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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

May 31, 2015

 

The Wind of the Spirit

Isaiah 6:1-8;John 3:1-17

              To anyone ever brought up in the Jewish tradition, nothing would be more natural than to compare the Spirit of God to the wind, which is what Jesus did on that fateful night when Nicodemus, that leader of the Jews, humbled himself enough to come secretly to Jesus to listen and to learn.  In 2010, Connie and I went with friends from this church to Oberammergau, to the Passion Play in Germany.  Nicodemus was one of my favorite figures in the play.  As a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, he was costumed with a huge, expansive hat, that gave the appearance of an oversized head.  Just standing there, they all looked arrogant and self-important.  Yet Nicodemus, from the start of the six-hour play, never took his eyes off Jesus.  He was captivated, curious, trying hard to figure out who Jesus really was.  And then one night, this leader, this powerful man, humbled himself and by the darkness of night, and secretly paid Jesus a visit.

             Today, on Trinity Sunday, I would like to talk about the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  And I would love for us to let Jesus be our Teacher.  Last week, Bill Carl talked about the Hebrew word Ruach – at creation’s dawn, the Spirit of God, the breath of God, the wind of God, the Ruach, hovered over the face of the waters, bringing order and beauty and balance to the primordial chaos.

             So for Jesus to tell Nicodemus that, “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” was a very Jewish thing to say.  Then Jesus adds, “so it is (Nicodemus) with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

             “The wind blows,” Jesus said, speaking of the ceaseless work of the Holy Spirit of God in the world.  Never is there a moment or a time when the Spirit of God is not actively at work.  In Genesis 1:2 we are told, “The Spirit (Ruach) of God moved over the face of the waters.”  From the very start, the Spirit was wed to this world by the Creator God.  And then, on the last page of the Bible, in Revelation, the Risen Christ says, “I am the bright and morning star.  And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come.”  From the beginning to the end, and everywhere in between, God is Spirit, and Spirit is one with Creation, and one with Christ, the Bride.

             The Psalmist asks, “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?  Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?  If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, Thou are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Thy hand shall lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me!”  God never lets go, and never ceases to blow like the wind, to hover over the whole world, to breathe the breath of life into our souls, to hold this fragile planet, our island home together.  We often talk of the Triune God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  It is the Holy Spirit that is the great Sustainer of all that is.  The Spirit never ceases, and is always with us.  One British theologian said, “The Holy Spirit is God in the present tense.”  “The wind blows,” Jesus says.  Always!

             “The wind blows where it chooses,” or “where it wills.”  This is the sovereign freedom of God the Holy Spirit.  Just as we can never control or contain the wind, so we never can control or contain the Spirit of the Living God, which is always at work in the world, always on the move, always doing something new, something fresh, always bringing life.  Everyone knew Jesus was dead, laid to rest forever in a borrowed tomb, never to be heard from again.  It seemed like another dream turned into a nightmare.  But the wind of the Spirit “blows where it chooses,” and God chose to do something utterly new, and nothing has been the same since!  Why would history bypass Alexandria and Athens and Rome and locate the Savior of the world in the no-count, tiny town called Nazareth?  Because the wind of the Spirit “blows where it chooses.”  This is God’s way, to take what is lowly and to raise it up, to take what is despised and make it beautiful, to take what is weak and make it strong.

             Never try to tame the wind!  Let the Spirit blow where it chooses.  This is the essential hopefulness of Christianity.  God’s Spirit can blow wherever it chooses, and there is no winter of death that cannot be revived, no soul so cold that it cannot be brought back to life, no sin so dark or shameful that it cannot be forgiven, restored, renewed.  I truly believe this!  Do you?  “The wind blows where it chooses.”  God is utterly and gloriously free, and God is sovereign.

             “The wind blows where it will, and you hear the sound of it.”  Yesterday, Connie and I ate dinner out on our side porch, looking down on our backyard.  As we bowed our heads to pray, the wind whispered in the air.  The wind often does – sometimes with a whisper, sometimes with a howl, sometimes with a mighty rush.  So it is with the Spirit.  If you listen, you can hear the sound of it, you know something is going on, that God the Holy Spirit is up to something.

            That is what brought Nicodemus to Jesus by night.  Nicodemus heard what was happening through Jesus.  “Rabbi,” he says, “no one can do the signs you do apart from the presence of God.”  Nicodemus saw the signs of the Spirit at work in Jesus, he heard the wind.  We often do.  I am always on the lookout for what God is doing, for how the Spirit is moving, for signs and wonders that mark the work of God.  The Spirit always “proceeds from the Father and the Son,” and the Spirit, if it is the Holy Spirit, comes as love, comes uniting people around God’s great love for the whole world and everyone in it.  Wherever love is found, the Spirit is blowing.  It is the unmistakable sign that Jesus is present.

            “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from….”  This is the mystery of how the Holy Spirit works.  It “proceeds from the Father and the Son,” but it always comes mysteriously, in surprising and unpredictable ways.  In my own life, this is how it has been.  God comes in surprising, unexpected ways.  Things I thought were awful served as prelude for the greatest blessings.  You never know how the Spirit will come!  Saul of Tarsus was an enemy of the followers of Jesus – and then the Spirit knocked him from his mount; he was forever changed, and Paul reshaped the mission of Jesus Christ in the world into a global, universal faith.  It started as a very Jewish, almost tribal movement, but through Paul became a very Jewish, universal, world-embracing endeavor.

            Nicodemus wanted to know precisely how God works.  And Jesus was telling Nicodemus there is no precision in how the Spirit works.  We will never know the source of the wind, where it comes from.  When you feel the wind blowing, you have to get your sails up, and catch the wind.  You have to yield to its living power.  You have to ride the wind wherever it blows.  You will never capture or control the wind, but can only receive it as the gift that it is.

             Finally, “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.”  This is the unfathomable destiny of the Spirit.  You will never know where the Spirit of God is liable to take you.

             Nicodemus had no idea that night where it would lead him.  But when this same Jesus was crucified, left hanging on a Roman cross, all the life gone from Him, the Spirit led Nicodemus to Pontius Pilate’s chamber, to claim the body of Jesus with his friend Joseph of Arimathea – one of the boldest and most beautiful acts in the Gospel story.

             When God’s Spirit blows, you never know where it will lead!  I was on my way to the Dickinson College School of Law, the oldest law school in Pennsylvania, when a middle-aged, short, stocky Methodist minister named Jerry Murphy asked me to preach for him at his small church while he was on vacation.  He invited me over to his house to talk about Sunday.  That night I sat with him on the floor of his living room and he asked me, “Todd, have you ever thought about becoming a minister?”  The Spirit was moving in the air between us that night, and I thought, “I might just look into seminary.”  I had no idea where it would take me.  We never, ever do!

             But friends, I am here to tell you that God the Holy Spirit is alive, and moving still in this world that God loves so deeply and so fully.  So listen to the wind, dear friends.  Listen to the wind!

                                                                 Amen.

 

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