“The Point of No Return”

March 26, 2023

John 11:1-45

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church


| Centering Prayer |

Few life events are more painful

than the death of a loved one;

a husband, a wife,

a mother or father,

brother or sister,

a family member,

or a friend.

John’s Gospel narrative today

is 37 verses of Jesus getting ready to raise Lazarus from the dead

and six verse of Jesus actually lifting Lazarus out of the grave,

giving him life.

Prior to our passage

Jesus and his disciples had fled the Temple

after the Jews questioned him,

picked up stones,

and threaten to kill him.

Ever looked down the barrel of a gun?

Yeah, Jesus needed to get away

To have a panic attack!

Today, Jesus is found

“across the Jordan

to the place where John had been baptizing earlier,

and he remained there.” (10:40)

This was at least 18 miles away,

as the crow flies

and 3,300 feet straight downhill.

The road between the Jordan River and Jerusalem

snakes back and forth to compensate for the steep slope.

The road today, built on the same path

Jesus would have traversed

is about 33 miles.

What takes 45 minutes by car today,

Took about 2 days to walk

in the time of Jesus.

This is important

because word of Lazarus’ illness

would have made its way to Jesus

two days after Mary and Martha’s brother became mortally sick.

Mary and Martha,

sent their message

“Lord, he whom you love is ill.”


Jesus’ friend, Lazarus,

the brother of Mary and Martha,

must have died two days after his sisters sent notice to Jesus of his illness.

Jesus lingered for two days after receiving the news,

then traveled an additional two days to Bethany,

a near suburb of Jerusalem,

only to find that Lazarus

had been four days dead and buried in a cave,

where his corpse stinketh greatly!

As certain as a spear penetrating Jesus’ side,

this is not a resuscitation attempt

we’re talking about here.

Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha,

all dear friends of Jesus,

has died.

Few life events are more painful

than the death of a loved one;

a husband, a wife,

a mother or father,

brother or sister,

a family member,

or a friend.

We live in a death averse culture.

Intellectually, we all know we are going to die.

Emotionally, we are a train wreck of denial, delusion, and delay.

We say people “passed”

when in fact, they died.

People say “we lost them,”

as if they lost their way home from the market.

We hope to die without struggle;

to “die in our sleep.”

Yet, we know death comes to many

with a lot of pain and suffering.

We send the corpse of our beloved to undertakers

to delay the decay,

clean them up and present them to family and friends

looking like they aren’t even dead;

“oh, he (or she) looks so natural.”

The higher the profile of the person;

the greater the outpour of public sentiment, grief, and nutty conspiracy theories:

– perhaps Elvis isn’t dead!

– shadows in bushes on the grassy knoll proves a second shooter!

Even, low these 40 days of Lent,

this liturgical season is a constant grind

of anticipatory death and grief

that accumulates

and is plowed

into the deepest recesses of our spiritual identity.

We side with Jesus’ humanity

and want the Father to take away his cup,

because, with hindsight,

we know what lies ahead during Holy Week.

Jesus’ weighted keel

gives stability to the narrative of him raising Lazarus from the dead:

“This illness does not lead to death;

rather it is for God’s glory,”

Jesus calms his disciples,

“so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”


Illness and suffering are some of the means

through which God can work.

Resurrection is for God’s glory.

Illness and suffering are tools

through which God works.

When biology and physical fail us

due to age, illness, or trauma,

in my experience,

this is the most important time

to listen for

to watch for

the hand of God

guiding our path;

the whisper of His will

in our ear;

the love of God

wrapping us in His arms.

This six-week period of recovery from my knee replacement

Has been a painful, personal reminder

To watch and wait for God to act,

To weave grace and healing into my life

And into the lives of others.

My pain made me crazy, near suicidal,

Yet, I had to remind myself,

It was “so that the Son of God may be glorified.”

It is through those times of

many dangers, toils and snares

that faith is deepened and broadened,

and as resurrection people

we are invited in

to a closer walk with Thee.

There is no doubt:

suffering is terrible.

Few life events are more painful

than death,

the death of one you love

or one who loved you.

