In the name of God, who gives us birth. Amen.
Today we’re celebrating the Feast of our Patron Saint – St. David.
As the story was told to me, some of the founding members of this worshiping community here in Kinnelon had visited Wales not too long before the congregation formed. And, as these Christians were organizing themselves into a church, the subject came up of what the name of the church should be. The travelers recognized how much the landscape of this area reminded them of the landscape in Wales, so it was suggested that this new church be called St. David’s – named after the patron saint of Wales.
It makes me wonder what our name might have been if they’d booked their vacation in Russia, or maybe South Africa…
But, even though “David” is an uncommon patron in the Episcopal Church – we’re the only “St. David’s” in our diocese, and there aren’t many across the whole of our denomination – I do think there is some grace that comes from intentionally encountering the story of David, and looking to that story as a way of ordering our own lives and this ministry we share.
David has been thought of as a sort of unlikely saint. He was certainly a pious man of devout religious practice – he founded a monastery and became its abbot. But there is no indication that he had any higher aspirations than that. He had accomplished his goal and was set to lead a small community of men who would live out their days ministering to their community and practicing lives of contemplative prayer.
But even without trying, word of his wisdom and grace must have gotten out. Because the bishops of the area, embroiled in conflict, turned to David to guide them toward resolution. By all accounts, David had no interest in helping them. He was content. The episode is typically spoken about with assertions that he was dragged into service against his will. Even so, he provided the leadership that these bishops needed. The Archbishop at the time was so impressed by him that he named him as his successor. From a lowly abbot of a local community to the Archbishop of Wales.
The thing about it is, David was faithfully ministering. He had brought together a community of Christians and he was leading them. You might think that that was enough. But even this man who was settled into his calling, found himself thrust again into new reaches of ministry that he hadn’t considered.
It was kind of like a rebirth.
In the Gospel lesson that we read today, we hear the story of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night to learn more about how he could live a more faithful life. He was already a man of faith – a Pharisee. But he could see through Jesus that God might have something more in store for him.
Jesus answers him by challenging him – “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” How can that be? We are born when our life begins, but how can we be born from above? We’ve already been born on earth.
Jesus knew what those bishops who pressed St. David into service knew – that these faithful men who had already devoted their lives to God, could be born into new depths and expressions of faith by hearing and responding to where God might be calling them next.
“Born again” isn’t an expression that I hear very much here in northern New Jersey, but where I grew up, in the Deep South, “born again” wasn’t just about a faith experience – it was a political affiliation. It said something about what you claimed to believe and who you claimed as your community. And, perhaps just as powerfully, it said something about who you were drawing the lines of your community around so that they would be excluded.
But this isn’t the kind of “born again” that Jesus called Nicodemus to, or that David encountered in being pressed into more significant service.
In those contexts, “born again” comes from the kind of rebirth that one experiences when uncovering new aspects of a relationship with Christ. “Born again” is like the kind of resurrection that comes when life is renewed.
I was telling Mary earlier this week: in a few months I will have been ordained for 14 years. Throughout that time, and through all of the five or so years that I was training for this life before that, I’ve heard a constant barrage of wailing about how the church is dying. It hasn’t been until just in the past year that I’ve finally started hearing organized conversations around looking for resurrection – looking for new life. And it’s exciting to be a part of these conversations!
We are people of resurrection, because we do know that death is real, but we also know that we worship a God who can even work through death to do something new – to bring us into deeper relationship with God and with each other.
That’s the kind of born again that Jesus asked of Nicodemus, and that David modeled for us.
In some ways we may be something like the David for whom we’ve been named. We are comfortable here. We are praying and we are ministering to our community. But what would it mean for this congregation to be called to something greater? What would it mean for us to be born again, like our ancestors in faith before us? What would it mean to live in such a way that we were always looking for signs of the resurrection that we say we believe?
We celebrate St. David’s Day by finding and recreating some expressions of the Welsh heritage of our patron. But let us also look to his life. And let us use this day to try to pattern our lives after his own. A life that was born again, from a life of admirable faithfulness, into a new life answering an even larger call.
Of one thing I am certain: God has never called us or anyone else to complacency. God is calling us to keep striving for something more. That’s what Jesus asked of Nicodemus. That what God, acting through the leaders of his time asked of David. How is God asking it of us? How can we, too, be born again? Amen.