Elementary #2, Wind 2020-0308

. 7 min read

Mar 2020, Christ Mountain Top
the Scripture, Psalm 121 (inserted, see below)
Genesis 12.1-4 (Abram called to leave)
John 3.1-17 (born again, Spirit/wind goes where it wills)
Moment, Kids program at Sherman Hills
week we began our Lent message series, Elementary, with the theme “Word.” We
heard the temptation of Jesus and the temptation of Eve and Adam. Those in the
paradise garden put a higher value on what they desired than on the Word God
had given. Jesus, faced with the Bible-thumpin’ devil, declared that he needed
the Word more than bread, more than adoration and respect, more than
power to make the world better. We discussed how important discernment is for
life, and how our discernment, and our victory over temptation, is shaped by being
honest with ourselves and having a mind renewed through the Word. In our
worship visual center, we had a collection of Bibles.
       Today we continue this series with the
theme 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. So it is with everyone
who is born of the Spirit” (John 3.8). In the Greek text, the word for Spirit
and the word for wind are the same word, pneuma. Father Abram is
called to leave and go to “a land I will show you.” “You do not know where it
comes from or where it is going.” In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes of
Abraham and Christ and tells us that righteousness comes not by works but by
faith, by the kind of faith that embraces uncertainty and steps out into the
unknown trusting only in God. The psalm assures us that the Lord will protect
your going out and your coming in, from this time forth and forever more. In
our visual center today we have one hand held fan and a bunch of paper with the
text of John 3.8 that you are invited to fold into accordion fans: “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
       Upcoming weeks will see the themes of
Water, Light, Life, and Death. Then, Easter!
ago, in a small group that was reading through John’s gospel together, one of
the young women in the group gasped as we worked on this story from John 3:
This means that if I trust in Jesus a new life is possible, a life eternal, a
life like God’s! Exactly! That is what it means to be “born of the Spirit.”
That is what it means to “leave your land, your people, your father’s house.”
       Yet, so often, we do not believe that
this is possible. We do not believe that a new life is possible. We feel
trapped in cycles of abuse, poverty, crime, depression, addiction, mental
health struggles, job loss, grief, loss of memory, hostility, a divided nation
and culture. We feel trapped in our own lives with no way out, stuck in a
prison that is partly of our own making.

through a crack, we feel a breeze. It rushes past our cheek and across our
neck. We shiver, involuntarily. And we have a choice: Open the crack wider or
board it up to keep the Spirit out and ourselves in, in this trap partly of our
own making.
       Winnie the Pooh is trying to get some
honey and he is impersonating a rain cloud. “I’m just a little black rain cloud
hovering over the honey tree…” Piglet is growing concerned, “I think the bees
are on to you.” Pooh replies, “You can never tell with bees.”
       And that’s what we often say about that
wind flowing through that crack: “You can never tell with breeze.” It could be
a tornado, violent and dangerous. We could be in big trouble letting it in. So,
better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. But, in the case of these Bible
stories, that response of escaping the wind ends up being better the devil you
know than the God you don’t. That’s where faith comes in. We don’t know
God fully. When God comes, God always takes us by surprise. There is some
degree of uncertainty we must face when we exercise trust. Jumping into the
pool for dad to catch me.
If we do, if we do trust, a new life is
actually possible. While this new life will not change the realities with which
we have to deal – our financial crisis, our family issues, our personal baggage
– this new life means that we are different. This new life means that life
of God, the breath, the wind, of the Spirit, is what gives us power and
direction – a power and direction that the world can neither understand nor
control. A new life is possible!
we are called into this new life out of the ruins of the old. Everything that
can go wrong did go wrong. Relationships we once treasured and trusted
deteriorated into hostility. Jobs we once relied on were taken from us. Health
that seemed a constant was taken from us overnight. The wind blows upon us. The
Spirit of God hovers over us, creating, conceiving, and pushing us into the new
world of grace. We may be afraid to leave behind “the devil we know,” but if we
do we will find ourselves in the arms of a God who is faithful and true.
       Sometimes, we are called into this new
life out of the glory of the old one. Nicodemus had a good thing going –
wealth, respect, status, education. There was nothing wrong with his life. And,
there was nothing wrong with Abram’s life. He was in a familiar and comfortable
place. He lived near family and they actually loved each other. He was well off.
Miroslav Volf comments on Abraham’s choice: “he would either belong to his
country, his culture, and his family and remain comfortably inconsequential or,
risking everything, he would depart and become great.”[1]
The wind blows upon Abram. The Spirit of God hovers over him, calling,
promising, leading him into the new world of grace. But he has no idea where he
is going or what it will be like when he gets there. John Wesley says it this
way: “By this precept he was tried whether he could trust God farther than he
saw him.”[2]
       Incidentally, Volf is describing
Abraham’s call to be counter-cultural. Today, there is nothing more
counter-cultural than a Christian community that includes and values folks who
disagree with each other on important questions. As the global United Methodist
Church goes through its agonizing struggle, here at Christ Church we have
developed and nurtured just such a divergent community – a treasure for which I
am deeply grateful. Back to our theme …
       However the call comes, whether out of
the ruins of the old or out of the glory of the old, we have to get out of our
own heads. Nicodemus, “You are a teacher of Israel and you do not understand
these things!?” “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” (John 3.8). We will never have full
understanding. There is something to the life of faith that we will never be
able to fully grasp. We name it mystery. We name it uncertainty. Whatever we
name it, we’ve got to get out of our heads, at least a little, and lean into it
with our hearts.
       One of our persons here at Christ Church
tells her personal faith story in these terms: “Going from rote to
relationship.” She practiced her faith for years. She went to church. It was
“rote,” that is, it was something she did out of obligation or habit, but not
something that penetrated into her heart, not something that involved leaning
into uncertainty, leaning into mystery. Seven years ago, this lifetime
church-goer had a decisive encounter with Jesus that changed her life. The wind
blew. The Spirit of God hovered and conceived and brought forth new life. A new
life is genuinely possible!
good news in all of this is that, though we may struggle with faith, Jesus
still engages us. We don’t have to have faith for him to listen. We don’t have
to have taken that risk, placed our trust in him, for him to join us in
conversation and life. We don’t know when Nicodemus stepped out in faith with the
wind of the Spirit at his back, but we know that he did so. At the end of
John’s gospel, Nicodemus is one of those who comes to take Jesus’ body, embalm
it, and bury it. You don’t do that unless you have gone from rote to
relationship, unless you have entered into the new life that is only possible
when the wind of the Spirit blows on you. Take hope! Ultimately, it’s not about
us and our faith. Instead, it’s all about God and God’s faithfulness.
       Join me again in reading this text from
Lamentations 3 that we shared on Ash Wednesday:
But this I call to mind,
therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
I will hope in him.”

[1] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity,
Otherness, and Reconciliation,
(Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1996), 38.
[2] John
Wesley, Wesley’s Notes on the Bible (Adobe
PDF eBook from Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, from the 1754
Explanatory Notes on the New Testament
and 1765 Explanatory Notes on the Old
865. In announcing our 2002 move to a church plant, I preached
from Genesis 12 and included Wesley’s reflection.