Lazarus lingered with a mortal illness for days.

Jesus was scorned, whipped, stripped, and spit on from arrest to his traumatic death.

No one wants to suffer;

yet, when we do,

it becomes for us an opportunity to

taste and see

the presence of God in our midst;

because suffering is for

God’s greater glory.


In the Gospel of John

this raising of Lazarus story

is the last of the signs

that point to who Jesus is and why Jesus has come,

and begins the pivot to the second half of John,

often referred to The Book of Glory,

which is

Christ’s Passion, death, and resurrection.

These signs include

stories of Jesus teaching,

healing and casting out demons,

and beginning to draw large crowds

which captured the attention of Jewish authorities and Rome.

Crowds can incite riots, insurrection, even revolution.

Last week we heard about Jesus giving sight to a man born blind;

more than mere miracle,

but the complete creation of a visual / neural network right before their eyes.

The interrogation by the religious authorities confirms

they are getting nervous about Jesus

winning over the crowds

and converting people away from Judaism

to become his disciples.

But today,


Jesus crosses the point of no return.

More than mere magic,

raising Lazarus from the dead,

in front of such a large crowd of followers,

so publicly

and so rapidly communicated throughout the Passover pilgrims,

demonstrates the fact

that Jesus has authority

even over death itself.

The authority of organized religion would be

forever relegated

to cellars and backwaters,

to cults and delusional movements,

headed for nowhere.

The authority of the Chief Priests, scribes, and leaders of the Temple

surpassed Jesus’ flesh and humanity.

Yet, it is the Divinity of Christ …

… today in full view for all to see …

with the raising of Lazarus

that exceeds earthly authority.

This Divine authority has no limits or end.

It is eternal.

In the mind of the Chief Priest,

Jesus, the man, must die.

We are resurrection people!

We cannot be people of the flesh,

as Saint Paul so eloquently writes in his letter to the church in Rome,

“To set the mind on the flesh is death.”

(Romans 8:6)

The story of Lazarus is the story of resurrection!

He lives another day to later dine with Jesus

while Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume.

The story of Jesus is the story of resurrection!

Less we get too bogged down in the suffering of Lent and Holy Week,

we know from hindsight

we are resurrection people

as soon as Christ steps out of the empty tomb.

Resurrection is all around us!

Our resurrected life

Begins in our mortal living.

In baptism, we are claimed by the God who created us,

and we become a resurrected disciple in the here and now.

In our future death, we are given victory over the grave,

and welcomed home with resurrection into eternal life.

We are even resurrection people

at the consummation of all history,

when time comes to an end,

and we are joined with the Alpha and the Omega.

Resurrection is all around us!

Our Gospel narrative from John

begs us to open our eyes,

to experience

the resurrection taking place in our midst

that the glory of God may be seen.

Old enemies reconcile,

Sometimes to our surprise,

Sometimes in spite of us;

that’s resurrection!

Health is restored,

Pain is relieved,

Cancer goes into remission;

that’s resurrection!

God’s love envelops a grieving family

A casserole goes into the refrigerator,

A note is sent,

Or a plant is left on the doorstep;

that’s resurrection!

… and every resurrection

is for God’s greater glory!

Ask yourself this:

where am I witnessing resurrection this week?

Where are dry bones being knit together and

the breath of the Holy Spirit is breathing life into lifeless bodies?

May your awareness

lead people to Christ and his authority.

May your awareness

be for the glory of God.


“He Opened My Eyes”

John 9:1-41

March 19, 2023

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

| Centering Prayer |

I’ve got questions.

1. Does it matter that that this person was born blind, as opposed to being blinded after birth? Would your opinion be different if you had been born blind?

2. Did the man born blind need fixing?

3. Are trials God’s way to punish us for some unfaithful act we’ve committed?

4. Is blindness literal, or a metaphor for spiritual blindness?

5. What was the purpose of this miracle?

6. Why does John take such effort to report all the details of this miracle?

Just because the Gospel has been my life’s focus, interest, and study doesn’t mean I don’t still have questions.

What questions dare you ask?

Let’s first look through a wide aperture,

Take in a wide-angle view of the Gospel.

