The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s013g14  Lent 2  16/3/2014

‘you do not know where it comes from or where it goes’    John 3.8

Jesus is speaking to THE teacher of Israel: Nicodemus actually is representative of the ancient Mosaic faith as well as the ‘christian’ orthodox and devout who continue to claim to ‘understand these things’, indeed often claiming to be the conduits and arbitrators of where the Spirit might be found.   The distinctive feature of Nicodemus’ life was not his sinfulness, indeed quite the opposite, he was devout and orthodox.   Nor was he narrow-minded, he was quite willing to come to Jesus and ask questions, even if ‘by night’.   Being ‘born again’ therefore had nothing to do with sin and forgiveness or accepting a different version of exclusivity, but letting go of his devotion and orthodoxy, to include others.

The direction the Spirit leads is not to another and better version of exclusivity, be it rooted in scripture, tradition, spirituality or reason, but to the complete opposite.  The Spirit leads us to all other people, people who are all sacred, people who are all loved, regardless of race, colour, language, creed, affluence, gender, sexual identity or orientation.   This is what ‘born again’ means - not into a different and better holy huddle, but into the fulness of humanity in all its diversity and richness.

Jesus says: 'you hear the sound of it’ - the sound of advancing secular humanism - but the orthodox do not recognise that this comes from God and want to hide from what might be the logical conclusion of it all, the demise of every exclusive religion and the incorporation of all into the kingdom.

I recall those words of Paul Simon: ‘And the sign flashed out its warning / In the words that it was forming. / And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls / And tenement halls / And whispered in the sound of silence.’  (1)   If we are so attentive to our religious duties that we ignore what is happening in society around us, we need to be born again into the world, hearing the cry of the new born babe, the laughter of youth, the idealism of teens, the industry of the workers, the despair of the marginalised, and the aches of the elderly.   This is where the Spirit moves, not exclusively or even particularly on Sunday morning dispensed by those wearing white dresses, and dutifully reciting ancient creeds.

Those oft-quoted words: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’ were not said to actually imply the opposite - that God so hates unbelievers, sceptics, irreligious, poor, the outcast, the different - the majority of humanity - that he gave his son to be killed so that the Almighty would be justified in condemning these millions to eternal purgatory.

I continue to find to my exasperation how religion, including Christianity and Anglicanism, seems often to be ‘the fly in the ointment’.   Life ought to be enjoyable for all people - for we are a long time dead.   But so often religious people, those who proclaim that they are the conduits and arbitrators of where the Spirit moves, actually ‘do not know where (the Spirit) comes from or where it goes’.   By not acknowledging it in the world they plunge those who might listen to them in the world into guilt, fear, and recrimination - satisfying, I suppose, some perverse desire to see themselves as better than others.   The prayer 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector’ immediately comes to mind.  (2)   I was delighted to hear Reverend Graham Long, pastor and CEO of The Wayside Chapel in Sydney's Kings Cross being interviewed on radio recently, describe himself as a ‘lapsed atheist’.  (3)   Here is a man with a real sense of humour, someone at one with others.   But so much of ‘christian’ ministry is about getting others to support one’s own version of orthodoxy often at the expense of someone else’s version of orthodoxy.   And heaven help the minister who supports someone else!

I was grateful to have my attention brought to the article: 'It’s Called Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome, and Yes It’s Real’.  I suppose Jesus suffered from this the most!  (4)   For a completely different reason I have been looking at the quotations of George Bernard Shaw, and the one that jumped out at me was: ‘Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?’  (5)

Often in the past the various churches and denominations have discouraged or forbad marriage outside a faith tradition.   How grateful we should be to those courageous couples who followed their hearts rather than the dictates of their church.  They have done the world a great service, for we have inherited a somewhat more ecumenical and accepting society as a result.   It seems to me that they need to be acknowledged, and the church needs to apologise for their disapprobation before anyone should take the church with any seriousness as an arbitrator of morals, ethics or ecumenism.

I have commented before, how much the world owes the Hollywood actresses, the account of whose repeated divorces and remarriages in the women’s magazines were eagerly devoured by a whole generation, for bringing to ordinary people permission to leave abusive relationships.   Of course the dalliances of Hollywood actors were expected.   Ordinary women have been empowered and this can only be for the good.   But this was achieved only against the strident opposition and disapprobation of the churches.

And churches will come and go, for the world is full of real people whose only desire is to live an enjoyable life not at the expense of someone else.   In the end, secular humanism will always prevail, simply because God refuses to have only ‘christians’ of my variety around.   We can fight against this all we like, but we are never going to win, it is a recipe for an unfulfilled life, and not just for us, but for those around us who miss out on the positive contribution we might actually make to them.

For the sadness is that we won’t recognise that the Spirit lives in us as we are human amongst others.   The Spirit ennobles each and everyone of us in our own uniqueness.   If our religion tells us that the Spirit only lives in us as we are religious, our seeking will ever be in vain.   The religion that tells us to conform kills the Spirit in all.  

2. Luke 18.11