SERMON 3/8/20 Lent 2A St. Monica’s Naples FL
The Power of Flight
Jesus said, “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.” I think you all know that I love airplanes, but you may not know why. Airplanes are incredible machines. Complex moving parts, advanced electronics, powerful engines, and in some cases incredible splendor and beauty. Airplanes have a purpose beyond merely sitting in a hangar collecting dust. These machines must move and take people from one location to another. An airplane can be merely a museum piece, unless it takes to the wind and does what it is intended to do; fly.
An aircraft flies because of Bernoulli’s principle and the Newton’s Third Law of Motion and because of advanced science of technology, but these craft really fly because of something unseen and not apparent to the eye. Aircraft can only fly because of the movement of air (wind) over its wings. An airplane accomplishes its primary purpose as a result of the wind, the unseen force acting upon its structure pushing, prodding, and lifting it to new heights.
The church accomplishes her primary purpose (her mission) because of the movement the Spirit pushing, prodding, and lifting us to new heights. At the birth of the church on Pentecost, “suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” The Holy Spirit acted in and through those first followers, and they responded to God’s leading, pushing them to respond to change in such a way, that were transported as new people into a new way of life. How does an airplane fly and how does the church accomplish her mission? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind.
Faith and Wind
In Hebrews, the writer records, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We cannot see the wind, but only the results of how this force acts upon objects in nature. During a hurricane, the palm trees sway, the power lines move, and the buildings creak, and yet we cannot see the force behind all the change happening outside our doors. So, it is with God’s Spirit blowing into us, calling us to change and become new, just like Father Abraham.
Paul wrote to the church in Rome and stated, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” God made promises to Abraham that he would become a great nation, that God would bless him, make his name great and all for a purpose. God made promises to Abraham for which all people desired, and then God gave him a job to do; to be a blessing. However, the promises alone required more of Abraham than merely to hear about then, and then go back to life as normal. Abraham had to change in so many ways.
Abraham had to engage the promise and do something, and he did. Abraham was given a mission from God, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” “So, Abram went, as the Lord had told him.” In order to receive the promises of God, his faith needed to take wings and move, respond, and do as God required. The Church has a purpose: make disciples and carry on Jesus’ ministry. It is not enough for us to come and be fed and then not be sent out like Abraham. If we are an apostolic church as we claim in the Nicene Creed, then we must be sent out in service to others. Like the beautiful vintage aircraft sitting in a hangar, we are either a hospital for sinners or a museum for saints. We must take to the skies and fulfill our purpose.
Jesus explained this mission call to Nicodemus with these words, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” The Greek word we find in scripture for “born from above” is Anothen. and in English scripture, it is translated either as born “anew” or “from above” but not both. Jesus intentionally uses the word’s double meaning. Theologian Gail O’Day explains, “The double meaning of Anothen, underscores the newness of which Jesus speaks cannot be contained or comprehended by any simple or pre-existent categories. He speaks of a newness that challenges even the conventional capacity of language.” (1) Jesus is telling us that we cannot take our part in God’s Kingdom, Jesus’ mission, the Jesus movement, unless we are willing to experience, engage in, and respond to the life-changing rebirth in Christ. We must change and be changed.
In John’s gospel we read, “And from his fullness have we all received grace upon grace.’ (John 1:16) O’Day states, “The gift of grace upon grace has made all things new, and this gift of transformative newness is the key to spiritual and communal wholeness. We have been given the chance to become God’s children, to live lives in which brokenness is healed by grace.” (1) We must be reborn anew from above and that means, we must allow the Spirit of God, the wind, the very breath of God, which fill us and set us on a new path. We must leave the old behind and embrace the change before us.
O’Day says “We are also beset by a great tearfulness in the face of that call. We are afraid to embrace newness, to accept transformation, because such acceptance would mean letting go of the things that defined our lives before newness was offered.” (1) We do not like change, because it means the death of something, something we have held so dear; our comfort. Real spiritual change takes place not by osmosis or as a result of our being mere spiritual spectators. It requires us to, like Father Abraham, go where God calls us and to do what God asks, so that we might partake in the promises of God. It requires us to devote our most precious commodity, time, and to invest it in the mission of God in our lives.
Each of us are equal in that we all have 168 hours each week, and we have the choice to spend it any way we wish. The average American spends 17% of that week watching television, 10% on social media, and less than 2% responding to the wind of God’s Spirit calling us to new life each day. The average American spends only .6% of their week praying and only .55% of their week in worship. With that kind of investment, we are struggling to be a blessing, and we are struggling to become a hospital for sinners.
The Body of Christ is more than a mere museum display that gathers for only one hour a week and maybe spends an hour a week speaking to God. Not many marriages will experience the blessed growth of love, if we were to only speak to our spouse or spend time with our spouse for less than two hours per week. So, how do we fulfill our purpose, being reborn of the Spirit, and what is this mission you keep telling us about Fr. Eric?
Mission and action
Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” This promise of God found in John 3:16 is plastered everywhere. You see it at sporting events, on bathroom walls, and sometimes on elastic wrist bands. If this verse alone contains all of God’s promise and mission call, then we might begin to think that belief alone is our only responsibility. You’re all set if you have faith. However, if we read the second part of the promise of God, for God’s people, we realize that as followers of Jesus, we have a mission to do. John 3:17 states, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus saves!
See, we are Jesus followers, and that means that our mission is Jesus’ mission. In other words, the church’s purpose is to leave the safety of the hangar, take a risk, and go flying in the wild and wooly winds of mission. We are called to move from the pews and sanctuary seats, and become people of action moved by the wind, the breath the Spirit, so through us others may see the one who saves; Jesus. Now that kind of mission and purpose will most likely require us to change and like Abraham, to go and be a blessing.
Bob Dylan wrote a song in 1962 that has been described as, “a protest song … (which) poses a series of rhetorical questions about peace, war, and freedom. The refrain “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind” has been described as “impenetrably ambiguous: either the answer is so obvious it is right in your face, or the answer is as intangible as the wind.” (2) Dylan used brilliant lyrics to challenge his fans to reflect on, or maybe even to pray about the actions we might take to bring about change in the world. For we Christians, Dylan reminds us that we are called to be a blessing like Abraham, and that mission requires us to not only change, but to go and be anew.
Dylan wrote, “how many times must the cannon balls fly before they’re forever banned? “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?” “How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?” “How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?” “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?” I wish Dylan would have added, “how many churches will be lost to fear and acquiescence, till we realize Jesus mission is our mission.”
Change my friends is coming, because God promises it to be so. Change is coming, but will you accept it and move with it or against it. The Spirit is blowing, and calling us to be free, to see, to hear, and to make change. Jesus is calling his church to follow the Spirit and to not just have faith, but respond to faith, be changed by faith, and then go be faith change agents in the world. What is our mission Fr. Eric? The answer is so obvious it is right in your face. The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind.
(1) O’Day, Gail R. “New Birth as a New People: Spirituality and Community in the Fourth Gospel.” Word & World, vol. 8, no. 1, Wint 1988, pp. 53–61.