Sermons

"Where the Wind Blows": Sermon for Trinity Sunday, Year B

"Where the Wind Blows": Sermon for Trinity Sunday, Year B

May 27, 2018

Passage:John 3:1-17

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Pentecost

Category: Belief, Trinity, Holy Spirit

Keywords: belief, holy spirit, love, trinity

Summary:

The meeting between Nicodemus and Jesus in the Gospel of John helps us to understand quite a bit about who God is and what God wants for us. This sermon creatively imagine the background and details of that meeting.

Detail:

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

As I was thinking about the gospel reading from John this week, one line in particular really caught my attention: "The wind blows where it chooses!"

That's something that those of here in Amarillo, Texas, know something about.

Amarillo consistently tops the lists every year as the "windiest city in America."

I remember the first spring after we moved here, I was driving back toward Amarillo from Pampa, and one of those massive dust storms brewed up in my path. It was one thing to try to drive with the fifty-mile-an-hour wind gusts working to push me off the road. But what I didn't expect was dodging all the massive tumbleweeds as they raced across the highway. Low visibility, swerving left and right as massive, tumbling plants come flying across my path...It was like being in some weird video game.

It's called "Life in the Texas Panhandle."

"The wind blows where it chooses!"

So, when Jesus was talking to Nicodemus on that night there in Jerusalem, was a 50-mile an hour wind whipping up that evening, giving excitement and ambiance to the background of their conversation?

It's possible. In that region, there are huge sandstorms.

So how did this conversation come about? Let's imagine together some of the details that led to that night between Jesus and Nicodemus.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee. He was a student and teacher of the Torah...the Law...the Instructions. This meant he lived his life in such a way--every day--that he strove to please God by his adherence to God's laws. And, as a Pharisee, he worked to teach others how to do this as well.

Nicodemus was a success. He was sixty-plus years old. He was a respected member of the Jerusalem establishment. He was a leader in the community. People recognized him at the temple and in the market.

Then, one day near the time of the festival of the Passover, Nicodemus is going to the temple. He's going about his regular business. It's morning. He prays his regular prayers. Then, he moves toward the outer walls--his regular place--to sit and teach those who come to hear about the Law of Moses. But suddenly, he hears a commotion going on.

He looks around. He sees a young man in his early thirties. The man has a whip of cords. The young man is driving out the merchants. He's forcing out the livestock sellers. He's expelling the moneychangers from the temple. Nicodemus can't believe his eyes. The young man has such intensity; such fire. How many times has Nicodemus fantasized about doing the exact same thing!?

He hears the young man say: "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!"

Over the next few days, during the festival of the Passover. Nicodemus cannot get the image of this young man out of his head. Many of his fellow Pharisees are angered and infuriated by what they say is arrogance in this young rabbi. This Jesus.

"Who does he think he is?" they ask. "How dare he refer to the temple as HIS Father's house?!?"

But Nicodemus and his fellow Pharisees keep hearing more and more about signs and actions of this Jesus throughout the time of the Passover festival.

Nicodemus feels his heart stir. He knows...He believes...there is something special about this man, Jesus. He's just not sure what it is.

But for Nicodemus there is danger in pursuing this. Many of Nicodemus's friends and associates still regard Jesus with suspicion and contempt.

So Nicodemus decides to visit Jesus in the night.... In secret... The wind is blowing hard.

Nicodemus quietly makes his way through the streets under cover of darkness. He hopes no one will see him.

He arrives at the door of the house and knocks. Jesus answers and invites him in.

After the initial traditional pleasantries, the older learned man says to Jesus: "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God."

Now, this is a statement. BUT, it's also a question. "Are you from God?" Nicodemus wants Jesus to tell him clearly and straightforwardly: "Yes, I came here from God."; "Yes, Nicodemus, God sent me to be a prophet in this wilderness."; "Yes, Nicodemus, God sent me to talk to you, and here is your special message."

That make sense, right? That's what we all want when we go to Jesus!

Something upsets our lives. We sit with that disruption for a time. Perhaps for a day, or a week, or a month. We wander around, trying to convince ourselves that our world has not been changed. Then when it's clear that the world has changed, we say "I can adapt on my own." Or we talk to others and seek answers. But somewhere in the mix of all this is our faith. We come face to face with our need for God. But, like Nicodemus, often we quietly approach Jesus in the dark of night.  And when we do so, often we come expecting answers on our own terms:

"God, I need you to be there for me, but make sure that it is in this specific way."

"God, I am hurting. I am ashamed. I am lonely. I am angry. I am grieving. Make these things stop right now."

When Nicodemus says to Jesus "you are a teacher who has come from God," Jesus replies: " Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." 

Now the thing about Nicodemus, remember, is that he is a learned student and teacher of the Law. He is a man who is used to words meaning what they say, and saying what they mean. He's hearing what Jesus is saying here, but he is clearly not comprehending it. For example, Jesus just used a word that could mean either "again" or "from above."

Jesus said "no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above." Nicodemus thought he said "no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again."

Nicodemus is confused. He exclaims: "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"

Jesus then tries to explain his "from above" reference a different way.

He says: "no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit."

He's trying to take the metaphor of birth, and make it more than the physical, literal action.

What Jesus is saying is that if you are born of the Spirit, you share in the mysteries of God. If you are born in the Spirit, your life is shaped by the very presence of God in all that you do.

Jesus looks at Nicodemus to see if he is "getting it" yet. He isn't. He still looks confused.

Gusts of wind start beating in on the doors and windows. It's one of those hard, harsh winds that comes in off the desert. We all know the kind. It's that type of wind that stirs up tumbleweeds. You feel the chill and you taste the dirt. Your nose and your mouth fill with dust--even inside--because the wind is blowing so hard against the house.

Jesus looks at Nicodemus, who is shuddering slightly at the sound of the blustery weather outside. He says to older man: "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

He's telling Nicodemus and us. "So it is with everyone whose lives are shaped by the presence of God..."

Nicodemus is astonished at these words. "How can these things be?" he asks.

How can they be? It's not about what we do.  

Jesus explains that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life."

It's important to understand that this is not some statement of exclusion. This is not saying, "if you don't believe in Jesus, then you don't get to have eternal life," which is how many people have presented it over the years.

Instead, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus still, answering his question, "How can these things be?"

How can we be born from above? How can we be born of the Spirit? What are we supposed to do?

Jesus is not making a commandment here. Instead Jesus is giving Nicodemus an invitation. Jesus is giving us an invitation. He is inviting us to become fully participating believers. He wants us to be a part of the abundance of life that he is offering. But it is not our actions that bring this about. It is God who gives the gift of new life in us.[1] Our actions are our response to this new birth from above.  

The God of love invites us to BE love.

We say: "God, I am joyful. God, I am thankful. God, I am happy. God, I am hurting. God, I am ashamed. God, I am lonely. God, I am angry. God, I am grieving."

And God says,

"Believe in Me.

Allow me to shape your life.

I am in your breath.

I am as present as the wind.

I am love.

And I will never leave you."

Amen.

                [1]Some of these ideas from Deborah J. Kapp, "John 3:1-17: Pastoral Perspective" Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.