The Rev. Robert P. Travis
Lent 2A Sermon – 8am and 10:30am
Text: Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17
My mother was a sailor from her college years in Wisconsin. And while she took me out on her boat, when I was little,
I really didn't learn to sail on my own until I was in scouts. How many of you here have ever been on a sail boat?
Well, I learned to sail on very small dinghies
on a small lake in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.
On that little pond really,
the wind shifted very often.
On larger boats sailors often use devices called tell-tales,
little strings or pieces of yarn on the rigging
to tell where the wind is coming from, and where it is going.
We had no tell tales on these little dinghies,
and sometimes it would get frustrating,
because we would be sailing in one direction,
and suddenly the wind would leave our sail,
and we would struggle to figure out where it had gone.
All of a sudden it would blow from a different direction.
If the wind shifted, and we found ourselves
traveling with the wind, but with our sails too close,
we could do what they call an involuntary Jibe,
where the wind whips the boat around,
and before you know it, if you don't let go
you've capsized and have to flip the boat back over.
The hardest part about learning to sail,
was trying to discern where the wind was,
so that we could set our sails correctly and move,
and not get caught unawares and be flipped!
Later on when I was sailing on Lake Ontario,
or in the Atlantic Ocean, on much larger boats,
the danger of capsizing was minimized,
and I found the wind to be
much more constant, but it was still essential
to know where it was coming from,
and to set the sails correctly.
In trying to explain the Holy Spirit
to Nicodemus, in our gospel reading today,
Jesus uses the metaphor of the wind.
This proved frustrating for Nicodemus,
because he was a Pharisee,
and they were known for taking God's words very literally.
But as my seminary professor Don Armentrout said
“Jesus had to use metaphors,
because things of the Spirit are invisible.
We feel them,
but we can't see them or pin them down.
Our only way to grasp them is through analogies
to things we do know.
This is why symbols are such an integral part
of the Christian Faith.
We depend upon them to represent,
in a simple and visual way,
a whole dimension of reality that is not visible.”
Many around us in the world,
would prefer to ignore that the dimension of reality
that is not visible,
as if it does not exist.
But we have enough connection to invisible things,
that have tremendous power, here with Oak Ridge on our doorstep, and the news from Japan on our minds,
that we know it is not wise to ignore the invisible.
Long before the advent of atomic energy,
Jesus tried to convey the importance to his followers
of paying attention to invisible power.
He is telling us not that our salvation
is based on a religious ritual,
important though baptism in water is to our common life.
He “is saying that in order to enter the Kingdom of God
(which is here and now, and within)
one must be aware of spiritual realities,
and cleansed of worldly concerns.
The more we are aware of God,
the more of God's Kingdom [God's Power]
we can claim
in terms of refuge, comfort,
encouragement and peace of mind.” (Armentrout)
I know that I want to know the Power of God,
the Kingdom of God in my life,
and I imagine you do as well.
Ever since I got here to Ascension,
I've been trying to discern how the Spirit is moving,
for this is a big boat,
with a lot of people,
and at first I did not know what tell tales to look to.
as Fr. Howard, Fr. Brett and I
have been meeting more regularly to pray together,
we have discussed where we noticed the Spirit's wind,
and it is exciting to me that it seems
we are beginning to experience a sort of rebirth
of the Spirit's Power among us.
One of the ways that this wind has been picking up speed
has been noticeable in the Stephen Ministry.
We know, of course,
that God is Love,
and Stephen Ministry is all about our own members,
reaching out in love to others in the body here,
who need a little more love to cope with different situations.
Today we commission two new Stephen Leaders,
who have served faithfully as Stephen Ministers,
and are now taking on a new role in that ministry.
But I remember when their first group was getting started,
and we wondered whether enough people
would be identified who desire the compassionate care
of a Stephen Minister.
Now, just a couple of years later,
we have #? people receiving love and care
from a Stephen Minister.
That tells me the wind has gradually been picking up here.
Other signs come from increases in participation
of our various bible studies,
and prayer groups,
the intentionality with which people
are praying together and lifting their voices to God,
and the seriousness with which the congregation
took this year's Ash Wednesday observance
shown at least in part by the largest attendance we can remember across the three services on that day.
The wind is picking up and people are catching it.
The challenge we face is that we don't want
to lose the wind, while we've got it,
and we don't want to set the sails in the wrong direction,
and be blown over.
We want to sail into the Kingdom of God,
with exactly the pace that God desires us to find.
That requires all of our participation.
I read this story about John Lewis,
who became a hero of the civil rights movement,
and a U.S. Congressman,
that he told about his childhood.
“He was playing with his 14 cousins
in his Aunt Seneva's dirt yard,
when suddenly the sky began clouding over,
the wind started picking up,
and lightning flashed in the distance.
John and his cousins were terrified,
as his aunt herded them inside her house
to protect them from the storm.
John said, 'her house was not the biggest place around,
and it seemed even smaller
with so many children squeezed inside,
Small and surprisingly quiet.
All of the laughter that had been going on earlier,
outside, had stopped.
The wind was howling now,
and the house started to shake.
We were scared, even Aunt Seneva was scared.
And then it got worse.
Now the house began to sway.
The wood plank flooring beneath us began to bend.
And then, a corner of the room started lifting up.
I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
None of us could.
The storm was actually pulling the house toward the sky
with us inside it!
That was when Aunt Seneva told us to clasp hands.
Line up and hold hands, she said,
and we did as we were told.
Then she had us walk as a group
toward the corner of the room that was rising.
From the kitchen to the front of the house we walked,
the wind screaming outside,
sheets of rain beating on the tin roof.
Then we walked back in the other direction,
as another end of the house began to lift.
And so it went, back and forth,
15 children walking with the wind,
holding that trembling house down with the weight
of our small bodies.'
Walking with the wind became a metaphor for Lewis' life,
and is precisely what Jesus meant when he was talking
We must not try to resist the wind,
or let it sweep us away,
but must walk with it,
trusting that God's Spirit will breathe new life into us
even when we do not know where the wind will take us.”
There are things going on in our church,
and the world around us today, that seem like a storm.
And for some people, the dialogue
we are engaging in, can seem scary,
for we are confronting the controversies,
rather than pretending like they don't exist.
With our past that can be scary.
The Home Eucharists that are about to begin,
should be seen as a shelter from the storm,
where we can hold on to one another in prayer,
discuss issues of concern which we may differ on,
and celebrate our unity in diversity
in the shared experience of Holy Communion,
in a comforting, smaller, home setting.
Don't be afraid to participate in them.
Some of them will lead into Koinonia Groups
which I've talked about before.
In Koinonia Groups we will learn to discern
the movement of the Spirit in our lives together,
and we will enter into more intentional discipleship,
as we walk with the Spirit together,
holding each other in prayer.
This can seem like a scary time,
or an exciting time,
it can seem like a storm,
or the wind picking up as we sail together.
Some of us may find ourselves these days
feeling like children in a house in the midst of a storm.
And we wonder whether the changes around us,
will blow us away,
But if we hold hands, and walk with the wind,
if we find our unity in the midst of diversity.
We will be empowered by the Spirit,
rather than blown away.
We will hold onto one another,
we will walk with the Spirit together,
but we need everyone to participate,
to commit to deepening their awareness of God,
to make being renewed by the Spirit,
and discipled by our Lord Jesus
the singular focus of our lives.
We need all of that from each of you,
to truly find the places the Spirit is leading.
And we will sail together into all the places
in the Kingdom,
where the Holy Spirit leads us.