Text: Isaiah 6.1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8.12-17; John 3.1-17
And so, like Nicodemus, we are still asking the question today: What does it mean to be ‘born again’, and of the spirit no less? In our cultural context today, when we hear ‘born again’ we likely think of people whose theology requires a ‘decision for Christ’, often called ‘decision theology.’ This is most often a one-time event in a person’s life.
But this is not what Jesus is driving at. He uses the metaphor of the blowing wind, which reminds us that the Spirit is mysterious, it will blow where it will. He makes a distinction between being born of the flesh and of the spirit, reminding us that we are connected through Christ to life beyond these bodies we inhabit now.
By using the metaphor of birth to begin with, Jesus is saying something. Being physically born is not a choice we make, it is something that happens to us. So by using this image, it seems that Jesus is trying to tell Nicodemus that being born again of the Spirt is also something that happens to us. And through birth we have new life, once in the physical sense, but again and again as the Spirit is continually making things new.
So what does new life in the Spirit look like? Perhaps it looks like what the Spirit can do to us when we feel like this (empty balloon). Everyone gets an un-inflated balloon. Sometimes we feel like this: limp, shapeless, lifeless. And then the Holy Spirit moves. As Pastor Seth mentioned last week, the Hebrew word for spirit is ruach, which also means wind or breath. So as we think together of some examples of the Spirit filling us with its holy breath, we will fill our balloons - BUT DON’T TIE IT!!
What are ways we find the Holy Spirit moving in our lives, breathing life into us? What are the moments when we are assured of God’s love for us and the world?
- remembering our baptism in our lives daily (puddle-jumping, bath-tub, doing service, etc)
- feeling united with those I love who have died in Holy Communion
- being reminded of God’s amazing creation
- smell of pine
- good workout
- feeling the love of God in an embodied relationship
- great conversation with a friend
- sitting with family
Now that our balloons are full: what happened? What has changed?
- breath/spirit gives shape, growth, buoyancy
Now on three, let go! (and remember, God says: do not be afraid, I am with you!)
What happened? What might this tell us about the Holy Spirit?
- doesn’t stay still
- always active, moving, spurring us into action
- unpredictable, didn’t know where it would go
- what did you hear?
- laughter - spirit enlivens and gives us hope
- what do those balloons look like now?
- stretched, never the same again
All of these things we just named are ways we experience new life in the spirit. Being born again in the spirit is constantly happening to us, being born again means we are made new every day, every hour, every minute.
Particularly today, when we also heard the call story of the prophet Isaiah, it is helpful to think of the Spirit filling us up in order to be shared. God does not call us for the sake of ourselves. God calls us for the sake of the world. The same is true for our new life and the Spirit making us new. We do not experience the gift of the Spirit in isolation, only for ourselves. We receive the gift of the Spirit for the sake of the world.
We do not work alone, and the Spirit does not work alone. Today we celebrate the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is a beautiful Greek word that describes the relationship of the three persons of the Trinity: perichoresis. It is the dance of the Trinity. It describes a relationship that is always moving. A dance so in sync, so active, alive and intricate, that you can’t tell one person from the next.
Perichoresis emphasizes the fact that the Trinity is so much more than three persons, it is those three in relationship: dancing together, creating together, loving together. And together, they invite us into the dance. And we need not worry if we don’t know the steps, for it is the dance of grace. We are adopted into this family, as we hear in our reading from Romans today. And with this adoption comes an inheritance: never-ending grace and love - nor from a far and distant God, but from the great Three-In-One, from a God who is always pulling us closer to each other and to Godself, from a God of relationship.
The prophet Isaiah could not have gone on to do all the things he did without joining the dance of the Trinity or letting the Spirit blow him where she would. He said: Here I am, send me. And if we had kept reading in Isaiah we would have found that he was sent to proclaim God’s word to people that didn’t listen in a difficult place where he would be for a very long time. Joining the dance of the Trinity and saying ‘Here I am, Send Me’ isn’t always easy, but it isn’t always difficult either. Because as we are being sent out, others are being sent to us. It’s all a part of the beauty of the dance, the relationship, the mystery of God.