Listening for the Wind of Spirit

Psalm 121    John 3:1-17

March 20, 2011    Second Sunday in Lent

Nicodemus' talk with Jesus, recorded in the Gospel of John, is a fascinating one. It is the conversation out of which the "born again" movement grew.  It is ironic that this conversation has become a watchword for those who want a definitive definition for what it means to be a follower of Christ, because the nature of what Jesus says to Nicodemus is that you can’t really tell who is one of God’s children and who is not.  You cannot get even a glimpse of heaven if you are not born into that kind of vision via the workings of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said to Nicodemus, "No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." When Nicodemus stammers and wants to know what exactly Jesus means by this, Jesus tells him not to act so surprised. He tells him to consider the wind, how it blows wherever it chooses, how it can be heard but not followed in terms of where it is in any given moment. Those who are born of the Spirit are not always obvious or visible. Who they are, and whose they are becomes clear in the course of their actions and in the ways in which they approach their lives, but you can’t tell who they are at a glance.

In our physical families, there is often a resemblance passed on from parents to children. Teachers may recognize you as "one of the Smiths," having had your father in class a mere 18 years ago. Sometimes the resemblance is physical, like red hair or a certain shape to the nose or dark blue eyes; but often the family resemblance is more in terms of how you interact in the world, your mannerisms and values. Birth of water and Spirit doesn't have anything to do with physical birth. It relates to the birth of an aspect of self that is elusive and remains hidden unless and until it can be received in safety and welcomed with honest and open arms.

Maybe you know what Jesus was talking about from your own experience. Maybe you thought you knew who you were and what you valued, only to have it all turn upside-down as a part of yourself emerged that you hadn't seen before. I'm not talking about multiple personality disorder here, what I am trying to say is that there is, within each of us, aspects of self that absolutely refuse to show their face until it feels safe. For some people, this condition is never met. They go through life assuming that they know themselves fully, unaware that they are denying their own soul in a very basic way. God holds the image of each and every one of us as a whole person. It is as if God has a picture gallery of every created being that shows them in all  the glory of their potential and possibility rather than just simply a picture of what can be seen and known about them on the surface. The question we have to ask of ourselves is this: if you were to look at God's portrait of you, would you recognize yourself? Does your self-understanding embrace the whole picture or is there something missing in it? When Jesus spoke with Nicodemus about being born from above, I think he was speaking about bringing these hidden aspects of ourselves as the sons and daughters of God, more fully into the picture. He was saying that people spend way too much time trying to figure out how to muddle through their lives in a strictly physical way - concerned about food, clothing, shelter, money, material happiness - and not nearly enough time dallying in the spiritual realm, in any way shape or form. What would it look like to take your spiritual birth seriously? What would it look like if you were as concerned about growing and learning what you can spiritually as you are in getting a good education for your mind? Not all of us have the support we need for this kind of quest. We may feel as if we are totally alone as we wander around trying to fit the pieces of ourselves together. 

There is a children's book called "Are You My Mother?" that has been around for quite some time. The story shows a young robin going from a hen, to a kitten, to a dog, to a cow, and even to a car, boat and steam shovel looking for his mother. Eventually he ends up back in the nest. Soon thereafter, his mother shows up with a worm for him and he recognizes her at once as his (supposedly lost) mother. What I love about this story is that it represents our own life journey so well.. (Children's books can be so profound, sometimes.) Here the young bird is running all over the place looking for home, essentially, looking for someone who will parent him, not even realizing that there is a mother who is actually quite a bit like him, who would understand him and help him to grow in ways that no surrogate mother could. We may feel lost at times, too. Like the bird, who for a fleeting moment thought a tugboat was his mother, we look for guidance in all kinds of strange places. We are on a journey that often confuses us and seems incredibly complicated. At times we may be in a place in which it seems as though there are no familiar faces anywhere nearby, but then, like the little bird who searched for his mother all over the place, only to have her show up when he got back to the nest - the place of safety and place of his origin -  we turn around and catch sight of the One who loves us.  God is always right here watching out for us, never further away than our own breath.  Jesus called God, Abba, meaning "Father" or even "Daddy," emphasizing the closeness of their relationship, and modeling that relationship for us as well.  Jesus turned to God often throughout his life and work, looking for guidance and encouragement when he couldn't get either from those around him.  Sometimes we are good at this, but other times, we forget and we get lost - lost from God, maybe, but lost also from our truest selves.

It is at times like this is when Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus comes back to me.  He says, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” For me, this is a strong reminder that I do not need to know the answers to questions I carry with me about my life, about my work, about who I am meant to be.  I don’t even need to know answers to questions such as why I feel moved to do certain things at certain times.  All I need to know is that God is present and a part of everything I do, moving like the wind, surrounding me and supporting me, and even pushing me at times.  If I listen for the wind of the Spirit blowing through my life, then I can rest in this presence of God, of the Holy, and know that ultimately everything will really be fine.  I am on a good path, doing good work, remaining faithful as best I can.  And even if I can’t see it, can’t quite grasp it, God can and does.  God sees me.  God sees you.  God sees the big picture in our lives and is constantly helping us move forward into the possibilities and hopes and dreams of who we are - who we really are as children of God, born of flesh and born of water and born of the Spirit.

Holy Spirit, blow through this place.  Breathe on us, move us from complacency.  Stretch us and bend us.  May we be the people we are meant to be.  May we be your children, born of flesh and water and Spirit.  Amen.