Gospel: John 3:1-17
1st Reading: Genesis 12:1-4a
2nd Reading: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Earlier this week, we were at the coast, and I actually remembered to bring my kite. I got my kite for Christmas when I was a teenager. Every once in a while part of the frame breaks. That's when I go get a dowel from the craft store and fix it up again. From the moment we got out of the car, the wind was trying to catch it. We got out to the beach and it went right up. Sterling kept wanting to let it out more and more, so we let it go pretty high. Of course, then someone has to reel it back in!
Kites are some of the best toys for kids, fun and inexpensive to make, interesting to design, and a joy to fly. Kids around the world fly kites, wherever there is wind enough to fly them. I made this kite 11 or 12 years ago. After church during the summer, we had an all-church activity and one of the days we made kites. The paint is faded now, as you can see, but I have such good memories of the generations coming together that Sunday to make kites.
Abraham didn't know about kites. He was living a flat kind of life, one-dimensional. He was getting older—the scriptures say he was about 75 years old. He was preparing to enter retirement and spend his later years puttering in the garden, volunteering, and watching Dancing with the Stars with his wife.
And then he heard a voice. It was a voice telling him that in some ways his life was just beginning. The voice told him that he would leave his extended family and his country and start over in a new land. The voice told him that a great nation would come from him. The voice told him that his name would be great and that people would be blessed through him—in fact all the families of the earth would be blessed.
The voice did not offer assurance that the trip would be easy. The voice did not give Abraham money for the trip. The voice didn't even tell him what direction he would be going. However, whether it was a miracle or what, Abraham went as the LORD had told him. Abraham believed. He had faith. Faith is letting our life be shaped by the promise of God.
Abraham had been like a kite laying on the sand, a bit of wood and paper, limp and lifeless. This scrap of fabric has no reason to believe that it can fly, but the wind picks up and the fabric ripples. God attaches the string and the kite is off. It doesn't know where it is going. It doesn't know how this will end, but it soars and dips and dives and climbs, blown by the Holy Spirit, receptive to God's grip.
Nicodemus was like a kite laying on the sand. He was a religious leader, so he was a self-important scrap. He was living a one-dimensional life, but it was a pretty good one. People looked up to him. He was comfortable. We don't quite know why he came to Jesus. He certainly heard from others about their experience with Jesus taking them from a one-dimensional life of laying there on the sand to being attached to the string and soaring on the wind of the Holy Spirit. Maybe he, too, felt a little of that breeze rippling him. Maybe he found that rippling disturbing. Maybe he was fearful that the comfortable life he had was about to change. Maybe he was excited about that rippling wind. Maybe he was hopeful that that comfortable life he had was about to change.
Nicodemus was a religious leader. We religious leaders definitely feel the rippling wind. We open the scriptures and we read about God's bold, healing, loving action, and we want to soar, but we are also very comfortable here on the ground. The situation we are in is working for us. We make excuses—our people aren't ready, we don't want to disrupt our family, maybe God is better served by being realistic. We don't always have faith to let go of what we know and fully trust God. We're just the same as the rest of you.
Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. He was tentative, cautious, hesitant, careful. Those might even be some of the qualities the temple was looking for in priests. Maybe Nicodemus came by night because he didn't want to be seen. Maybe he didn't want to upset his colleagues or people in his family. Maybe he didn't want the pressure of people who knew he had come to see Jesus telling him to follow Jesus or not to follow Jesus. Maybe he wanted to ponder what he learned in peace.
He said to Jesus, “No one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” He was talking about Jesus' miracles. Nicodemus is different than Abraham. Abraham based his faith on God's promises, alone, without any proof. Nicodemus is basing his faith on what can be proven and maybe even looking for what Jesus can do for him in the form of a miracle. However, it says right there in Romans, that God justifies the ungodly, so even Nicodemus, even one-dimensional thinkers, even sinners, are invited into relationship and conversation with Jesus.
Jesus says, “No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.” Jesus perceives that Nicodemus wants to see the Kingdom of God. He's seeing the signs, the miracles that point to the Kingdom of God and is interested in seeing more of them and maybe even the Kingdom itself. The word “born” shows that something new is beginning. “From above” can also mean “again” and “anew.” Jesus knew that Nicodemus may not be there, yet, but he knows that God brings new life, so all he could do was plant a seed about what God might have in mind for Nicodemus and maybe someday it would start to grow and even produce new life in someone like him.
