2 Lent A 2023: Whispers

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Sermons

Shh. Listen….

Take a nice slow deep breath.
We are going to be very quiet this morning
so that we might hear the wind.

The wind.

The wind is a whisper.
The wind is breath upon our face.
The wind is the softest touch
of the quietest murmur
of the slightest warmth of a tiny breath…

The wind is not a storm.
The wind is not an explosion.
The wind is not piercing.
The wind is not an ecstatic eruption.
The wind is not a consuming fire.

The wind
is a nearly imperceptible breath
on the curve of our ear
and carries a whisper so soft
we can miss it…
we do miss it…
we often miss it.

We have in our lap today
the most delicious groceries of the Bible
in an over abundance
and I don’t know what to eat first!

Abram and Nicodemus:
The Promise and The Wind.
The Hope and The Fear.
The Yes and The Maybe.

The first thing to say
is that we know nothing
about these two characters.

The text just starts up from scratch
with both of them.
The text tells us nothing of their personal lives,
and gives us no clue
as to their inner minds,
or their secrets thoughts,
or their motivations.

A good novel would never do that!

Our religious tradition
projects all kinds of things
on these two characters
but if we are honest
and take them at face value,
we know next to nothing about them.

What we have is one guy who says, “Yes”
and another guy who says “No”
or maybe he says, “Maybe”.

We do not know why
and it is not very profitable
for us to guess.

What we are able to do
is observe what they do.

God asks Abram to take an adventure.
If he agrees
he will let go of what he knows.
He will be adrift
from all his moorings.
If he says yes,
he will have no frame of reference
because his landmarks will be gone.
It will be as if stepping out on the ice
without knowing if it will hold.

Personally, I hate when that happens!
Who does that anyway?
I want some handrails at least.
To be honest, I want some control.
Okay, I want a lot of control.

But in this story of Abram, he just says, “Yes.”
We don’t know if he says “Yes”
because he is a simpleton,
or a saint
or a shifty guy who
knows a good thing when he hears it.
We don’t get to know
any of that in this story,
and from the other characters in the Bible
who also say “Yes” to God,
it could be any of the three.

Of Nicodemus we know this:
He is smart and learned.
He is a religious authority
who has achieved his position
over and against a lot of competition.
We also can gather
from what the story tells us,
that Nicodemus is curious but cautious.
He has come to the right place
for answers,
but he has come
under the cover of night,
which means
he didn’t want anyone to see him there.
OR, it could mean
all of his other appointments
were already spoken for.
OR, maybe Jesus wanted
to meet by night
because HE didn’t want
to be seen with Nicodemus.

You see, the text
doesn’t answer our modern questions.
We want it to
and we ask it to
but then we may miss
what the text is actually telling us.

We can gather from Nicodemus’ answer
that he doesn’t understand
Jesus’ play on words.
OR, maybe he does gets it
but refuses to engage in it.
Maybe WE didn’t get
Jesus’ play on words either,
because it is in the Greek.

In the Greek
the word often translated “Born Again”
has three possible translations:
Born Again.
Born Anew.
Born From Above.

Here is what I notice in the text:
there are three slightly different meanings
pointing to three different dimensions.
”Again” points to a time past.
”Anew” points to a time present.
”Above” points to the eternal — time-lessness
or a moment out of time.

Nicodemus is either
a one-dimension thinker
who simply cannot perceive
these other dimensions,
OR he sees them
but refuses to entertain Jesus’
nuance and complexity.

We just don’t know
what Nicodemus sees and doesn’t see
or hears and doesn’t hear.
Like Abram
we don’t know Nicodemus’ motives.

What we do know
is that these are stories
about the Holy whispering to us.
We know about this,
it isn’t miraculous or spooky.
The angels of our better nature
whisper in our ears.
The God of whispers
whispers on the wind.

The hope of the future
whispers with the thinnest of visions.

We are not left on our own
here on planet earth
without a clue.

We do get offered help
from above
OR in whatever dimension
the help resides.

The question
is not whether God speaks
but whether we hear.
It is not loud.
It is not explosive.

It is not a slam-dunk.
The question raised by both these stories,
is whether or not
we will we hear those whispers
through the flotsam and jetsam
of our lives?

Now there may be other things
these stories raise for us,
but this is the question poking at me today.
Can we…
can we hear or apprehend
what speaks to us
through the thin veil
that separates us
from those other dimensions?
Is it possible,
truly, to hear the whispers
that would lead and guide us,
and maybe even
send us on a journey,
without much more than a whisper?

I want to back away
from the personal nature
of these stories for a moment,
and notice something really fascinating
that also influences
how we answer this question.

