The Wind is Blowing
The Wind is Blowing
The Rev. Kristine A. Johnson
St. Mary’s by the Sea, Pacific Grove, CA
Lent 2A – March 8, 2020
“How can these things be?"
How can we be born again, from above, born of the Spirit?
"How can these things be?"
Nicodemus has come to Jesus, alone, at night, hoping for some clarity. Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, the first since he has begun his ministry. He has done some things that have gotten him noticed. He turned water into wine at a wedding. He confronted the exploitative temple system by driving out the animals and turning over the moneychangers’ tables.
John’s Gospel tells us at this point that many people believed in Jesus because of the signs he was doing. And also that many people were angered and threatened by these same signs. The stories we will hear from John’s Gospel over these next weeks of Lent help us understand more deeply why the religious and political leaders felt Jesus was a threat to their authority and to the way their communities practiced their faith – why they eventually killed him.
Today we hear about Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. Nicodemus was on the inside – he would have been in the room as the religious and political leaders were trying to figure out what to do about Jesus. Sitting quietly in the back, I’d guess, based on what we hear today. Because Nicodemus was one who was curious about Jesus, and that undoubtedly felt risky. You may have been in a similar situation, not sure you fully support what is being discussed, but unsure enough not to speak up with a different opinion?
Nicodemus doesn’t necessarily want to lose his position of authority, but something about Jesus makes him want to know more. So he heads out alone, at night, to talk to Jesus, to try to figure out, maybe, which side he should be on. Ultimately, though, we see that Nicodemus doesn’t ever really choose. He can’t, or won’t, understand what Jesus is telling him. He can’t, or won’t, accept Jesus’ invitation to a new kind of life. In this passage after he asks that last question, “how can these things be?” he is not heard from again. I imagine him edging slowly away, hoping to be unnoticed either by Jesus, or by his peers who would criticize him for even talking to Jesus.
“How can these things be?”
I was reminded when I read this, that we heard this same question during Advent. When the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her she will bear God’s son into the world, she asks, “how can this be?” And Gabriel answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” Just like Jesus says to Nicodemus that he must be born of the Spirit.
An appropriate follow-up question would be “yes, but how can that be?” It is not at all self-evident, how the Holy Spirit works in our human lives.
But we know that she does.
Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to the wind. “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.” In Genesis, we hear that in the beginning, the Spirit moved over the deep. The Hebrew word for spirit is ruah, breath or wind, and in Greek word, it is pneuma. Spirit, wind, breath.
Like the wind, unseen, making snowdrifts or sand dunes, the Spirit moves in our lives, rearranging things, taking what is there and creating something new.
IF we accept the movement of the Spirit in our lives.
We are not puppets and God is not a puppeteer. God has given us free will, the ability to return God’s love or not, to follow Jesus or not, to welcome the movement of the Spirit into our lives or not.
It is risky and scary to be open to the Holy Spirit, something we can’t see or touch or understand very well. Our lives can feel fairly well-ordered, fairly well understood. We understand more or less who we are, and our relative position in our families, our communities, our world. Most of us in this room are privileged. Like Nicodemus, we have things to protect. Our reputations, other people, our financial health, our egos.
We don’t need the Holy Spirit messing around with our well-laid plans, our well-planned lives. Unless you can show me how my life will be better, I really would rather not invite a change, thank you very much. That’s the Nicodemus way.
When we are stuck, fearful about the changes that may come into our lives if we open the windows and let the Holy Spirit blow through, we stymie God’s work in the world. What might have been if Nicodemus could have stayed with Jesus? If he could have entered more deeply into conversation and relationship? How might his life have been changed, and how about those around him, those other leaders who felt threatened by Jesus?
We can’t know.
But we do know what happened when Mary did enter into a deeper relationship with God, when she assented to the work of the Holy Spirit in her life. We are here at St. Mary’s, and every single time we come into this place we are face-to-face with Mary, in that moment when she was invited to open her life to be divinely remade, and she said yes. It was risky, and scary. But when she said, “here I am. Let it be with me according to your word,” she invited new life to come to her, and through her, to the world
The Holy Spirit is always moving, blowing about, ready to come through the cracks in our walls, or the open windows of our lives, eager to bring new life to us, and through us, to the world.
“How can this be?” When we hear God speaking to us, inviting us into new life through the movement of the Holy Spirit, may we ask this question not in a spirit of skepticism and fear, as Nicodemus did, but instead in a spirit of wonder and welcome, as Mary did. “How can this be?”
The wind is blowing. How might we be changed, for good?