Signpost for Sunday 16 March 2014: Gen 12:1-4a; Ps 121; Rom 4:1-5,13-17; John 3:1-17
The 120 kilometre winds of cyclone Lusi aren’t quite at my door yet, but the rain is here and the wind is getting up. Some of you will be in the thick of it already. So John 3:8 seems only half true at the moment. The wind is certainly blowing where it wills but we have seen it coming and we’ve got a pretty good idea of where it’s going. Nevertheless, the analogy between the wind and the spirit is a powerful one and the author of John’s gospel used it very deliberately to play on the Hebrew (and Aramaic) word ‘ruach’ and the Greek word ‘pneuma’ which means both “wind,” “breath” and “spirit.”
There are so many echoes of that poetry in the passage that it’s long been one of my favourites. The idea of spirit and wind being invisible but powerful and capable of bringing great change is the most obvious word play. (If your power is out now because of Lusi, that’s probably enough change for one weekend.) But the play on breath linked with the idea of being born again; the thought of ‘breathing life into’ is the analogy I missed for years. I certainly wouldn’t call myself a born again Christian. Not just because these days it smacks of fundamentalism to non-Christians, but mainly because I can’t claim any lightning bolt epiphany. But I like the idea that new life can be breathed into anyone, that the wind can gently or dramatically change the course of our journey through life.
That’s why I like Abraham too. I like him because he’s is so real. He is certainly no saint: he comes from a family of polytheistic, moon god or goddess worshipers; he abandons his mum and dad and his whole family (one of the worse things ancient people could do); he leaves the land YHWH’s just taken him to and nips off to Egypt, where he behaves appallingly from the start (Gen 12:10-16), he is caught out lying to Pharaoh and Abimelech, and he’s definitely out to save his own skin.
And yet, it was hanging onto the promise that YHWH had made him that so changed the course of his life time after time. That’s what made me realize when I read about Abraham that there’s no point thinking I’m not good enough – Abraham sure as heck wasn’t. There’s no point worrying about not going to church often enough, not praying enough or even not giving to every single deserving charity that tele-markets me every single evening around dinner time.
Which I suppose is just another way of saying what Saul is saying to the Romans, this week, but of course he’s much smarter than me.
P.S. I also discovered this week that in John 3;16 “only begotten Son” means “unique, one of a kind.” A very conservative commentator even says It should’nt be understood as “only begotten” in (1) a sexual sense or (2) the sense that there are no other children. There are just no other children like Jesus.