Today’s gospel slowly

Almost painfully

Unfolds for us

In such a way

That it is a perfect metaphor

For Lent.

Lent begins in darkness;

Total, complete,

Dark-as-dark-as-the-darkest night,

Black-as-the-blackest ink.

The darkness of the wilderness

Is caste by the devil

With temptations

And all that is evil.

For forty days and forty nights

Jesus resists,

And we are given hope

That He just might be the light.

Perhaps the world does not need

To wait in darkness anymore?

Indeed, as Lent unfolds,

Light appears

Slowly, but surely.

And progressively

More and more light creeps in.

The penitent disciple of Christ

Travels the journey

And undergoes an awakening.

Nicodemus sneaks away

Under cover of darkness

To come and inquire of Jesus.

You must be changed

– Born from above –

Jesus teaches him.

For all those who believe in Jesus

Will be saved.

The first sliver of light

breaks into the darkness.

The water at Jacobs well

Is replaced with living water.

He is that living water;

Drink him in

And never thirst for more.

His light is lifted up.

And today,

His light increases in intensity

Such that even those born blind

Still can see.

Time to zoom in,

To listen,

To look,

To explore God’s amazing gift of the Gospel of John.

Chapter 9 is not a miracle story,

Although, it begins with a miracle.

This is a story of enlightenment

Coming to a man born blind.

Receiving his vision

Is just the beginning of his

Spiritual awakening

and awareness.

First his neighbors are amazed,

But they don’t know what to do with him.

So they bring him to the authorities;

The religious authorities.

(How’s that for neighbors!)

His sight divides the opposition.

Some noted Jesus didn’t observe the Sabbath.

Others wondered how a sinner could be blessed.

“What do you say about him?”

they asked.

“It was your eyes he opened,”

they accused.

(And we were led to believe

they were the authorities!

If they were the authorities,

Why would they have to ask?)

He said, “He is a prophet.”

Ah! Here we have it:

The second sign of this man’s

Spiritual awakening.

The man born blind,

The one who Jesus gave vision,

For the first time,

Has now moved beyond the literal miracle.

This man makes his first statement of faith:

“He is a prophet!” He witnesses.

“He is a prophet!” (9:17)

He says

To a less than receptive audience.



Spit balling.

Eliminate all the obvious answers and go with what is left.

Jesus is a prophet.

How’d that go over?

The crowd is

One that will soon join in cries “Crucify Him!”.

The crowd is

One that smells blood in the water.

The crowd is

One that has homicide flowing in their veins.


Witness makes

The light shine brighter.

Note to self: witness make the light shine brighter.

Just as Jacob’s well served as

A baptismal font

And Jesus became himself

Living water,

A means of initiation

Into Jesus’ community,

So too has His saliva

Mixed with dirt

Spread on the eyes

And washed in the pool

Known as Siloam …

… this mud

Has become a baptismal rite

of cleansing,

of joining,

and of eternal life.


And still divided,

The religious authorities drag in his parents.

Fearing their own skin,

The parents only report the facts.

They do not draw conclusions.

The authority’s flaw

Was to call this man back a second time.

With a diverse mix

Of sarcasm, logic, law, and lecture

Our healed man,

With a masterful stroke,

Demonstrates the fact that

He now stands in nearly complete illumination.

“Never since the world began”

the new disciple speaks,

“has it been heard

that anyone

opened the eyes of a person born blind.

If this man were not from God,

he could do nothing.” (9:33)

And with that,

They drove him out.

Jesus immediately seeks him out

To bring the circle round full

to a close.

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is he, sir?

Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

“You have seen him,”

and the one speaking with you is he.”

Illumination is complete.

The final sign of his spiritual awakening has taken place,

with his words,

“Lord, I believe.”

“Lord, I believe.”

“And he worshiped him.” (9:38)

As Lent unfolds,

Light appears

Slowly, but surely.


More and more light creeps in.

Gathering light is poignant in the northern hemisphere.

The days are getting longer.

With gathering light

the penitent disciple of Christ

Goes through an awakening.

How about you?

Are you rising?

