Sermon – January 26, 2014
St. Bartholomew Church – Hanover, PA
“You must be born from above. 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.” Is it any wonder that Nicodemus responded, “How can these things be?” Nicodemus came to Jesus for answers and instead was left in a state of confusion.
Now, the howling wind – like what we heard last night – can cause confusion to anyone who is out in it. You can’t see straight, especially if accompanied by snow. Everything looks different. There’s an element of fear. You wonder what’s going to happen next. The wind has a mind of its own and it indeed “blows where it chooses.” Nicodemus was looking for some straight answers that day, but instead he was caught in a whirlwind of confusion.
Nicodemus – a well-respected religious leader – saw the miracles (or signs as the gospel writer John calls them) that Jesus performed and knew Jesus must be a teacher who came from God. Nicodemus believed Jesus was sent by God because of what he saw with his eyes, and he wanted to know more. He wanted to know more about who Jesus was and how He was able to do the many signs that he performed. He was looking to gain knowledge and understanding. Nicodemus wanted Jesus to take away his confusion. He wanted answers to all his questions. Instead Jesus speaks in riddles and says “You must be born from above or another way to interpret it is born again.” It made no sense to Nicodemus and it makes little sense to us today, especially if taken literally.
Why didn’t Jesus just give Nicodemus a straight answer? Why the strange analogy to the wind? After all, here was someone who was in need of help. Nicodemus couldn’t ask the other Pharisees these questions. They already had suspicions about Jesus. So Nicodemus comes at night to talk to Jesus without anyone seeing him. Nicodemus wants to know more, but he doesn’t want to lose his reputation as a leader by associating with Jesus. Yet his late night undercover trip to see Jesus only makes him feel worse because Jesus isn’t taking away his questions. He’s giving him more. Nicodemus must be exasperated. What he thought he saw and understood makes less sense now than it did before. “The wind blows where it will.” Really? That’s what Nicodemus gets as an answer? He was in less control of the situation now than before.
It reminds me of a time I lost control right before a Sunday service on my internship in North Dakota – a part of the country where the wind always “blows as it chooses.” Right before the service began it happened! I had just finished creating a pinwheel out of colored construction paper to use in the children’s sermon to demonstrate the wind of the Holy Spirit. The one I had made the night before out of plain white paper worked great. It spun around magnificently as I blew on it. But Sunday morning I thought it would look so much nicer in color. So I went over to the church early and quickly made one out of construction paper, pinned it on the wooden dowel I had, and tried it out. I failed to realize the construction paper would be too heavy for it to move freely. I blew on it to give it a try and…..nothing. It didn’t budge. I blew really hard and …it barely moved. Now, my brilliant idea was going to be a total flop, but it was too late to turn back. I put the pinwheel in the bag for the children’s sermon and quickly got ready for the worship service, dreading how I was going to explain this when the time came. My sense of control, like that of Nicodemus as he questioned Jesus, was gone.
At one point or another while talking to Jesus in prayer, haven’t we found ourselves more confused than before? We want to understand why a certain situation is the way it is. We see the signs, yet nothing makes any sense. We wonder how a certain problem is going to work out when it looks hopeless. Am I ever going to get out of this situation? Is this sickness going to last forever? When will things turn around? Like Nicodemus we ask, “How can these things be?” We look at the news and the signs are all bad. There is so much evil happening in the world. Why isn’t God doing something about this? Is God listening? Jesus says, “the wind blows where it chooses” but why isn’t the wind of the Spirit choosing to blow restoration and resurrection instead of confusion? We bring our prayers to God and so often it feels as though we too are answered with riddles that we can’t understand. We need answers, resolution, and control. At least that’s what we think. What we really need is new eyes.
And that is what Jesus is trying to explain to Nicodemus. Jesus wanted Nicodemus and us to understand that God is in control and not us. The Spirit of God, which is breath and wind, blows where God chooses not where we choose. And like the wind it cannot be contained, understood, or harnessed. And that is a little scary, especially when we want to be in control. To say we must be born from above means that we must allow God to be in charge. It is the Spirit of God that breathed life into the first humans and that same Spirit of God will breathe new life into us today if we stop trying to control our lives and let the Spirit work in and through us. It will surprise us in new and creative ways that we never could imagine on our own – just like my pinwheel illustration that Sunday morning.
When it was time for the children’s sermon I explained about the power of the Holy Spirit as it blew through the room where the disciples were that first Pentecost. Each child tried to make the pinwheel move, but nothing happened until……I found myself asking them all to blow on it together with me. And there we were blowing like crazy on that pinwheel and it flew like a bird! The Holy Spirit showed up that morning and people in the congregation wondered how I came up with such a great example, but I had to admit that I could take no credit for that great demonstration. I know it was the Holy Spirit at work. Nothing I could have come up with on my own that day could have been better!
I learned a lot that morning and it impacted everyone including myself. It was a great example of how not to put all our trust in ourselves. How often in our lives do we think things have to go the way we plan it? We as individuals or even congregations often spend a lot of time trying to figure out what our mission is rather than asking what is God’s mission for us. It’s really a matter of stewardship, because it’s a reminder that nothing really belongs to us. God is in control.
Sometimes it’s what we think are our failures that turn out to be our biggest lessons in growth. The Holy Spirit can and does work through those mistakes in our lives to show forth God’s glory. As a community of believers we have to allow ourselves to be molded, shaped, and changed by God for the good of the whole Church. And we need to expect the unexpected!
It’s important to remember that we’re all in this together. One person couldn’t make the pinwheel move, but together it flew! We need each other. And like the colors of the construction paper there’s a vitality and brilliance that happens in diversity. Our differences add to the work of bringing forth God’s kingdom.
And the pinwheel experience showed me that we need to have a sense of humor and laugh more. There is a lot of pain and suffering in this world, but aren’t we called to bring God’s word of hope, light, and love to those in darkness? And like Nicodemus coming out of the darkness needs to begin with us. What better way to start than with a little laughter!
God’s gift of grace is something to be passionate about! If God’s Spirit can move through a simple construction paper pinwheel just think what that Spirit can do through the body of Christ! God’s Spirit has delivered us by becoming enfleshed in Jesus Christ. God so loved this messy, broken world, that “he gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.” That same Spirit wants to work to deliver others through our flesh! If God’s Spirit can move through the little things like water, bread, and wine, just think what that Spirit can do as it works within us! The breath of the Spirit blows where it chooses bringing new life to places that seemed unreachable. There is no place that the wind of the Spirit cannot penetrate. The wind of the Spirit can breathe new life into broken hearts and shattered lives. The wind of the Spirit blows where it chooses and it chooses to bring us out of the darkness into the light of hope. It chooses to bring us forgiveness. It chooses to bring us courage. It chooses to bring us peace. It is not a sound to be feared, but a grace to be breathed in.
Nicodemus may have gone to see Jesus during the night so as not to be discovered by the other religious leaders, but later in John’s gospel Nicodemus will defend Jesus before the religious leaders before his crucifixion and at Jesus’ death, Nicodemus will claim his body along with Joseph of Arimathea and anoint him with oil. Nicodemus’ eyes and heart would gradually be opened by the wind of the Holy Spirit. That same wind will open our eyes and hearts today if we stop trying to control our lives and let the “wind blow where it chooses.” It is a breath filled with promise. It is a breath filled with hope. It is the breath of eternal life. Amen.