Where is this wind coming from?

Winds at Megido
Lent 2A
John 3:1-17

In the name of God: our breath and our life.  Amen.

It seems to me like Kinnelon is windier than other places I’ve lived.  Have you ever noticed that?  Not always, of course, but when there’s wind, it seems a little more intense up here.  Maybe it’s the elevation…  We’ve been hyper aware of that since we moved here, because Rocky, our oldest dog, the Chihuahua, is terrified of most weather that isn’t sunny and calm.  Whenever there’s any kind of wind, he huddles in corners, convinced that we’ve placed him in grave danger – convinced that we don’t care about what becomes of him at all.

But, of course, we are concerned about our pup – more than he knows.  And there’s very rarely wind that’s strong enough to cause us concern beyond the concern we feel for him.  So when the wind comes, it’s often a topic of conversation around our house.  It’s become something of a running joke, because Michael, unironically, will hear the wind and exclaim, “Where is this wind coming from?”  Being unhelpful and smart alecky, I will typically reply, “from the sky.”  It’s a laugh a minute over at the Rectory – you should all be flies on the wall.

But wind is a powerful force.  Earlier this week there were winds in Tennessee in the form of tornados that killed nearly two dozen people, hospitalized a couple of hundred, and wreaked untold dollars’ worth of damage on buildings and other property.  It’s no wonder that people throughout history have recognized and been awed by the power of the wind.

And, of course, the power of the wind isn’t just in the terror it can bring.  Wind brings life.  On the winds, seeds and pollen are carried.  The winds bring the rain and the snows that nourish and water the earth.  Winds carry the changing seasons that spark new growth, bringing food to every creature under the sun.

I have a cousin who is a meteorologist – I’m sure she could try to explain the ways that the wind works, but for most of us, the wind seems almost poetic in its power and unpredictability.  It’s no wonder that it’s been the source of reflection for people considering God and Spirituality for about as long as we’ve been able to reflect on such things.

Enter Nicodemus – a leader of the Jews.  He has seen something in Jesus that he can’t explain – some measure of power that could only be attributed to God or Spirit.  So he comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness to investigate further.  “We know that 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.”

For a long time, Jewish culture and philosophy had embracaed the idea of the wind as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit – the breath of God.  So in using the metaphor of the wind with Nicodemus, Jesus was speaking his language.  It wasn’t obtuse, but something attainable that he’d have been comfortable talking about.  The new way of being – of being born from above, of following Christ – was like the wind.  It was a way of life that came with great power, and with great unpredictability.  Not like a philosophy that one could simply ascribe to and understand things more easily, but a new way of being.  A plane of existence that, like the wind, couldn’t make sense from his present perspective.  It would be like being born anew, into the new life, and the new way of being.

It’s heavy.  And a lot to take in.  And hard to wrap our minds around and hard to find words for.

As the story of Jesus progresses, Nicodemus just falls away.  We don’t hear from him again for a long time.  Like the wind, we don’t really know where he came from or where he went.  But he wasn’t gone forever.  We hear of him again in the story of the crucifixion.  After Jesus’ death, when Joseph of Arimathea gets permission from Pontius Pilate to receive Jesus’ body, Nicodemus comes back into the story.  This time he’s giving large, lavish quantities of expensive perfumes and ointments, and working with Joseph to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.

We don’t know what happened to Nicodemus between the moment when he came to Jesus by night to learn more, and the moment that he gave so much of himself and his time and his wealth to honor Jesus at the end.  But this idea must have stuck with him.  I imagine that it sort of needled away at him.  I imagine that he was reminded of this encounter with Jesus every time he felt a breeze on his face – every time he saw a storm pass, or a cloud rolling overhead.

Perhaps in time, he came to believe that that was, in fact, the new birth that Jesus had in mind.  Not the dramatic, sometimes violent way that we all experience the first birth – the birth of the body.  But a slower, subtler birth.  A birth of wisdom and gradual understanding that blows over us over time, like a wind carrying new life wherever it blows.

Where is this wind coming from?  From the sky, sure…  But it’s more than that.  It’s more than we know.  It’s more than we can know.  Even those among us who do know, know only in part.  Only in the new birth can we know enough to truly believe.  Amen.