Most of us love to muck around in darkness,

Believing no one sees what we are doing.

Some of us love

the penance of Lent,

and would be content to remain forever

in its half-lit world

filled with shadows and doubts.

Some eventually long to return to darkness,

While others become restless

and eager to look ahead

To possibilities that may be further revealed.

We recognize the fact that

Lent is not a place

to make our spiritual home.

Rather, Lent is the journey,

nothing more than a journey,

Of increasing illumination

That culminates when all is revealed

By the eternal light of Easter,

Emanating from the empty tomb

Of our resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ.

Where there is light,

There is only Jesus.

And where there is Jesus

There can be no darkness at all.

Be in the light,

Dear friends.

Live in His light.


“A Woman’s Witness”

John 4:1-42

March 12, 2023

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 4:1-42

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee.

But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

| Centering Prayer |

There are times the Gospel lesson

Just shocks me

With a new awareness,

With a new revelation,

With a new way of being presented;

Like sticking a wet finger in a light socket.

What new have we learned from this familiar story from John?

I’ve read and heard many sermons based on the Woman at Jacob’s Well

Where the preacher expounded at length

About this woman

Who came from a morally corrupt background,

Met Jesus at the well,

And had her sins forgiven.

I may have even preached a few of those sermons, myself.

Did anyone here today,

Who just experienced the proclamation of the Word,

Hear a statement proclaiming this woman was a sinner?

Did anyone hear Jesus forgiving her

Her sins?


I challenge the modern assumption that this woman was morally corrupt!

She had been widowed or abandoned

By no fault of her own

By five …

…. Count them …

By five different men.

This woman wasn’t a sinner seeking forgiveness.

This un-named woman was a victim of men who treated her like property.

She was abandoned, isolated, marginalized, dehumanized.

There are times the Gospel

Is electrifying.

So, if this isn’t a narrative about sin and forgiveness,

What is this previously-assumed-to-be-familiar Gospel passage about?

In the preceding chapter of John

We heard last Sunday about Jesus in Jerusalem

Being visited under cover of night by Nicodemus,

A leader of the Jews.

(John 3:1)

Jesus is in the seat of power,

Being visited by the personification of power.

That narrative ends with one of Jesus’ most memorable statements:

“God so loved the world …”

(John 3:16)

Today, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what the rest of the world looks like.

He’s traveled north, into rural Samaria,

Meeting a woman

Who Jewish society treated as property,

As mixed race,

As abandoned, widowed, and marginalized.

She was the personification of one who has no power.

The contrast couldn’t be more profound.

Nicodemus and the power of the Sanhedrin and the power of Rome,

Vs. an unnamed Samaritan woman at a well.

Jacob’s well is significant.

Jacob met Rachael here.

In the days before

Tinder, Match Dot Com, and online dating,

This is where people came together to socialize, network, and, yes, to flirt.

The local water source was where people congregated.

This woman

Who has no name

Was at the well

To not only draw water,

But to find relationship.

She is seeking opportunities to belong.

She is searching for someone or a group of people

That will add value to her lonely, isolated, tragic life.

And it is here,

At Jacob’s well,

That she meets Jesus.

There are times the Gospel

Just shocks us.

In the Gospel of Matthew we have heard Jesus identified

On multiple occasions

As the Son of God.

At his baptism,

At his transfiguration,

We’ve heard the voice of God pronounce,

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

There are no such pronouncements in the Gospel of John.

There are, however, famous “I am” statements,

The first of which occurs here:

“The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.””

(John 4:25-26)

“I am” harkens back to Hebrew scriptures,

To our Jewish heritage,

To the mountain where God encountered Moses.

I am who I am” the Lord proclaims.

Since then, “I am” is shorthand for Yahweh,

For the Creator and Lord of all.

John takes “I am” and runs with it:

I am the Good Shepherd”

I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”

I am the Vine, you are the branches”

Today’s Gospel from John is the first pronouncement of Jesus’ identity.

We not only learn who Jesus is,

Yahweh, the Creator, and Lord of all,

John reveals why Jesus has become God in the flesh.

