March 5, 2023
the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
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
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,
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
Especially when times are affluent and abundant.
We forget how close God truly is;
How intimate God has made his dwelling in us.
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.
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
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
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?
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
We are in the sorry state of affairs
Specifically because we have failed to be
An obedient people,
And as individuals,
Present company included!
2. God acts and reacts according to God’s motives.
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.
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,
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
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.