“There was a Jewish leader named Nicodemus, who belonged to the party of the Pharisees. One night he went to Jesus and said to him, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God. No one could perform the miracles you are doing unless God were with him.' Jesus answered, 'I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.” 'How can a grown man be born again?' Nicodemus asked. 'He certainly cannot enter his mother's womb and be born a second time!'”
“A Random Encounter With a Gust of Grace…”
by Rev. Rick Pittenger
This week, I held my last Wednesday Bible Study of May at the Vermillion Care Center. It’s not so much a Bible study as it is me sharing and the residents there just listening for the most part. There’s not much conversation involved, really. We start singing the familiar old hymns of faith; then I read the scripture for today. I then share what I think it means, only to watch as some seemingly acknowledge my interpretation with a nod or a wink that they understood what I’m saying.
Usually the activity gal comes back and helps me sing the last song, but this time it was pretty much a cappella “How Great Thou Art!” I shared a benediction and thanked everyone for coming. Then, I gave a ride to one of our parishioners back to her room. We chatted a bit and then I went back to pick up my things. By the time I returned, there was only one woman left… she was stuck on the veritable “speed bump” to her wheel chair. Her chair was hung up on that little bump that separates the carpet from the vinyl flooring. I asked if she needed some help, not expecting a reply. She said, “Why yes - thank you!” …to which I added “Now, do you just want me to get you into the hallway or do you know which way to your room?”… She pointed to the right and shared her room number with me. When we arrived at her room we visited a little more about her life. She had worked for the government and had lived most of her life in Rapid City. She moved here just a couple of months ago to be closer to her family. I asked if she had a church home and she shared she was Catholic and I joked that “they make the best Methodists.” ☺ I shared that I knew Deacon Denny who washes dishes at the Welcome Table at our church every Monday night and if it was all right with her, I’d share that she was a new resident. She thanked me, and I went on with my day.
All of us have those chance encounters with strangers. Like Nic some of them are planned. Still, it doesn’t matter how it happens, but when it does we’re all a little closer to God I think. We all need someone or something to get us over the bumps and barriers of life.
Now, it is very difficult to come up with some formula that ensures spiritual regeneration that results in new life for us. For this new birth is like the wind. We do not make clouds move. Like the rest of creation, we submit to the wind and its unexplainable movement and miraculous power. Who, then, is to say whether a chance encounter with a stranger in a nursing home, or on the street, or at work, or overhearing a melody in a café, or experiencing an agonizing defeat in our own lives! Who is to say that these things are merely the winds of chance that blow through everyone's life, or, OR might they be the signs of the Spirit who caresses along the way like a caring mother or father?
Former Pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, the late Rev. William Sloan Coffin puts it best I think: (as I heard him speak in seminary years ago)
"…all of us are like Nicodemus most of the time. When we find ourselves in distress, and when we seek guidance, we think we want to change. When in fact, we want to remain the same; but we want to feel better about it. In psychological terms, we want to be more effective neurotics. We prefer the security of known misery to the misery of unfamiliar insecurity.”
But unfamiliar insecurity —not having all the answers—is precisely what being 'born again' is all about. To be born again means to re-examine old questions as though they had never been asked before. It means that what is of utmost importance to us occupies the most important places in our lives.
No wonder we back off, especially if we've had some kind of success. For who wants to entertain the possibility that every word of the congratulations we receive upon the successes of our life may represent the pat on the back that sends us deeper into the quicksand of self-doubt? Augustine's words may be true of us—'You run well, but off the track'.
Some of us may end up describing our lives in ways that indicate a kind of spiritual certainty, but for others of us, it will be more honest to point to a sense of mystery surrounding the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives. After all, Jesus' dialogue with Nicodemus does preserve a space for mystery. The two teachers, two rabbis speak under cloak of darkness, and Jesus says that whatever happens to Nicodemus will resemble the winds of chance on a cool Judean night. Just as an invisible 'something' parts our hair and touches our face, so the Spirit stirs in us before we have words to name the stirring.
This Summer may you feel the breeze blowing its freshness your way, imagine it’s the Holy Spirit coming your way to remind you not only who you are but whose you are… and be thankful! See you in church as we’re all re-creating each day!
Blessings, grins and a gust of grace,