Lent is an interesting time to start a first call. For the past couple weeks I’ve been struggling to clear my mind of Lent’s seemingly endless to do list and the stress, fueled by my own unrealistic expectations for myself, was starting to pile up. I did not feel like I was managing my time effectively, and beating myself up about it was not making anything better. This week, with some encouragement, I started walking to and from work in order to help clear my head. I was skeptical about just how much a 6 minute walk could accomplish but I figured I’d give it a shot. On Wednesday I checked the temperature before leaving, put in my headphones, and confidently walked out the door….and was subsequently slapped in the face by an intense wind gust. Buffeted by breezes coming from different directions, I kept walking and realized that I was more awake and present to the neighborhood around me. When I walked into the office here at the church, my cheeks were rosy, my hair that had started out wet was suddenly dry, and I felt refreshed, energized and ready to attack the day. It’s really amazing what some time outdoors can do.
This week we move from Matthew’s Gospel into the Gospel of John where Jesus encounters Nicodemus, a Pharisee, both a religious and legal expert in his community. Nicodemus seeks Jesus out alone, away from the crowds of people who are starting to gather around to hear him teach. Nicodemus names Jesus’ identity as Rabbi, and furthermore that Jesus comes from God. This is a pretty surprising departure from what many Pharisees would have thought and so calls for us to pay attention to their encounter together. Without hesitation, Jesus begins to teach Nicodemus, telling him that one cannot enter the Kindom of God without being born from above. This is admittedly not Jesus’ most crystal clear teaching moment and Nicodemus is utterly baffled. Born from above? Above where? How is it possible to be born twice? This must have been a really uncomfortable headspace for Nicodemus to be in, having dedicated his life to the study of faith and law. Jesus explains further that as people of faith we are born of water and of the Spirit, which claims us as God’s own in the waters of Baptism and brings us into the beloved community.
Nicodemus’ misunderstanding is something that happens repeatedly throughout Jesus’ ministry, but that misunderstanding allows Jesus opportunity to teach. In this encounter Jesus teaches about the nature of the Spirit and the need to be Spiritually born to participate in God’s kindom.
But Nicodemus still isn’t getting it. And so, Jesus changes tactics and describes something that Nicodemus would be familiar with: the wind. Jesus says “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. I find this to be one of the most beautiful explanations of belief and the Holy Spirit in the bible. In Greek, the original language that the gospels were written in, the word for wind, Spirit, and breath are the same: πνεύμα (pronounced: pneuma or new-mah). The very word sounds like a breath of air. Jesus tells Nicodemus and teaches us this morning that the wind, the Spirit, and the very breath we take are interconnected, just as our spirit is linked with our bodies, and both are entwined with the world around us. And Jesus tells us that faith is not something we have to completely understand.
Abram, later renamed Abraham, was also called to follow the Spirit’s movement even though he and Sarah did not know just where that road would lead. Their journey was long and difficult, but they trusted in that which they could not see and held fast to God’s promises to bless them. Abram may not have understood where God was leading him, and he went on to become one of the most notable ancestors in Jewish history. Jesus reminds us that [we] too do not have to know from where [the Spirit] comes or where it goes. We have no idea what the Holy Spirit might be moving us to. Not as individuals, not as a church, not as a people of faith. Yet we don’t have to know where the Spirit is moving for us to feel its presence and to follow its lead. Faith is about trust, and trusting what we cannot always see is scary, but with God’s beloved community. We do not have to have all of the answers and that doesn’t mean that we are less of a believer because of it. Thank God for that. We believe together, which is one of the greatest gifts of faith.
I was struck by that seeing the aftermath of the tornadoes in Nashville. With several friends in the area I’ve been watching events unfold all week and came across a post from Pastor Rick Roberts, Pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Donelson TN.
St. John’s building was completely destroyed by the storm . “What a day!” he writes, “I’ve been asked all day, “how are you doing”? To which I replied, “I’ve had better days.” With that said, it was a GREAT DAY – of support…God’s spirit of support is bringing a lot of peace… We may not have a building, but ministry is not ending. We will continue to be God’s Light of Hope in our community and in our lives of faith.” He later went on to share a picture of the church sign which is somehow still standing. It reads “Lent: Remembering God’s love for you, for all.” He captioned the picture “Walls may, will, fall down. God’s love for all NEVER does.” This community has no idea where the Spirit is moving for them and they have every reason to be confused and to doubt. But as evidenced by Pastor Rick’s words, not having all the answers has not stopped them, if anything it’s going to make them stronger together, as we pray for their community and support them.
If you’ve ever found faith confusing or have ever had doubts about what it is that you believe, I promise you’re in good company. Nicodemus was confused, the woman at the well that we will encounter next week was confused too.
Jesus’ very disciples are confused and experience doubt a lot, and rather than writing them off, Jesus continues to teach them, loving them and us with radical fierceness. If we forget that all we have to do is look at the Cross. The shape of it moves in two directions, vertically and horizontally. My childhood pastor told us to look at the vertical part of the cross to be reminded of our faith in God, as exemplified in the life, death, and resurrection, of Jesus Christ. He reminded us however, that there’s a second part of the cross as well: The part that extends outward reminding us that our faith is not meant to be experienced in isolation, but rather as part of the community of believers, and so what once started as a symbol of death and destruction is transformed from a weapon of the empire to an illustration of life forever.
In the Nicene Creed we will say together shortly we hear the communal nature of faith too. We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God…We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life. We. Believe.
Not one of us needs to hold the entire faith of the church individually, but rather we hold it together not knowing where the Spirit is blowing, but trusting in its presence all the same.
As we go forth from this place today I want to invite you to take a moment or two in your week to stop, to feel the wind on your face, to breathe deeply in it. I invite you to feel the renewal it brings and to feel where the Holy Spirit is moving you to share the love of God in the world, even if you don’t understand it. Thanks be to God.