“A Second Life” A Sermon Preached by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau John 3:1-17 Do you remember some of the childhood games that you played? Did you ever play dress-up, or make-believe? Did you go into your parents‟ closets or bureaus and take some of their clothes to make your “costumes?” Did you go into the garage, or the attic or cellar to get various old objects to be your props? Did you create a whole make- believe world for your games? My brother and I used to play all kinds of games with the other kids in the neighborhood. I can remember playing cops and robbers, and the ... oh so politically incorrect ... cowboys and Indians. Of course, our favorite game was army. Costumes were not really necessary, we could fashion guns out of any number of sticks, and we could build forts and bunkers all through the woods behind the house. As time passed, technology and capitalism threw their hats into the let‟s play make-believe ring. EZ Bake ovens and Fisher Price kitchens made it easier for children to play house. Any number of costumes and toy guns of every size and shape hit the market making stick guns obsolete. Of course, the advent of the internet and super technology has created a whole new world of make-believe ... literally. Have any of you ever heard of Second Life? I had never heard of it until I read about it last week. If you still cannot figure out how to program your dinosaur of a VCR ... if you even OWN a VCR ... then Second Life will likely stagger you. In SL, you can use L$ (“L” Bucks) to trick out your avatar “inworld” and teleport them all over the grid. What was that? While that may sound like gibberish to most of us, it is common vernacular … modus operandi … to the one million plus “Residents” of Second Life (or SL for short). Created in 2003 by Linden Labs, SL is the Internet animated equivalent of “playing make-believe” that most of us did as pre-World wide Web kids. SL Residents create an avatar — or virtual 3D character — that represents them “inworld” or “on the grid” in the SL 3D world. Characters can teleport instantly all around the SL universe, from stores to homes to vacation resorts to entertainment venues. SL is not a game, it is an online environment in which Residents live, play and in some 2 cases work through their avatar‟s second life. Lest you think that this is all fun and games, let me assure you that there is a financial interest in Second Life. The economy of SL is powered by Linden dollars (or L$) which Residents purchase from Linden Labs with real world dollars. Those L$ are used to purchase virtual goods for use inworld, including land, buildings, vehicles and any manner of consumer products, as well as character enhancements such as custom animations, clothing, hairstyles and jewelry. This may be the purest instance of “art imitates life.” SL has its own time zone called „SLT‟ so that everyone in-world can be on the same clock despite their location in the real world. There are in-world businesses turning real-world profits through the sale of virtual goods. Sweden, Estonia and Colombia have SL Embassies where visitors can talk to ambassador avatars about visas and trade issues. Reuters has a virtual news bureau that disperses real-world news feeds into SL. Even Christianity has found a place in SL. LifeChurch is an evangelical, multi- site church in Oklahoma with eleven campuses or congregations. Their twelfth site is the Internet Campus, which creates an online community including an SL location called Experience Island. Their philosophy of ministry, or SL apologetic if you will, reads: “We desire to engage people right where they are (physically or virtually), and Second Life represents a new frontier in that effort. Because the Second Life environment uses avatars, people are able to remain relatively anonymous. We find that this creates a less threatening environment where people are much more willing to explore and discuss spiritual things.” While living like a rock star or having a Christian conversation might not be something an SL player would do in the real world, SL does allow people to act out the character they would love to be in the real world. The grid allows the “what if‟s” of the imagination to be played out virtually. Are you thinking that the Residents of in-world need to get outworld, and get a life ... and not a Second Life? That may very well be. However, there is something very real happening here ... or there. People seem to enjoy playing out alter identities that they cannot live in real life. 3 I bring up this example, because on one level, this seems to be the case for Nicodemus in this week‟s text. Nicodemus was sneaking out at night to have a conversation with a counter-cultural „avatar‟ named Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, he might have found himself quite comfortable talking about faith at Experience Island, although he had questions that his real- world day job prevented him from asking. Nicodemus was an intriguing character who led two lives. On one hand, he was a Pharisee and a leader of the Jews (v. 1), meaning he had his doctrinal eye on the Galilean. Any Pharisee with Israel‟s best in mind would be cautious toward Jesus at best, and would publicly oppose him at worst. But on the other hand, Nicodemus was privately curious about the