Monday, March 11, 2024

The Spirit blows where He wills. . .

 Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (B) preached on Sunday, March 10, 2024.

One of the most shocking things about the Gospel is that God does not love who we love because we love them.  In our conversations we are forever influencing others by whom we like or do not like.  We presume that is enough.  We are good judges of character.  We have good instincts.  We are fair minded folks.  But God does not need our help to determine who is fit for the Kingdom.  In fact, He out and out refuses that help.  We are not the judges; like everyone else, we are the judged.

Nicodemus was guilty of the same sin we are.  He thought he could predict and control God and in particular the Spirit.  That is what we want to do.  We think we are helping God though none of us ever thinks we are hindering Him in His saving work.  We think it helps if we prompt God on what He ought to do and those whom He ought to save and when He ought to be saving them.  But the Lord does not cede control of the work of the Gospel or the Spirit to you or to me.  Nor does He work on the schedule we give Him.  The Lord works on His own timetable to accomplish His purpose when He chooses.  Nowhere is that more true than with salvation.

How hard it is for us to hear this!  We think that we can improve upon the Word and the Sacraments.  We think that we might have learned some business strategies from the fast food giants and mega retailers of this world or from the experts in marketing and advertising to which Main Street pays attention.  We presume that you can condense success down to a methodology.  But what God give us is nothing of the kind.  Instead He gives us the unthinkable. The Spirit blows where He wills and the Gospel is God hanging on our cross.

Nicodemus was in the presence of the Son of the Most High God but it did not help.  Instead, he had questions and even reasons why God’s way would not work.  He was staring right square into the face of the Savior of the world but could not see the obvious.  We are the same.  We try to credit the power of decision and minimize the Holy Spirit.  We think that the Gospel needs our help when we need its help.  We think that the cross needs to be replaced by something more profound or welcoming.  We think that we need to understand God in order to believe in Him.  What fools we are.  God’s response is what condemns us.  The Lord mounted on a cross.  That is what will save the world and save you and me.  Not gimmicks or marketing strategies but the Word of the cross.
God so loved the world that He did not ask us who we thought a savior should be or what salvation should look like.  Instead He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  We expected God to condemn us but the Lord over all things came to save us.  Like Nicodemus, we are still trying to wrap our hearts around that.

Scripture says God’s ways are not our ways.  We hear that all the time but nowhere are the words more profound than with how He saves who He saves.  We want a God who is reasonable and whom you can reason with.  We want a God who has come to sort out evil from good and not a God who loves all sinners.  We want a God who enables us to save ourselves and not a God who saves us apart from anything we decide or do.  We want a God who saves by some means that we can accept and not a God who raises up His only Son on the wood of the cross.  The Spirit blows where He wills, our Lord said to Nicodemus and boy did He mean it.

For God so loved us is understandable but not a God who loved the whole world.  For God to give His Son to lead us home in triumph is understandable but not a God who accomplishes victory by means of suffering and death on an instrument of shame and derision.  For God to save those who cleaned up their lives and at least tried to be holy is understandable but not a God who asks only faith from us and gives us the Spirit to make even that possible.  God plays no games.  This is not a joke or even theoretical to Him.  This is practical and the most serious of business.  And in this business of salvation, God is the expert and you and I are the amateurs.

We want a God who will condemn our enemies and give hell to those we do not like.  We want a God who will hide our sins while exposing the sins of others.  We want a God who rewards our efforts with salvation and who punishes the people we cannot stand no matter how good their efforts.  Nothing is as confounding to us as the God who lifts up His Son upon the pole of the cross and calls on everyone to look upon Him with faith and be saved.

What is amazing is not that Nicodemus did not get it.  What is amazing is that God actually loves Nicodmus despite how wrong he was about God and His kingdom.  What is amazing is not those who are not saved but that any of us is saved.  None of it makes sense to us and God is not trying to make it sensible.  It is the scandal of faith and the scandal of the cross.  Repent.  Believe.  Obey.

What God looks for from Nicodemus and from each of us is not our consent or even our assent.  He certainly does not ask for our understanding or comprehension of His purpose or ways.  What He asks for from us is this.  Faith.  The moments where we look up to the cross in wonder and blurt outloud: Jesus died for me.  The aha moments of Christian faith are not breakthroughs of understanding or comprehension but the amens of faith to what is outlandishly generous, lavish, extravagant, and merciful.

Jesus died for sinners of which I am one.  You are trying to crack the mystery of the Trinity or to unlock the secret of how creation came to be or explain why some are saved and others not.  None of that is yours to know or comprehend.  All you need is right there in John 3:16-17.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  Where faith clings to those words, the light dawns and salvation is come.  Thanks be to God!

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