Second Sunday of Lent
- Posted on Mar 9, 2020
The wind blows where it chooses, and you know 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
In the name of God, who often comes to us like a rushing wind. AMEN.
In the Gospel of John, Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the safe cover of darkness.
Jesus has just blown into Jerusalem like a mighty wind and entered the Temple—pouring out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He had called out those who were selling doves for sacrifice, saying “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
The Jews said to Jesus: “What sign can you show us for doing this?”
And Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews wondered aloud how Jesus could destroy the temple in three days since it had been under construction for 46 years….but as they were wondering this, Jesus blew out of the temple, followed by his mystified and frightened disciples, to the place where they were staying.
Soon after that event in the Temple, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night.
He is a Pharisee and a leader of the Jewish community.
He may have been in the Temple that day…but surely heard the story about Jesus.
He was surely shocked, but Nicodemus also knew that Jesus was shining a light on the corrupt practices that had come to mark Temple worship in Jerusalem.
He knew he was a teacher, a prophet and felt that Jesus was filled with the presence of God.
He had to know more.
It was as if a mighty wind had blown through Nicodemus’ soul—it frightened him, it shook him to his very core, but he had to know more. He had to meet this Rabbi of God.
When we are shaken to the core by an event or a person, we want to know more but we need some security as we enter more deeply into our questioning and investigation of this mighty power that has come into our lives.
Wondrous Celtic poet and writer John O’Donohue notes that we often seek a solid structure to protect us as we question the deepest questions of our lives.
He notes that in the West of Ireland, the landscape is dotted with stone walls.
“These walls frame off the fields from each other. They bestow personality and shape on the fields.”
But, rather than boundaries, “these walls are more like frontiers…and when you see these walls, you also see the different styles of openings between the stones. Each wall is a series of different windows of light.”
O’Donohue goes on to say that in these walls, “Rabbits, hares, and foxes have favorite windows in these walls through which they always cross….These walls are also shelters for all kinds of growth: grasses, plants, briers. They become home to a whole subculture of insects, bees, birds and animals.”
When John O’Donohue was a child and was herding cattle on his family’s land, he would shelter during storms by these stone walls. And when he looked at the openings—the “little windows” in the stone walls, he would see the whole landscape beyond him in a new way—everything was framed differently.”
Shelters that we seek in times of storms in our lives are best if not “hermetically sealed barriers” but those that are “solid, and latticed frontiers.”
Can the places we find security when the Spirit or the world rush through our lives be places that have windows to look out on alternative possibilities?
It is true that every life has its own natural shelter.
We all have spaces that we retreat to when we feel under attack—a comfortable chair, our bed, a garden.
But the call to new life that Jesus speaks of can engender the same kind of fear as a physical attack.
The resurrection is “about the subversive transformation of all barriers that confine or imprison” from the sacrificial system of Temple worship in Jesus’ time to our own addictions and inner prisons.
“The Resurrection is frightening because it is a call to live life without the walls of crippling addiction or false protections. The huge stone over Christ’s tomb was rolled away. The cave of dying was ventilated and freed. It is a powerful image of smashing open the inner prison. The confined. The exiled, the neglected are visited by the healing and luminosity of a great liberation—the light of Christ.”
We now are beginning to see the signs of spring—crocuses and daffodils are beginning to bloom.
Yet John O’Donohue speaks to the challenge of our Lenten spring:
On a farm, the season of greatest change is springtime. Everything is in the flourish of growth. You often notice where a large flat rock has fallen onto the grass. All around the rock is growth. Beneath the rock, the grass has turned yellow and sour. In every life, there are some places where we have allowed great slabs of burden to remain fallen on our heart. These slabs have turned much of our inner world sour and killed many of the possibilities which once called us—of seeing something new and unexpected in our lives, of going to new places within and without, lot living life to the full. When the slabs are pulled off our hearts, we can move freely again and breathe and feel alive.
(Quotes from Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong by John O’Donohue)
This is what Nicodemus so desperately wanted in his faith…and so he came to Jesus.
It is what we desperately want too…but we are frightened. We need that secure stone wall, but a stone wall with the openings of light to see in a new way—the landscape, our life, ahead.
Church buildings over the centuries have been the places that function as our stone walls.
When the Spirit blows or the tempest storms around us.
And Emmanuel is a place of stone and light—that allows us to find security in times of uncertainty and transition, but also to imagine the new landscape and resurrections ahead.
But it is a place—like a stone wall in a field—that is not ours alone.
This place belongs to the community.
In fact, Emmanuel is in conversation with countless people who experience the exterior of this building in the daily routines of their lives—while driving a car on 1-68 or walking or driving up or down Washington Street, making the turn at Greene Street, having a prom picture taken here, or going to the Courthouse or Library. This place makes a statement to those who pass by as well as to those who worship here.
The stone structure speaks to us—and to many.
And that stone structure also invites entrance into this space—and when we enter the space, we are closed round with an embrace of peace. We enter and we feel we are on holy ground, in a place apart yet inviting.
The design of Emmanuel is on a human scale—with materials that delight the eyes and touch. Nevertheless, the church points to eternal things. The stained glass windows are like a melody in a symphony—calling us to new life through their welcome and colorful festivity, the touch of transcendent light, the play of light on stone.
We are fed by what we see and experience.
Emmanuel is a monumental building and one that invites you inside.—even if it takes years.
Its stone is strong and secure yet not cold—for it is infused with the light of Christ.
If you come into the church at anytime—before the lights are turned on—it does feel like coming into a warm embrace. And Emmanuel is never truly dark, for even in the moonlight or street light, our stained glass windows bring light inside.
When we enter this space, voice says to us: “We are here to stay; our position here is not temporary, we are built to last and to serve and to welcome all who come to this door.”
Just as was Jesus’ presence to Nicodemus, Emmanuel seems every day to reach our like an extended hand—-and one day, with a rush of Spirit, we reach out and grasp onto that hand for dear life—-and find that god’s warm embrace carries us into the light of the resurrection.
And our life is never the same. AMEN.
(c) 2020. The Rev. Martha N. Macgill
The end of the sermon was inspired by the Rev. Dr. Thomas F Pike’s reflections about the monastery of the Society of St John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Mass.