rabbi, recognizing that somehow his teachings and works stemmed from God (v. 2). Like most people living two lives, Nicodemus pursued his more questionable ventures at night — out of sight of the public audience. In his case, his racy or questionable behavior was merely spiritual curiosity. Over time, we know that Nicodemus was changed by his relationship with Christ. In John 7, Nicodemus was still leading his two lives. He did not publicly challenge the notion that a Pharisee could never believe in Jesus (v. 49), but he did defend Jesus‟ right to be heard (vv. 50-51). But by the end of Jesus‟ life, Nicodemus seemed to have ended his duplicity. No longer going to Jesus at night, he helped lower Jesus‟ body from the cross, he anointed and buried Jesus in the full light of day (John 19:39-42). He had left the life of caution and uncertainty, and had stepped into a true second life as one who believed out in the light of day. Was there something that Jesus did that caused a skeptic on the sidelines to become a devoted mourner of his death? What could Jesus have said that would so radically change a person? The answer is “anothen.” The word “anothen” appears three times in this chapter to refer to spiritual life change. Those who claim they are “born-again” Christians are using the word ... and if not misusing it, at least incompletely using it. Consult any respectable Greek lexicon and you will find three basic meanings for anothen: 1) from above; 2) from the beginning, or from the first; 3) again, anew. Many scholars think these meanings were being word-played in Nicodemus‟ 4 confusion of Jesus‟ statements. Jesus said, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born anothen — from above” (v. 3). Nicodemus wondered how you can be born again, or a second time (v. 4). Jesus understood Nicodemus‟ take on anothen as part of his disbelief, so he answered him by emphasizing the keys to the kingdom — life transformation. Jesus was talking about an invisible birth from above that creates visibly changed life here on earth. Jesus was probably appealing to any number of Old Testament references to water and spirit together, such as Ezekiel 36. A teacher of the Law would have been familiar with them. According to biblical scholar D.A. Carson, these references, “signify cleansing from impurity” and “the transformation of the heart that will enable people to follow God wholly.” In other words, a regeneration. A new beginning. A second life ... from God and for God. Jesus was telling Nicodemus that his two lives were not going to cut it. But he did need a second life. Theologically, perhaps it would be better to say he needed a new life. Nicodemus was already leading two lives. So he did not need a second life; he did not need to get a life, or another life. He needed a new life. He needed to transform his old life … he needed to be born again from above. Born anothen. For Jesus, being born anothen would be as evident as the wind (v. 8). You cannot control it or see it, but you know it is at work. It is as obvious as bent branches and blowing leaves. As Billy Graham beautifully put it, “I do not see the wind, but I see the effects of the wind.” A pastor in Denver tells the story of an evangelistic relationship with his Ukrainian friend Anatole. After discussing the gospel for four hours with Anatole over tea, they had reached a philosophical impasse. Anatole, a 50-year-old science teacher, was a naturalist and quite set in his ways. He could believe only what he could see with his eyes and touch with his hands. That is what kept him agnostic — he could not see God. Not knowing how to respond, the pastor looked out the window and prayed. In the next moment, a huge wind kicked up, bending tree branches and rattling the thin glass 5 windows of the apartment. Remembering Jesus‟ metaphor and Graham‟s observation, the pastor asked Anatole what he saw out the window. “The wind,” Anatole responded confidently. “Do you?” the pastor asked. “Or, do you see the effects of the wind?” Two minutes of silence passed. Then Anatole spoke his second-life words: “That very much makes God a possibility.” In telling his faith story, one might think that Anatole would point to the invisibility of the obvious wind as the most important apologetic he ever heard. Rather, he simply said he had met too many Christians whose lives had been obviously changed by something or Someone. He could not explain it, but whatever it was he wanted it. That is what anothen means. A life born from above is a life changed. It is as invisible as the wind and as obvious as its impact. Jesus wants to transform our lives. SL is a way to escape real life, but the Second- Life Christ offers us a deeper reality which governs one‟s first life. The second life is a changed life, an inward and invisible reality with dramatic and obvious outworkings. If we are born anothen, we have the visibly changed second life they truly need. Mary Magdalene had a relationship with Jesus Christ and she was transformed. Nicodemus had a relationship and he was transformed ... from skeptic and inquisitor to curious pupil ... to believer ... to disciple. His inner transformation resulted in radical new outward behavior. In our relationships with Jesus Christ, how are we transformed? What is this new life, this second life, to which Christ calls us? Amen.