Spirit. We find ourselves just like Nicodemus needing to be born again. “But wait,” you said, “I’m already saved. I’ve been saved for years.” Well, in one sense, so was Nicodemus, and Jesus said he needed to be born again.

 

I’m right here with some of you. This is an area of personal growth for me. As God has been personally revealing to me that I’ve been experiencing more of the fruit of the Empire than of the Spirit. I’m being invited to change. I’m being invited to be born again. To be born of the Spirit, which is allowing me to see how I have traded in the fruit of the Spirit for the fruit of the Empire. One of the ways I’ve accepted the Empire’s narrative is regarding my working life. The Spirit is inviting me into more rest. This is hard for me because I live with a narrative that says that my worth is tied up in what I produce and accomplish. A spiritual friend has been reminding me over and over again that God does not call me to success, only to faithfulness, which ironically is a gift of the Spirit. To continue to push in here, a pastor friend recently said, “You won’t go to hell for failing to keep the Sabbath, but you sure might live in hell without one.”

 

This is why I say that we do not understand what it means to be born again. Many of us have been taught that being born again is just about saying a prayer of surrender, “Jesus, I give my life to you.” We do that once, and we think it’s done. But following Jesus is about surrendering daily. We have to die daily.

 

23Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23–24)

 

If it is true that we give our life to Jesus, then I think we have to ask, “Are we being obedient to him?” Sometimes, I think we think Jesus wants a sacrifice from us, when what he really wants is our obedience. Are we doing the things that Jesus commands us to do (love our enemies, serve the poor, trust God) so that we can learn to trust ourselves to the God he called Father.

 

That is not to say that there will not be trouble in this life, in fact Jesus warns us,

 

33“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

 

But we have to reject the notion that joy and hardship are mutually exclusive. There are not. We can experience joy in the midst of hardship. As we allow the Holy Spirit to renovate our heart by offering ourselves to God, the Spirit will help us see ourselves and will expose the lies of the Empire.

 

We cultivate joy through gratitude. It’s not that joy makes us grateful, it’s that gratitude makes us joyful. Our joy springs up from our gratefulness. You can be the most successful person in world, but if you take your success for granted, your success will not make you joyful. Joy is that extraordinary happiness that is independent of what happens to us. It’s a way of seeing ourselves with our prophetic imagination, invoking a way of seeing ourselves, not as we are, but as we are in Christ, being transformed in the loving presence of the living God. Joy can’t be manipulated because it is a gift from God and a product of our relationship and dependence on God. Joy is therefore a relationship word. To be grateful is to be dependent. Our gratitude lays waste to the idea that we are all self-sufficient. Because gratitude helps us see that we are dependent on others and on God. In order to have joy, we have to change the way we live.

 

The culture of the Empire wants us to be unsatisfied. How many commercials have you watched lately that tell you that you’re okay, that your life is okay, and there’s nothing more that you need acquire? See, the Empire knows that we are desiring beings, so one of the ways that the Empire exploits this is by filling us with anxiety. FOMO. The fear of missing out. Everyone likes a deal, so we sign up for coupons, then marketers fill our email inboxes with daily reminders that we are not enough. To make ourselves feel better, we should treat ourselves to some great meal, a great outfit, or a great destination. Do you know the end point? Non-stop and constant consumption. Endless consumption is not a fruit of the Spirit. Neither is working to exhaustion to buy the things that the Empire says that you need. Neither of these things are fruits of the Spirit.

 

This is why Jesus says we have to be born again. We have to born of the Spirit because only the Spirit will expose to us how we have accepted the Empire’s worldview over and against God’s view of us and our lives. This takes a renovation of our heart.

 

What is needed: a Jesus Narrative

In order to agree to a renovation, a painful and often messy experience, full of upheaval,   we have to trust the builder. Because it does us no good if we are trying to renovate ourselves. That’s what Nicodemus was trying to do and Jesus said it wasn’t working. We must allow God to work God’s transformation in us. This starts with a completely revised picture of God. We need to experience God as Jesus does. Jesus knows his Father as good and beautiful. He held onto this view of God, even as he experienced the shame, pain, and separation of the Roman cross.

 

Jesus is the living revelation that God is good.

 

31What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32)

 

God doesn’t need anything from us, friends, but he has everything we need.

 

It’s like...

 

44“a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. (Matthew 13:44)

 

Practical Tip

God wants to fill us, renew us, and transform us but many of us have accepted the Empire’s narrative over and against God’s narrative for our lives. Think of this way, you have a cup in front of you. What’s in your cup? Is it already full of the fruits of the Empire? If so, how can you receive what God has for you in God’s kingdom?

 

Here’s what I want us to do. We have a few stations of dirt around the cup and some cups. I want to invite you as you come up for communion to grab a cup and fill it with dirt. Let’s assume that the dirt represents the lies from the Empire that we have accepted. This week, put this cup somewhere you can see it. Then take time in the presence of God and ask God to reveal to you how you may have accepted the lies of the Empire over and against the promises of God found in his Kingdom. As the Spirit reveals things to you, ask the Spirit to forgive you and to replace the things you have accepted from the Empire with the Fruit of the Spirit. As you feel led, empty the cup representing your repentance, creating space for God to fill you with God’s Spirit and Kingdom.

 

Here’s a bonus, you could take the dirt, and plant a seed in it, and then watch over this growing season as the seed transforms the dirt into nutrients and brings something new to life. God is transforming us, and are you open or closed to his work of the Spirit?

 
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