The Gospel of John
is written by someone
who has a Platonic worldview —
a Greek-speaking gentile
or very Hellenized Jew.
What that means
is that he, probably he
but we do not really know
who John was or even if his name was John,
has a particular way of seeing the world.
For John it was a two-storied universe
and a three-dimensional humanity.

Don’t get fooled,
this isn’t that complicated.
He saw “heaven” above
and the “world” below.
Heaven good, world bad.
Heaven could be present in the world
but the world could not present in heaven.

The world
was where sin
and evil reigned
and where the agents of heaven,
who could be heavenly or human,
sought to renew the world.

As for humans,
we are three-dimension John imagined:
The mind was synonymous with spirit,
so you could say body-spirit-soul.

It was classic Greek dualism
in which the universe
and the person
are composed of these separate
dimensions at one and the same time.

Why am I telling you about this?
Because when we go to Abram, it is different.

Whoever first told the Abram and Sarah stories
in the Book of Genesis,
probably around 950 BCE,
saw the world and humans
as one-dimensional:
creations of God.
While there were spirits abroad in the world
they were of God too, somehow.
It was an earthy,
action and ethically rooted
There wasn’t mind/body
or body/spirit,
there was just us humans
made in the image of God.
Not only that, but the world was “good.”
God pronounced it “good”
three times at the beginning.

Why does this difference matter?

Because you and I,
with our modernist worldviews,
have sidle up to the stories
to compare and contrast ourselves.
Our task
is not to change the story
so that it conforms to our worldview,
it is to understand the story
and see where it is the same and different
and if it whispers anything
about the Holy to us.

Not all scripture will.
Some of it will look and feel repugnant to us.
That tells us somethings too.

There is a word
Jesus seems to have used
that got translated as “repentance.”
Christianity has piled a whole lot
of baggage onto that word.

It’s Greek root in the New Testament
is the word, “metanoia.”
What it actually meant
as Jesus used it,
is “to change one’s mind”
or to “turn around and be different.”

In John’s worldview
of the two-storied universe,
metanoia would mean that those of us
in the world
would change our minds
and become heavenly
while in the world.
Born anew
or again
or from above.

We would turn around
and be different.
We would have a new spirit,
a changed mind.

From the point of view
of the Genesis story,
it would mean saying “yes” to God’s whisper
over and over and over again.
Abram didn’t say “yes” just once,
but many many times
throughout his very long life.

I kind of think
that our worldview
is more like Genesis than John.
We no longer have a two-storied universe.
We know that, in fact,
we are stardust.

We know that in a very material way
our bodies contain elements
that came here from exploding stars.

Life itself,
or the elements that formed life,
arrived on this planet
from millions or billions of light-years away.
We measure things
in microbes
and nanoseconds
and light-years
but we know
that it is all one.
We know that when matter dies
it’s essential energy
does not die
but is transformed.
That is science
but it is also theology.

Our worldview is more like Abram’s
because the Creator-of-all-that-is
is infused in all of the creation.

There is no here and there,
not really — it is all here.
God is all here
and is always here — wherever here is.

Okay, I’ve gone off the deep end.
But the point of these two stories
when we stand them up
next to our modernist worldview,
is that we are not born again once and for all
and we don’t say “yes” just once and for all.
We are continually asked
or invited
or compelled
to metanoia
over and over and over again.
Our minds or spirits
must be changed over and over again.

Our way of thinking
must change over and over again.
Our understanding must change over and over again.

It does not matter
what Abram’s motives were
or whether he was a simpleton or saint
because he said “yes” over and over again.

It doesn’t matter what crippled Nicodemus,
his desire to hold onto security
or his intelligent reason.

It doesn’t matter
who we are
or what we do,
how young or how old,
our condition or our dysfunction…
we are all capable
of hearing the whispers
that calls to us
from the gentle lips
of the very God
who is the universe.

The God of the universe –
who is the alpha and omega,
the beginning and the end,
the creator of all that is and ever will be —
whispers to you and to me.

Those whispers
empower us to change
and to keep changing.
Those whispers
enable us to say “yes”
over and over again
even when we might want to say “no” or “go away.”

Those whispers
allow us to change our minds
and turn around
and be born anew.

If we assume that such whispers
are impossible or fantasy or superstition
or something that only happens to others,
then we may never hear them.
Our mind is closed
our rebirth aborted
our capacity to change diminished.

The whispers are real
and really in the wind
and part of ordinary life as we live it.
Not from above
but from here and now and within and around.

A thin sound
carried upon the lightest breath winds its way
around the curves of our ears
and into our hearts
and no matter who
or what
or how talented
or wounded we are,
we are capable of hearing it.

Pretty good stories.
Peace be with you.