The one and only time the Gospel of John uses the word “Savior”

Is found right here in verse 42:

The Samaritans … “said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.””

(John 4:42)

This narrative from the Gospel of John

Is a Rosetta Stone for his theology,

For the belief of the Early Church community

That sprung up around the Apostle John.

John identifies Jesus as God

And reveals his foundational theme

Of why he has come:

Jesus has come to be

The Savior of the world.

Jesus is calling us to a new understanding of “Savior” and “Salvation.”

Salvation is more than salvation from death.

Salvation is more than being saved into than eternal life.

The Savior of the world also brings salvation from isolation and marginalization.

Salvation is also being welcomed into friendships, relationships;

Into community.

God’s power doesn’t come from force or violence,

It comes from love.

God’s love might be academically explained

To people of power,

In positions of power,

In places of power.

But God’s love is experienced,

God’s love is poured out as life-giving living water

To people who have no power

Who exist on the fringes

Who, through no fault of their own,

Are marginalized by the world we live in.

This woman is searching for relationship

And Jesus gives her what she is seeking.

The major criticism of younger adults,

Millennials and GenX-ers,

Is that the Church has lost its relevance;

That we love God,

But that we’ve forgotten to love our neighbors.

“Go to church on Sunday

But forget about Jesus the rest of the week”

Is a biting, but astute, observation of our children and grandchildren.

Why isn’t the Church feeding the hungry,

Instead of writing a check?

Why isn’t the Church building a wheelchair ramp

For a neighbor newly immobilized,

Instead of hosting a Bible Study or gathered for a meeting?

Why isn’t the Church standing up and speaking out

Against racism, homophobia, and antisemitism?

Instead, many see the Church as judgmental, uncaring, and unconcerned.

Jesus goes to this woman and saves her.

Just as Jesus goes,

So too should you,

For you are the Church.

You are given the permission, the authority, the power of the Holy Spirit to go and save the world.

This essential, foundational passage from the Gospel of John

Prods us to go with love,

With God’s love,

And to make healthy relationships,

Founded upon Christ,

the solid rock upon which we stand.

Love others.

Serve others.

Bring the powerless back from the margins

And give them relationship.

Include the last, least, lost, and left behind into the Body of Christ, too.

The concluding point that is important to make

Is to recognize the result of this woman being saved by the Savior:

She runs back to town and tells everyone

“everything I have ever done.”

The Samaritan towns people were so convinced of her witness

They came to Jesus.

They sought Jesus out.

They invited Christ into their lives

And asked him to stay in their homes for two days!

And Jesus did!

“We know this is true!” They in turn witnessed.

Jesus “is truly the Savior of the world.”

This is what the salvation of Jesus Christ does to people’s lives.

Snatching people from loneliness, isolation, powerlessness, and the margins,

Giving and receiving life-giving relationships,

Nurtured by Christ’s living water,

Results in conversion, discipleship, and witness.

Our local church (little c)

And our catholic Church (big C)

Is alive and well today,

In part, because of the salvation of this woman by Jacob’s well,

Her encounter with Jesus,

Her testimony to her fellow Samaritans,

And for her continued testimony

That has trickled down

Generation upon generation thereafter.

Jesus saves.

Because of a woman’s witness,

So, too, dearly beloved, salvation has come to you and me.

Continue the legacy of Christ’s salvation.

Reach out with his love.

Reach out with Christ’s love to the margins.

That’s where the marginalized are found.

Reach out to save another …

And another …

And another …

That, one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess

That Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.


“Directing the Wind”

John 3:1-17

March 5, 2023

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 3:1-17

  Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “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.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, 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. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘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.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

  No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “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. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

| Centering Prayer |

When my father

Made the decision to

Walk away from his

Well-paying corporate finance job

In 1968,

I was seven years old.

He left to go back to school

And begin serving as a lay preacher in the new United Methodist Church

When he was forty-two years of age.

The world thought he was nuts.

His family did, too.

I remember in the summer of ‘68

Standing before the front doors

Of his first church,

Aptly named “Open Meadows UMC”

Standing by the wrought iron railing

Looking out across the road

And seeing fields of wheat

in three directions.

