“A Confusing, Beautiful Wind”
“A Confusing, Beautiful Wind”
Genesis 12:1-4a; John 3:1-17
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
March 5, 2023
In 2015 I took a 2-week trip to Israel, and on my first night we arrived Tel Aviv, the capital, and stayed at the Renaissance Hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
When I got off the bus to walk into the hotel, I literally had to push my body down and forward to find enough stability not to be blown over from winds sweeping off the Sea. The locals said this almost never happens – never this cold, never this windy – until of course our group showed up.
That night, I head up to my room and fall asleep with the wind audibly whistling. At one point in the middle of the night it become so incredibly loud I opened my eyes and asked my roommate in a manner you only ask when you are barely awake: “So is the hotel falling down?”
And he goes, “No, I don’t think so. But the wind blew the door to our porch open.”
And it had – it had hit so strongly that the previously locked thick, glass door was jarred open.
And I go, “Oh, ok.” And I fell back asleep while he fought the door closed again and told me all about it in the morning.
Looking back, it was apparent my anxiety should have been a bit higher than it was because, truly, we had no control over a wind that blows where it will, how it will, with whatever force it will.
Texans know about wind.
Jesus knows about 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.” It’s the same Greek word for wind and Spirit (pneuma).
Jesus is explaining how the presence and power of God works. It is as palpable and real as wind and also as impossible to grasp or control as wind.
And I think this is part of what so challenges a guy like Nicodemus.
When Nicodemus comes onto the scene we learn he is a Pharisee, religious leader – he knows his Scripture, he knows about God.
And yet he comes to Jesus at night – perhaps in part because he does not want to stir up gossip about hanging out with this Jesus but also, John is making a point about Nicodemus: for all his credentials, right religion, right tradition… Nicodemus is in the dark.
And we catch this vis-a-vie his interaction with Jesus:
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus tells him, “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” or also translated “born again.”
Nicodemus is a sharp guy, a logical guy and he responds very matter-of-factly: “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
And he’s right, of course.
There is a logical progression to how things work in this life. You are born and then you die.
Just like there is a logical progression for how one trains for and studies for and becomes a religious leader. There is a logical progressions for maturity and growth and stature.
“Born again” as the thing?
While on that same trip to Israel, we visited Yad Veshem, the Holocaust Museum there. It is absolutely enormous and not easy to tour, as you might imagine.
One of the more poignant moments in the museum occurred when I walk by this section of walls filled with pictures, names, and brief bios of all these various German office. And at first this section seemed out of place. Why was this here?
I kept reading about these men, and what struck me is that every one of these officers and leaders were trained at the best, most prestigious universities in Europe. They had double majors in arts and sciences. Most of them were confessing Christians.
They were some of the brightest and most capable people…and then I saw why they were given a wall in this particular section.
These were very same people who paved the road to what we know as the holocaust. They were the leaders of the whole process that began in the early 1930s when Jewish people were first put into Ghettos.
Far too easy to point fingers at the past because they should’ve or could’ve known better…in fact, the reason that museum stands today is because the real truth is that humans of every age can have all the knowledge in the best world, noble traditions, right confessions – and still be in the dark, totally unaware of that fact.
To see the kingdom of God, you must be born again. That is the thing.
How humbling a moment for Nicodemus – for us – to hear that what is needed most is something we cannot attain, do, or control. How can you be born again?
Fortunately, as we heard, Jesus elaborates on what it looks like for the presence of God to take hold of and open and fill a life with the way of God:
“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.”
The wind blows…Somehow being born again has to do with this Wind blowing on us, through us…
Can you harness the wind of God?
Joan Gray, the former moderator of the PC(USA) has a book that our officers and staff read together three years ago entitled “Sailboat Church.” In it, she compares and contrasts two kinds of churches: rowboat churches and sailboat churches.
Rowboat churches are those that get things done on their own power- our intellect, our planning, our credentials, our theology, our energy will get this done.
Like Nicodemus, the rowboat church appreciates logic – it looks for 1-2-3 ‘fix it’ strategies to change something in their life or change something in the church.
Rowboat churches, Joan Gray says, may well be learning, considering Scripture, doing mission work, but Gray writes at the end of the day, for rowboat churches and rowboat individuals: “The actual experience of the personal presence of God is not much sought or expected in the church or the lives of its members.” We’ve got the oars; and yeah we’re tired and slower than we might like…but we like the control; we’re good.
Nicodemus rows so well, all night long. Ever been in that boat? All the forward motion, insight, power – its all whatever we can muster?
But what if anytime we’re in control, we’re actually in the dark?
Sailboat churches, by contrast Gray says, are fundamentally led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Wind.
They are comprised of people who are ok with not knowing what will happen next.
Or if not ‘ok,’ they just know that more than anything else they’ve got to open their sails to let whatever wind is moving to catch.
This is terrifying for most of us because if we open our heart to the unknown of what’s next and what God might have to say or do – who knows who or what will blow into our life?! Or out of our life!? Goodness, if you’ve ever seen wind catch a sailboat you know that the one guarantee is that the boat is going to move…and the wind will decide the pace, too.
What would it look like to come before God this morning and loosen the grip off of every oar that gives us a sense of control or self-worth?
- Can we let go of the oar of our credentials and recognitions?
- The oars of our certainty and right thinking?
- The oars of our last name or reputation?
- The oars of our standing in the community?
- The oars of our bank accounts or assets or really any stuff?
And with our hands now empty, what if the only thing we did is unfurl sail within?
God, we’re open for your wind. You Spirit. The Direction and pace we know we can’t control, but Scripture does assure us that the fruit of this Wind is always, every single time: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.”
Nicodemus hears all this talk about the Wind that cannot be controlled, and he responds:
“How can these things be?”
It is a sobering commentary that the wind can break right through the locks and the doors and even begin speaking right before us… and still we can turn over and fall back asleep.Or…who knows. Maybe Nicodemus wakes up a few days later.
It was about a week after the Tel Aviv hotel incident, that I went out in the early morning to walk alongside the Sea of Galilee where much of Jesus’ ministry unfolded.
And I brought my music and listened to an album by a Christian band called Jars of Clay. It was their first album, which they did back in the mid-90s. It was album I listened to all the time back then. Those were my teenage years of faith and years when there was a great passion to following Jesus.
And so I’m listening to the music of my childhood faith and a song entitled “Faith Like a Child” comes on.
And I pause looking out at the Sea of Galilee where Jesus walked on water. And the lyrics of the song begin, “They say I can walk on water if I would follow and believe with faith like a child.” And then tears start to fall, and I didn’t even know why, except, sometimes that’s the Wind for you.
I eventually realized the tears were equal parts grief and joy. Grief because I missed that passionate teenage faith where lot was unknown but so life-giving trusting the Wind…and grief because I recognized the many times I had. – in my own way – joined Nicodemus.
The Christian faith had too often become an intellectual debate, a program to be run, a talking piece over dinner, a thing to control and understand.
And joy, because in that moment the tears God gave me were awakening a desire to drop the oars of control and unfurl the heart.
And as I listened to “Faith Like a Child” it struck me that being born again is not a one-time thing, but a time-and-again thing where the Wind of God keeps doing what the Wind cannot help but do – keep moving toward us, for us, through us.
A relentless wind.
An uncontrollable wind.
A beautiful wind.
A living wind blowing this very moment.
Can we let go into the miracle or rebirth once again today? Amen.