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The Wind Blows Where It Will

John 3:1-17

Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest: writes in the Song of the Bird

 

                    THE FORMULA

The mystic was back from the desert.

“Tell us,” they said, ”what God is like.”

 

But how could he ever tell them

what he had experienced in

his heart? 

Can God be put into words?

 

He finally gave them a formula

– so inaccurate, so inadequate –

in the hope

that some of them might be tempted

to experience it for themselves.

 

They seized upon the formula.

They made it a sacred text.

They imposed it on others as a holy belief.

They went to great pains to spread it in

foreign lands.  Some even gave their

lives for it.

 

The mystic was sad.  It might have

been better if he had said nothing.

_______________________

How tempting it is for human beings to try to contain God-to find the name, the formula-the box that somehow lets us feel that we have God in our pockets.

 

A story is told of St. Augustine struggling to find words for doctrine in the early church.  He comes upon a child on a beach,  trying to capture the ocean in his sand pail.  Each time the child pours the ocean out onto the sand,  the water  disappears back to the sea.   St. Augustine says how futile it is for this child to try to capture the ocean.  The child, who it turns out is really an angel, says “It is as futile as you trying to contain God in your doctrines.”

 

Today is Trinity Sunday in the church. Trinity, God in 3 persons, only becomes doctrine in the late 4th  century; centuries after Jesus.  It was an attempt to celebrate the unfathomable mystery of God in terms of the Greek philosophy current at that time.  It tried to lift up the mystery of a God who cannot be pinned down-a God who is transcendent-(beyond)-yet immanent(with us, in us, around us) , incarnate(embodied) yet Spirit-God who is relational, dynamic, beyond human comprehension, yet as real as the flesh and blood of the man Jesus.

 

But as with most doctrines, particularly in the western version of Christianity (in the East it is much more mystical) there has been a need to concretize, to absolutize, to reduce to a formula, particularly a formula that has become distorted by the patriarchal cultures in which the doctrine has been lived out.  Trinity has sometimes become a prison for God, rather than pointing to the living experience of an endlessly becoming God.

 

The same thing was going on in Jesus’ time….Trying to contain God in human patterns.  In the gospel Jesus talks of Spirit as  “Wind Blowing where it will. We do not know where it is going or where it comes from. So it is with anyone born of the Spirit.”

 

Wind is invisible;  We can not see it, but  we know it by how it touches other life – the clouds, the water, the grasses, the trees, our skin, our hair.  I love to watch the grasses by my pond dancing to the movements of the wind.  We can see where wind has been by the movement and action  it creates.  Sometimes, wind seems to comes from nowhere.   Other times we can see the signs of the coming storm long before strong winds blow.   Winds bring change.  They signal that one  weather system is being replaced by another often from far away.  Sometimes  winds caress gently, tenderly, almost as a reminder of  loving  Presence that surrounds us.  Sometimes wind is comforting, soothing, renewing, energizing.  Sometimes wind  is chilling, biting, disturbing,  forcing us to move quickly to seek shelter, to move to a different place.  Sometimes  wind turns things upside down, as I experienced in a tornado one summer.  Sometimes, wind blows in a whole new thing, something that comes from somewhere else.   Many seeds are spread by wind.   Some trees and rocks are sculpted by wind, formed over the course of years.

 

In Hebrew, the same  word is used for Wind as for breath, and Spirit….  Ruah…and in Hebrew that word is feminine.  Some early paintings  show the Holy spirit as a feminine figure.  It was the ruah…..the breath of God,  the wind of God blowing over the face of chaos, that births creation…that brings order out of chaos.  At the  birth of the church, as the story is told in Acts,  there was a  rush of a strong wind and flames of fire that came upon a gathering of strangers.  These people from different religions, different countries, speaking different languages,   were able to break through the walls of difference to come to understand one another.  Throughout  our scriptures, wind and breath are images used to speak of the presence of God’s Life-Giving Spirit.  