It was hot.

The wheat was golden brown.

I could see,

And for the first time I could understand,

Even at the young age of seven,

The connection

Between the invisible waves that swept across the fields

And the blowing of the hot, summer wind.

I will never forget that beautiful landscape

Awash in a sea of wind-swept grain.

In the 55 years that have passed

Since that hot summer day

I’ve learned a few things about the wind.

1. We’d like to believe that we can direct the wind.

Yeah. Not so much.

We can’t.

The winds of March prove otherwise!

Trees crack and fall over.

Debris rocket down the road.

Emergency crews cut up ice encrusted limbs fallen across the road

And utility crews work frantically to restore power.

Though our attempt at planting

Snow fences every fall

May go a long way towards safer roads

The occasional drift

Still finds a way

to make the unsuspecting driver

skid into the ditch.

The unanticipated white out

still cause pile ups

In spite of the best engineering

On the planet.

2. We think we are the only ones

who have wind.

We live in such small, self-centered worlds

Rarely leaving town,

Let alone the region, state, or country.

It becomes easy to mistakenly

Believe that all the world

Beyond our horizon

Is the same

And that we don’t need to be concerned with it.

There probably isn’t wind there, anyways,

Because we can’t see or feel it.

New Orleans becomes one and the same as Iraq.

Kenya might just as well as be Ruwanda or Darfur.

What’s the difference anyways?

We ask rhetorically.

They don’t have any stinkin wind;

You and I both know,

The wind only blows in Rush!

3. I’ve noticed that wind can be both good and bad.

Just as the wind can turn a windmill

Pumping water or generating electricity for the public’s good

That very same wind can

Blow the windmill down

Leading to regional flooding and power outages.

The same wind that brings satisfaction

To children flying a kite

Can bring despair and tears

When the kite gets blown into the trees.

The same wind that dries flooded valleys

Whips the Santa Anna up California canyons   

driving brush and forest fires that consume farms and family homes.

Wind show no favorites

Makes no distinction between

the righteous and the unrighteous.

The same wind that had given me a pleasurable sail

Also swamped my boat.

Allow me to bring these observations

A little closer to home;

To hang some Biblical flesh

On these old bones.

Jesus tells the night stalking Nicodemus,

“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.”

My personal experience

Confirms the accuracy of Jesus’ observation.

We hear the sound of the Spirit.

We experience the Spirit though our senses.

I feel God’s presence and approval

When making the right choice.

And I certainly have felt

The disapproval of God

When I’ve exercised my freedom

To make the wrong choice,

A choice contrary to God’s will.

As you reflect on your own experience,

Would you agree?

The Spirit does affect our thoughts.

It slips into the prayer life.

The Spirit’s desire slides into our conscience.

And sometimes

the Spirit will even smack us right between the eyes

With a reality check.

Everyone experiences it;

But only the few alerted and primed recognize the Spirit’s presence and guidance

For what it truly is.

We hear the sound of the wind

And we are made aware of its presence.

Less I push Jesus’ metaphor too far,

I believe,

Because it is my experience,

That there may be times in life in which

There is no perception of wind.

It may be blowing elsewhere,

But it doesn’t appear to be blowing here.

The Greek root for Spirit

Is pneuma,

Which literally means “breath.”

One can think of pneumonia

As a disease of breathing,

Or pneumatic tires

As tires inflated with air or breath.

What I believe is Jesus’ intent

Is to say that

Where there is

Air and breath

There is the Spirit of God,

Whether or not we perceive its presence.

Unfortunately, his intent

Is often lost in translation.

But it is vitally important to understanding his word:

The Spirit is omnipresent.

It is never further away

Than your next breath.

The problem often is that

We are memory dependent creatures.

We fail to be faith dependent disciples.

We forget;

Especially when times are affluent and abundant.

Like Israel

We forget how close God truly is;

How intimate God has made his dwelling in us.

We forget

Because we become numb in self-indulgence

To perceive the presence of the ever-present Spirit

Of our Heavenly Father.

We don’t know from where the wind comes,

Jesus tells us.

