Second Sunday of Lent

John 3:1-17

Ride the Wind

Grace and Peace to you from God, our Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

We had a wonderful start for our Lenten Wednesday Evening Prayer Services last week. Steve Winfield was our “lead batter” sharing his experiences of the inter-weaving of Spirituality and the Art of Sports. I invite you to come this Wednesday to hear Mary Chilvers talk about the ways her faith and her photography are linked together.

Steve reminded us of the days when we used to have a women’s softball team here. He held a batting clinic for us. His comments brought up a memory for me about a time on the ball field.

We heard a big “Woosh!” sound. We looked all around and saw nothing, so we assumed it came from somewhere in the neighborhood. We continued our game. Then the sound came closer and louder. Woosh! We just couldn’t figure it out. After about 5 minutes of this, we heard a voice from the sky.

No, it wasn’t the voice of God. It was the voice of a man in a hot air balloon hovering above right field. The balloon had been traveling toward us for some time and the sound was made by the firing of blasts of hot air that kept it aloft.

In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells Nicodemus that, “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.” He’s telling Nicodemus to ride the wind of the Spirit even though he won’t know just where it will take him.

Nicodemus has come to Jesus under the cover of darkness because he is a Pharisee and a leader and he’d get in trouble if the others knew he was talking with Jesus. It seems noteworthy that Nicodemus never gets to tell Jesus why he has come. Maybe he’s riding the wind after all. His opening niceties include recognition that Jesus is from God, for as he says: No one can do the signs you’ve done without the presence of the Spirit of God.

Jesus responds in a surprising way, in that he indicates that Nicodemus must be born from above, or he wouldn’t have recognized the kingdom of God. And what does it mean to be born from above, Nicodemus wonders? To be born of water and the Spirit.

The Greek word for Wind and Spirit are the same word, pneuma. We are probably most familiar with it from the word pneumonia. Our lungs are pneumatic organs that move the breath of life in and out of us. Jesus tells him that being born of the wind means allowing the Spirit to propel him along the way. It means Nicodemus will have to let go of his old securities. After all he is a Pharisee and leader of the Jews. To be born of the Spirit is to trust God’s love for him and for all people. It is God who breathes life into humanity and gives us birth from above.

Nicodemus wants to know what all this means. The linear answer is: “If you believe in Jesus, you will have eternal life.” But Jesus answers with mystery of the Wind: God so loved you that God gives you life.” It is the Spirit that births us into life eternal and takes us for the ride of our lives.

It is when Nicodemus can allow himself to step into the wind, that things change for him. We don’t see it in today’s text, but Nicodemus appears twice more in John. In Chapter 7, he speaks up publicly for Jesus. Nicodemus questions those in authority who would judge Jesus. Then, after Jesus dies on the cross and the disciples have all fled, it is Nicodemus who helps Joseph of Arimethea to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.

Perhaps by then, Nicodemus’ life in the wind helped him realize he was born from above not by his own doing but by the love of God, who birthed him anew, and gave him a life of boldness.

Several years ago, I attended the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We arrived at dawn to see huge colorful balloons laid out on the damp grass. 500 of them. They looked like enormous snakes flattened in the grass. Baskets were turned on their sides as the owners began to fill them with hot air. The sound was ferocious!

As they filled partially with air, they began to rise. So close together, it seemed they “shouldered” each other out of the way, fighting for space. Bit by bit, they filled with hot air until the first bunch lifted off. They floated above the crowds, beyond the jockeying for space on the ground, beyond the “wooshing” sound of the heaters. A beautifully diverse and colorful community moving on the breeze, they moved beyond the sunrise of the new day. They began a journey uniquely their own, a journey borne of the wind.

While these big balloons have some maneuverability, they also require “spotters” who travel by car to see where the winds will take them, and to be there when they come down to help fold and load the balloons in their trailers. What an amazing experience it is to see a whole community of balloons moving across the sky.

Hot air balloons require things to heat up in order for them to slip into the wind. It seems that we human beings also wait for situations in our lives to “heat up” before we are ready to let go so the Spirit can guide us where we need to go.

What will it mean for us to understand that we are born of the Spirit now that things are heating up? As a community of faith, we are stepping into the wind of change. We’ve been there before and it’s gotten us this far. We are in a time of unknowns about the future as we gather for a potluck meal on Sunday, March 2nd to talk through our Congregation Mission Profile.

We are asking our Call Committee to take on the task of shouldering into the Spirit’s flow with a new pastor on our ministry team. There are only six members who will serve on call committee. There are roles, however, for the rest of us. We serve as “spotters” grounded in the history and mission of St. Paul-Reformation, the rope holders who won’t let the balloon lift off prematurely, the ones who will bring us back to our mission of inclusion and justice making again and again.

Now is a time for us to listen for the breath of God in our midst. It’s a time for us to recall together that God is bigger than any name we can give to God. It’s a time for us to feel the Spirit/Wind pushing us into the future of our ministry as a congregation.

St. Paul-Reformation is being renewed, being reborn, if you will. What will happen if we listen for God to call us to places we’ve not yet dreamed about? Where will the winds othe Spirit  Being born of the wind is to trust our own lives, and our community’s faith life, to the God who gives us birth with water and Spirit.

God’s Spirit is for the whole cosmos, the whole world, for all humanity, for you and me.

If we choose to let go of the ground we know and ride the wind, God will hold us up. Riding the Wind brings authenticity of faith. It means things happen that we no longer see as mere coincidences; rather, we recognize them as the wind of the Spirit going by. Living in the Spirit cannot be completely charted or controlled. It is a powerful thing to realize we are part of God’s plan for the world. The mystics would say our lives are with the flow of God. New breezes are blowing. It is time for us to ride the Wind.

Please pray with me.

Spirit of God, lift us up and move us to places of greater service, to ministry that includes even as it reaches across boundaries globally and locally. Direct us where you would have us go. Renew our community with the rebirth that comes from water and your Spirit. Guide the continuing work of this congregation that we may go where your Spirit wills; in the name of your Son, Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Pastor Anita Hill