 

So it is not surprising that in speaking to Nicodemus about the movement of the Spirit, Jesus speaks of wind.  Nicodemus was a powerful man, one of the leaders of  the Jewish council in Jerusalem. Yet Nicodemus approaches Jesus by night, tentatively it seems,  unwilling to publicly acknowledge his interest in Jesus.   Maybe it was politically dangerous to be seen associating with this trouble maker.  Maybe he was afraid for his career, his kids. Maybe he was afraid of the powerful enemies Jesus had   Perhaps he came to seek wisdom from him, to check him out a little more before he was prepared to jump in with him.  Maybe he was looking for a halfway relationship where he could be supportive, but not lose any of the perks of prestige and power that came from his role in life.  We don’t know exactly what brought this powerful man out of the woodwork into the night to meet this upstart from Galilee.

 

Jesus always seemed to be able to see through to the soul, to encounter each person exactly where they were;  to speak the  particular liberating word of life that they needed to hear .  He  seemed to know what needed to be  unlocked to let the wind of the spirit blow free.  Jesus did not have one pat answer for everyone  searching for relationship with God.  He told a rich young man that he must sell all that he had and follow; He told a leper who had been healed  to stay where he was, and tell the story of his experience.   He told the Samaritan woman at the well, that even though the rest of the town might label her sinner, he would give living water so that she would never thirst;  and then called her to spread the good news she had received.  He told a woman bent over that she should rise up and stand tall.  Jesus saw to the centre of the soul, to the need beneath the words, to the question behind the searching; and  then to heartspeak, to soulspeak to that place.

 

Nicodemus seems  a very conservative, cerebral sort of man  Jesus with deceptive simplicity, displaces Nicodemus cerebral concepts of religion, and his desire to have everything neatly packaged.  Jesus does this  with very earthy images.  He speaks of birth-a radical embodied earthy transformation to new life- and he speaks of the spirit of God blowing where it will, like wind.To Nicodemus, this seeking yet careful bureaucrat of religious life, he says “You must be born from above, born of the Spirit. Born of the breath of God, the wind of God” . Nicodemus needs to let go to  a wind that cannot be controlled-a wind that will blow where it chooses.  He needs to be open to the radical unpredictability of the Spirit- to stop trying to keep God in his pocket.  He needed to live the radical trust of new life… Life that is Spirit- led, rather than controlled by him. 

 

Now we don’t really know what Nicodemus did after this..   We do  hear, later in John, that he defended Jesus before the Sanhedrin and that he helped to prepare the body for burial, But we know nothing about what happened between.

 

This letting Go and letting God is hard work. Some Christians have even  taken this very liberating passage, and turned it into a new orthodoxy  to control and define where  and how and to whom God will bring new birth.  Even Christians of a more liberal theology, have found the notion of being Spirit led- led by the Wind of God, rather terrifying.  Most of us would rather control our own lives.  It’s safer that way, more comfortable.

The Spirit might turn us upside down, inside-out, might lead us where we are afraid to go, might take us in new directions.   Yet who are we to try to control the Spirit?  Who are we to try to contain God in our own image?  Who are we to say where the Spirit will blow? 

 

 If I asked you right now to think of where you had noticed Spirit blowing in your life this past week, where might that be?   If I asked you where you had seen the Spirit blowing in this community where might that be?   Where might God want to blow the winds of the Spirit into our church  so that we can keep alive Jesus message of Life in all its fullness for all people?

 

Spirit wind, blow your new beginnings

into my cobwebbed life.

Spirit wind, blow your cleansing power

into the violence of this world.

Spirit wind, blow where you choose

There is so much that needs rebirth

so much that yearns for new beginning

so much that longs for the freedom of the

Wind that blows where it chooses.

 

Psalm 29: celebrates God’s activity in creation.

 

John 3:1–17

One teacher ventures out at night to meet another. Respect and challenge mark their encounter.  Ambiguous language opens rather than closes conversation. At stake, then and now, is the potential for birthing to new life and opening to God’s blessing. Faith beckons us to go out from what is known and journey toward the One whose promises are trusted. 

 

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