The Spirit is absolutely independent

To make its presence known

Or to remain hidden away

(But ever present).

The Spirit’s presence may be experienced

At any given moment.

This leads us to mistakenly

Believe that we can engage God in a game

Of divine fetch

As if there were no limits

To our petitions and intercessions.

We pray for winning lottery numbers

And when we lose

We whine like spoiled children.

Oh please!

God’s will trumps our will

Ten out of ten times.

When we fail to get our way,

We’ve failed to be obedient disciples.

We have failed to discern or follow

The will of God.

Yes, we are told

To ask

And it will be given.

But where we fail

Is when we are too impatient

to hear the rest of the thought:

We are told to ask

what the will of God is

In each particular setting and circumstance.

This is why

It is easy to mistakenly believe that

God somehow pops into

And out from life,

With seemingly sporadic randomness.

When we ask

“What is God’s will”

we refocus and become aware

of the Spirit already in our midst;

of the Spirit who had never left our side.

We don’t know

Where the Spirit goes.

All the barriers that

We like to place

Somehow get circumvented

By the relentless nature of the Spirit.

Some will be blown over and destroyed.

Barriers are built by humans:

Barriers of class, order, sexuality, gender identity,

religion, faith, values, and belief.

Barriers are created

By the implicit violence

Of assumptions,

Labels of “disabilities” or “retardation,”

Of rich or poor

Or black or white.

Barriers to the Spirit are created

When we choose a broad brush

To paint a world of divinely intentional created individuals.

Three strikes and you’re out

Is a barrier often used

To justify locking someone up

For the rest of their life

Or leading them to the hangman’s gallows.

Yet, we often fail to consider the

Presence and power of the Spirit

Even in the lungs of the condemned.

I have the privilege of experiencing the Spirit’s presence and movement with

Every letter I receive from my incarcerated parishioners.

Consider the issue of homelessness.

Labeling someone as homeless

allows us to inflict the violence of accommodation

because we rarely seek to understand

and correct the underling problems of individuals

that contribute to their homelessness.

So, where does this leave us?

What truth

Does this metaphor convey

That builds a foundation for faith?

1. Ultimately, God is in control; not humankind.

Less we throw up our hands

In self-serving fatalism

Consider the four-thousand-year history

Of our awareness of God’s initiative

Into the human condition.

God has taken responsibility for this creation.

God has made every effort to improve

Our circumstance.

We are in the sorry state of affairs

Specifically because we have failed to be

An obedient people,

Both collectively,

And as individuals,

Present company included!

2. God acts and reacts according to God’s motives.

Not ours.

Sometimes we know God’s motives.

Sometimes we think we know God’s motives.

But mostly, we don’t.

We see in a mirror dimly.

God’s greater plan

goes beyond the horizon of our experience and comprehension.

God’s greater plan

Exceeds the limits of our earthly life spans.

God’s greater plan

May, or may not, be synchronized with our plans.

But know this as true,

Based on our scripture, tradition, history, and experience

God’s greater plan

Is always in our self-interest;

It is always for our benefit.

It is always for the good.

God’s greater plan is motivated by love.

3. Finally, I believe we can take away

from this passage for this morning,

especially as we consider it through the lens of Lent,

the fact that the driving nature

behind the passion and death of Jesus

wasn’t driven by human motives,

as we are often tempted to assume.

It wasn’t.

We can’t blame Pilate or Herod or Judas or the Jews

For what happened to Jesus,

Because it was God’s will

That worked through them

To bring about a far greater divine motive;

A motive that is known in part, and

A motive that remains largely mysterious.

What we know,

What we are told

Is that God so loved the world

That he sent his Son to atone and to save.

It was, and is,

God’s intent

To bring you forgiveness of your sins,

By means of Jesus’ death upon the cross,

And to give you the gift of eternal life,

Won for us

With his victory over the grave.

“The wind blows where it chooses,:

Jesus tells Nicodemus,

“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.”

Because of this passage

We know:

God is in control.

God’s ways are not our ways;

yet this is good,

Because God always acts for our benevolence.

And it is God’s desire

To act because of God’s great love

To bring forgiveness and salvation to our world.