“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.


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