A reflection on the readings for Lent 2a by The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt
The startling thing about the lessons for this Sunday is that the first three – the story from Genesis about God’s promise to Abram; the beloved and familiar Psalm 121, which also promises God’s unfailing stability and protection; and Paul’s re-cap of the Abram story emphasizing faith in the God whose promises are to be believed – contrast so much with the news of the world around us. How do we navigate this radical disconnect, between what people what people will hear in church on Sunday with what they read in the morning news or heard on their car radios as they drove to church: stories of displacement, instability, fear, shaking ground and monstrous seas and deadliness in the very air they breathe. That’s only Japan and the Pacific Rim. If we turn to news from the other side of the world, the very ground on which Abram, Paul and the psalmist actually walked, we hear of leaders brutally oppressing the people in their charge and violently repelling all who dissent.
I suppose there was a time when we could view such developments from the relative safety, comfort and stability of our North American communities. Dare I say that the “suburban captivity of the church” was one of the factors that insulated us from the cries and whispers of the world? Yes, but back in that (perhaps fictionally) bucolic day, communication in word, image and sound was far less immediate. We could deal with these tragedies in bits and pieces, could respond when we had the capacity to understand what was going on. What a luxury that seems by today’s frantic, frenetic standards, where all the information we get from all sides completely contradicts the message in those three scriptural snippets.
The collect, which Verna Dozier in her bible studies based on the lectionary said set the theme of the day, makes me a bit uncomfortable in this context. I have heard too many Christians jump far too quickly and facilely from “all who have gone astray from your ways” to penitent hearts, steadfast faith and the unchangeable truth of your Word. I’ve had too many people’s absolute convictions of too many truths thrown in my face too many times to find them helpful, much less convincing.
But then we have Nicodemus. Nicodemus lives, like we do, in the terrible world of disconnects, between the reality he lives and sees around him, and the promises of God, which as a faithful Jew, he knows very well. Many Christians can no doubt – and without doubt – jump right to the end of this passage, to those words of absolute assurance, salvation and confidence, words so well known that flashing “John 3:16” on billboards communicates all these people think we need to know.
In these mid-March days, I find I can hardly get beyond something Jesus says earlier in the conversation with Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” The Spirit, Jesus implies, is one who destabilizes, shakes up, confuses. It rumbles from underground without warning, blows in from far away without notice. Does this mean that life in the Spirit, the born-again life, is a life where you do not know what will happen next? Where you do not know where God will lead you? That eternal life is not about something perishable, or, well, predictable, like death and taxes, but about something as unpredictable and wild as the wind?