Nicodemus takes this literally and doesn't understand how anyone can be born twice. Jesus says that there are different kinds of birth. Nicodemus is looking at it one-dimensionally—that it is about the flesh. For Nicodemus it is about what we can see and touch and feel, here on earth. For him there is one birth. But we can look at it this way, is the kite only born when the fabric is sewn or when the frame is made? Or maybe the kite is born on its maiden flight. Or maybe it is reborn each time the frame is repaired. In the same way, we are born once into this world, but there are many births. We may be reborn when we leave home or when we first fall in love. We may be reborn when we go to therapy or Spiritual Direction, when we become a parent, when we become a grandparent, and when we die. Certainly we say we are reborn when we are baptized, and that we are invited to remember our baptism and be reborn each day.
Jesus was born fully human and fully divine, fully flesh and blood, and fully Holy Spirit, Creator wind blowing, breathing life into him. During his ministry, Jesus opened his sail and flew. He flew to the poor and rejected. He flew to the lepers and 5 times divorced. He flew to the children and the widows and the blind. He flew to you and me. There was nowhere he would not or could not fly. But such beauty and freedom is threatening to those who have lain on the ground year after year and wanted to keep others from getting up and flying with the Holy Spirit in all kinds of unpredictable directions and to all kinds of heights. So they cut his string and he came back down to earth, landed just like this, pointing straight into the earth, making a cross. He was lifted up on a cross to humiliate him and kill him, to prove he was powerless. But God truly lifted him up into glory when God raised him from the dead, and not only him, but he is the first born of the new creation. Because of him we can all fly high, not knowing which way the Holy Spirit might lead us or what kind of people we might meet, never promised an easy path or given any extra spending money for the trip, but we have the joy of flying, even though we know we will dive, too, and crash, but that freedom and new life are ours because of the free gift of God's grace.
Even Nicodemus' one-dimensional thinking could not get in the way of Jesus' saving power. Even priests, with our own self-interest and complacency and comfort, cannot keep the Spirit's power from taking God's people to soar in new life. Nicodemus appears once more in the Gospels. John 19:38-42 “38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” Certainly this conversation with Jesus must have been echoing through Nicodemus' mind the whole time he was preparing Jesus' body. That is a very intimate act. Was he wondering where were Jesus' miracles when it came to saving his own life? Touching Jesus' flesh must have reminded him of his questions about flesh and spirit. He may have wondered about the ascending to heaven and descending from heaven that Jesus mentioned before. And maybe he even thought of Jesus lifted up on the cross and what he said about those believing having eternal life. He must have wondered was there more than this life?
Certainly he looked at Jesus' death as an end. But as he anointed Jesus' body, was it the beginning of a stirring of his Spirit to let his life be changed, to soar with the Holy Spirit, to have faith, to be born anew? Did he start to dream of more than what this world has to offer? Did he start to see God's dream?
So what are we going to do? We are kites and the Holy Spirit is blowing! Will we let it take us to soar? Will we risk flying? Or will we lay here on the shore? Can you feel the rippling breeze? It is calling you to new life. God gives us a dream of a better world, where there is abundant life, where everyone has enough to eat, where everyone is clothed, where no one has too much and no one has too little, where every tear is dried, where the sick are tended to, where widows and orphans are part of community, where everyone's gifts are needed, where all are forgiven. God gives us the courage, the faith, to open ourselves to the blowing of the Holy Spirit, not knowing by what paths it will take us or how many crash landings we will have, but only that God is with us lifting us and loving us.
One problem that I have with the kite metaphor is that maybe we think we are each individual kites and that we make a decision to accept Christ and then he lifts us each one, unrelated to the other. So here is my revision. Maybe we are all the tail of the kite, Jesus at the head, and not only people, but all the world, all the cosmos, all Creation. As he rises, so do we, collectively part of something bigger, the body of Christ, God's vision being realized for our world, God's Kingdom. 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. God's love ties us together with Jesus our brother and together we soar and dive and respond to the Holy Spirit.