Second Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 16, 2014
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
The three-day weather forecast for Central Maui called for mostly cloudy skies with a brief shower or two last night. Winds were expected from the northeast at 15-30 miles per hour.
That was the forecast. The reality was there were no brief passing showers but occasional prolonged downpours throughout the day and night. The wind remained constant blowing primarily from the northeast but basically from wherever it chose.
The wind chime on my front porch was evidence enough of the breezy conditions. But perhaps even more evident was the sound of the wind brushing through the fronds high atop the coconut trees along a nearby street.
It was hard not to hear and appreciate the words of Jesus in response to his conversation with Nicodemus as I listened to the wind. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a pious Jew, a teacher and a member of the Sanhedrin – a council or court in ancient Israel that was composed of 70 men and a high priest.
Nicodemus came to Jesus one night and declared, “We know you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God” (John 3:2) Jesus answered him, “I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:3)
Nicodemus confuses Jesus’ statement with a physical birth and wonders how such a birth is possible. Jesus makes clear that he is speaking about a spiritual, not physical, birth. “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5)
It is then that Jesus explains, “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)
The Greek word for wind is pneuma. It also means “breath” and “spirit.” It is a powerful image to use as we explore change in our lives. We know the strength of a strong breeze can propel a windsurfer or a kite surfer across Kanahā or generate an alternative source of energy at the Kaheawa wind farm above Maʻalaea.
We have also seen the destructive force of hurricanes like ʻIniki that devastated the island of Kauai on September 11, 1992. As we look at images of change, our reading from The Gospel According to John reminds us that the process of birth is equally powerful and life-changing. (Seasons of the Spirit, SeasonsFUSION, Lent-Easter 2014, Wood Lake Publishing Inc., 2013, page 45)
Jesus invites Nicodemus, as he invites each of us, to come into the light of day and become, full participants in the abundant life he offers. He knows that neither Nicodemus nor you and I can do this on our own. It is God who will give birth in water and Spirit.
Rebirth is God’s gift to give. It is God’s gift to accomplish, and it is God who labors to bring us new life. (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010, page 72) As we look at the darkness in our lives and in our world, we see the light of God’s love and grace.
Life eternal, then, is a gift from God. It is “not attained by achievement, claim or proof. Nicodemus represents a faith, unclear and seeking more proof, that is based on signs and to him and through him Jesus declares that God loves and gives life to the world.” (Preaching Through the Christian Year, A, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1992, page 159)
When we recall our physical birth there is the initial cry that comes from the first breath that is taken outside the protective shelter of our mother’s womb. “What is born of flesh is flesh.” (John 3:6) When we recall our spiritual birth there is the cry that comes from the Spirit. “What is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6) The Spirit, that is the wind or breath of God, brings life and healing to each of us and to the whole of creation.
Over the years I have been asked on more than a few occasions: “Are you a born-again Christian?” For awhile I took offense to the question feeling as though I had to provide the person asking the question with a set of credentials to verify and confirm my commitment to Jesus Christ.
Having grown up in a church where accepting, receiving and believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and being baptized by the Spirit, I could say “Yes” without hesitation. Still, I wondered if I was like Nicodemus not really understanding what living a life of faith meant.
But I have come to realize that being “born-again” is not about what we do, but about what God has done. “Being born from above and believing in Jesus are clearly not so much about what one does with one’s mind as about what one does with one’s heart and one’s life.” In other words, believing and doing are inseparable. (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010, page 72)
What we do, how we live our lives, how we become signs of God’s love in the world - not simply what we think or say we believe - is what matters if we are to live the life of faith that is born of Spirit. As we continue our journey through this season of Lent may we be strengthened and sustained by the power and presence of the Spirit in our lives and in our world.
Let us pray: In Jesus, O God, you have shared our suffering and our struggles, our life and death. You do not condemn us, but give us eternal life. So with our inward breath, we receive new life; and with our outward breath, we offer you our thanks. Mahalo Ke Akua. Amen.