top of page

Why we need to be born again?

Rev. Harry Currie

Mar 10, 2024

Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:1-21

I was in high school. I don’t know what it was about me, but I was always a little susceptible to bullies. I was small. I was a class ahead in school, so I was the youngest in the class.        When other teenagers started to look like men, I still looked a boy.

And I grew up in farming country in New Brunswick where fighting to prove yourself was quite common. And I had a couple of boys who were always mean to me. Always wanted to fight with me. And I didn’t like to fight and didn’t want to fight.

One day one of the boys was being mean to me, so I called him a name. I mustered up what I thought the meanest thing I could say to him, and I used a word that nobody even will say anymore. I used a racial slur for black people.

I confess to growing up in a white culture where only two children in our school were not white.

I grew up playing cowboys and Indians, where the Indians were the bad people and the cowboys were the good people. I knew nothing about colonization and cultural genocide of Aboriginal peoples.

Racial jokes and slurs were quite common. Granted my mother and grandparents would not have approved of what most of the kids in my school of my generation and culture would say. But the fact was, it was quite common to be racist, and yet to not think we were racist. The two black brothers who attended our school were our friends. But it didn’t stop us from calling each other racial slurs and telling racial jokes.


I say this because I believe I was steeped in the sin of racism. I was steeped in sin.

       I believe that Racism is ugly and evil and brutal and obscene, but nearly all of us have been steeped in it, as part of our culture and upbringing.

       And we need God’s forgiveness, God’s love, and God’s power.

We need to be born again to a new way of understanding, a new way of living, a new way of including, and a new way of loving.


And so, when Nicodemus, the Pharisee comes to see Jesus and Jesus is saying that he must be born again, Jesus does not mean that Nicodemus must become a Christian.


And yet that is what I was taught at one time. I used to quote that verse:

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

I used to put my own name in it.

16 ‘For God so loved Harry that he gave his only Son, so that if Harry believes in him Harry may not perish but may have eternal life.

I was led to believe that if you just believe in Jesus, you will go to heaven. I was taught this verse summed up the whole bible. Believe in Jesus and go to heaven.


But when you read the gospels and read the gospel of John and read the bible, I believe that this verse is taken out of context.

Granted we Christians believe that after we die, we go to be with God and to be in God’s love. It is a great comfort to us.

But when Jesus talked about being born again, or born from above, he wasn’t talking about being a Christian, or making it to heaven.


What Jesus was talking about was transformation. About dying to an old way of life and trusting Jesus enough to live Jesus’s way of life. And Jesus’ way of life is abundant life, or life eternal. It is life with the quality of God.

       Eternal life is not how long you live, but life with the quality of God’s eternity.

       In the other three gospels it is often called, the kingdom of God, or the Reign of Christ,

It is what life would be like if God’s love ruled, if God’s reign of love came on earth as it is in heaven.


And we desperately need to be transformed. And rather than speak about all the ways we need to be transformed and born again today; I want to narrow it down to one issue… Racism. Just one of the reasons we need to be born again.

              February was black history month. Racism is an ongoing systemic problem. We have war in the middle east and acts of prejudice and violence against Jews and Palestinians. We had Muslim family in London, Ontario, run down by a homegrown Canadian terrorist. In many places being black and being stopped by white police is terrifying.


And while as a white person, I may not be the best person to preach about Racism, I think you will have heard hardly any sermons about racism.

       I think it is one aspect of our Christian life where we need to be born again, transformed. We need to die to racism and be born again to include and love.


And the place to start is with confession. Spend some time in prayer and think back to how you grew up, how you were tainted by racism, in what ways you participated consciously or unconsciously in your acts of racism or your culture’s acts of racism.

       Ask God for forgiveness. Ask God to change you. Ask God if you are even free of racism. Racism was the air I breathed in high school. It was the culture I grew up in, even though I thought I wasn’t racist. Even though I had black friends. It is a life-long process being born again. And it is a process of surrendering to the Holy Spirit.


The first lesson is this. We are all tainted by racism in various ways. You grew up in a culture that was racist, a system that was racist. You probably hurt people by racism. It is possible that some here have been victims of racism. We are all tainted by sin. We need to be born again.

I learned something new just the other night. While I assumed that racism is just prejudice or hatred towards people of different races, and there are certainly those who would maintain that definition, the Alberta Civil Liberties Union says that Racism is different than racial prejudice. Racial prejudice is hatred or discrimination or prejudice towards those of a particular race. Racism is the power to carry out systemic discrimination though policies and practices that adversely affect people of a different race.

And while I might think I am not racist, I have been part of a system for years that gave me as a white person more privilege. Even our culture and system needs to be born again.


When I was 17, I spent a year in Bible School in Missouri. It was considered the South. I spent most of my time on campus. I had a few trips away. It was probably one of my first real experiences of living where there were communities of people of colour.

I spent a number of weeks in Des Moines, Iowa where my former pastor from Saint John, New Brunswick was now the minister and his son and daughter were my good friends.

We had access to an old car and we drove all over the city exploring. One time we got lost. We got lost and we were in a poor part of town, and we were afraid. We were afraid because we were the only white people in that part of town. And we were probably right to be afraid. We would later be told that it wasn’t safe to be in that part of town as white teenagers.

       It might have been the first time I was afraid because of the colour of my skin.

And that is only the tiniest fraction of what blacks have had to endure in North America. Being afraid because of the colour of their skin.

Second Lesson. Fear of “the other” cuts all ways and does damage to all relationships. Not only do I have to be born again to being a safe place for people of colour, to the LGBTQ+ folks, to first nations people, I have to realize that it is only natural for them to be afraid of my whiteness, or my straightness, and what that represents to them. I have to be born again to love, and to let love overcome fear, and demonstrate that I am safe to those who are different. And I have to be aware that even though I am trying to loving and inclusive and not prejudiced, I am still part of a system and culture that still hurts people who are minorities; and hard at it might be, I need to be working towards the death of a system that is racist.


When I was on study leave one time in the United States a Black minster was sharing about his life. He had spent a while as a youth minister at Riverside Church, a huge church in New York which had about 60 staff. He was in the elevator one time dressed casually to meet with a youth group. One of the senior ministers got on the elevator and according to the Black Minister, this senior white minister didn’t recognize him.

And the white minister thought the black minister was cleaning staff. He turned, smiled and said: ‘There’s a clogged toilet down the hall from my office. I’d be grateful if you could fix it this morning.’


Lesson three. Stop making assumptions about “the other.” …assumptions that come through the unconscious lessons we learned growing up. Talk to people, listen to people and learn about people. Do not assume you know them or their stories. We need to die to assumptions and be born again to hear each other’s stories.


This is a story from Parker J. Palmer, an author, a retired professor and a Quaker, from many years ago.

My field work assignment involved spending several hours every weekend with junior high students from Spanish Harlem, mixing Sunday School lessons in with sports. I was a privileged, well-educated, young white man with a big ego and a strong sense of mission. Though I had zero experience in the trenches with “otherness,” I was quite certain I knew things these kids needed to know. So, I sat them down and gave them talks that might have been OK as comments in a seminary class where everyone knew the big words and was at least mildly interested in the subject. But with these young people, my talks fell far short of OK — so short that they turned the tables and KO’d me.

For five weeks running, they destroyed my lesson plans and my self-confidence in ways well-known to beleaguered teachers — ignoring me, rolling their eyes, whispering, laughing when I tried to restore order, etc. It hurt and hurt big-time, and it was my fault. I was trying to colonize them with ideas that mattered to me but were utterly irrelevant to their challenging young lives, and they were resisting with the only weapons they had.

During our sixth session, I went down for the count: I wept in front of my students, wept long and hard. Then came the miracle: when these youngsters saw the fear and pain hidden behind my bravado, they began to care for me. My lessons made no sense to them, but vulnerability was something they knew from the inside out. Without knowing it, they became my teachers, showing me how shared brokenness can lead to compassion, mutual learning, and community.

Fourth Lesson. We need to die to the arrogance that thinks we know what the other needs. We need to be born again to humility and to be willing to be a joint learner with those who are different. We all have a lot to learn.


Today I encourage you to believe in Jesus. But I don’t mean believe that there is a Jesus, or believe certain things about Jesus.

For instance if I ask you “Do you believe in Fiona?’  (my wife) What will you reply?


What do you mean?  You say

Do you believe in Fiona?  I persist.

You reply:  “I believe there is a person called Fiona who happens to be your wife.”


Yes, I reply, but that is believing there is a Fiona.  I am talking about believing in Fiona.  I believe in Fiona.  In response to the love and grace she has shown me.  I believe in her as a person to trust, a person to love.  A person to share with, in whom to confide.  I believe in her as a person who loves and cares deeply for me and my family.

       I believe that knowing her enriches my life, and so I listen to her words or counsel, and her words of comfort, and her words of correction and her words of love.

       I have relationship with Fiona.  I believe in her.


In the same way I think we need to believe in Jesus. Believe in Jesus enough to trust him, to live his way, to include others, to share with others, to forgive others…


And today we need to believe in him so much that we die to racism and be born again to love one another, including everyone who is different. Born again to dismantle the systems and power structures of racism and othering.

       I believe that is why Jesus was crucified. He was crucified by the religious and political systems of his day, because he wanted to dismantle the systems that were prejudiced, corrupt, unjust, exclusive, racist and gave power to a few, and privileged certain people and disadvantaged others.

       God loved the cosmos. God loved the whole world. Everyone.


       Look around you in this sanctuary. There are people of different races, different skin colours, different abilities, different genders, different theologies, different lifestyles, and different sexual orientations.


Fifth Lesson. They are your brothers and your sisters in Christ. They are your fathers and mothers and children in Christ. They are your aunties and uncles and cousins in Christ. They are your grandparents and grandchildren in Christ.

       Jesus loved the whole world, and died for everyone, that we would be born again into a new community of inclusion and love, where those who are “other” are actually one family, our family.   Amen.

bottom of page