A Reading from the Book of Genesis (12:1-4a)
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.
(Sung to the tune ‘St. Flavian’)
1 I to the hills lift up my eyes;
From where shall help be given?
My help comes only from the LORD
Who made the earth and heaven.
2 He will not let your foot be moved;
Guard over you he keeps:
He watches over Israel
And slumbers not, nor sleeps.
3 Strong is the LORD; your shield and shade;
Safe are you in his sight;
Sun shall not hurt your life by day
Nor shall the moon by night.
4 So shall the LORD keep you from harm;
He will keep safe and sure
Your going out, your coming in
From now, for evermore.
Words: Christopher Idle. CCLI License 2036454.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (4:1-5, 13-17)
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (3:1-17)
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 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. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For 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. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
by Jennifer Oldstone-Moore
On Friday when I left work and felt that warm wind blowing, I just had to find a way to get outside. I decided to ride my bike to the grocery store for a few things for dinner, just so that I could get some deep breaths of fresh, almost spring air. As I rode I noticed a turkey buzzard soaring above the trees, and then I thought, “Oh, how wonderful! The turkey buzzards are back!” And then I laughed at myself—I wouldn’t have imagined myself rejoicing that vultures were wheeling and soaring above my head. I was feeling happy to see them because I once read that the vultures return by stages from the south, feeding on all the carcasses that have been frozen all winter and they move northward as the carcasses thaw. So if the turkey buzzards are back, they are coming on the warm winds of spring, which will be followed by spring rains, and then bulbs and budding trees, and nesting birds. turkey buzzards, the harbingers of spring! We think of them as bringing death, but really they are riding in on the spring winds of renewed life. They not only fly in on the wind and spring rain, but they come to do some spring cleaning of our roadways and fields.
I thought about these vultures, and warm winds, and spring, and spring cleaning when I thought about the story of Nicodemus. In his story you hear an anxiety about change and challenge to the way things have been. I hope you have a good picture in your head of the scene: Nicodemus is a well known, well respected, responsible leader in Jerusalem. And yet he’s heard something from this workman from Galilee that is shaking him to the very core—he calls Jesus “rabbi,” or teacher, which shows that he’s heard something that draws him closer, and he knows of the works of Jesus that are astounding. But Nicodemus’ rank, and his position, make him very afraid of being observed getting close and finding out more. What will people think? And what does this all mean to his life if he draws too near, and changes his whole life? What if he loses all he has for this new thing that Jesus brings? So he comes by night to ask Jesus questions because he just can’t understand, or doesn’t want to understand, what Jesus might be telling him about this new life. And by the end of the story, he’s disappeared—he seems to have crept away, perhaps still pondering these things in his heart, and wondering what it all means, and maybe trying to image what the cost would be, and whether he could bear it.
Jesus uses the language of wind and water when he tells Nicodemus that “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (John 3:6) 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. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”(John 3:8) Nicodemus senses this this life giving wind that brings April showers and new life and abundance without worrying about where he might be blown, about all he would lose—maybe he is feeling this attraction but also feeling dread, almost as though vultures are starting to circle overhead.
I am so very grateful to Nicodemus! I read somewhere that he is the perfect 21st century seeker: hungering for new life, real life, but afraid of looking too eager and afraid of change. He’s afraid to ride the winds, the Spirit of change. He’s afraid to be seen as a seeker by the community at large, so he creeps forward at night, carefully, questioning, creeping away, reappearing later. A modern Nicodemus story is found in Anne Lamott’s memoir Travelling Mercies, which recounts her own conversion to Christianity. She was raised in a family that had no time for any faith, and thought all religion, and especially Christianity, was stupid and pathetic. As an adult, she was a drug user and addicted to alcohol, and she had terrible eating problems, bingeing and purging food. She had a growing awareness that if something didn’t change she would die from all this abuse of her body. One night, lying helpless in bed and sick from drinking, she had a powerful sense of a presence. She writes:
“After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in a corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure that no one was there—of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.
And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about what everyone should think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, ‘I would rather die.’” 
The story of her conversion, following this Nicodemus story of lying in the dark afraid of new life, is even better—I hope you read it. Should I tell you the ending? The point is there is no ending—I mean, it’s happy in that she does become Christian, and then she continues to navigate all the joys and sorrows and challenges of this world—but resurrected, as it were, in new life.
Isn’t this the kind of fear that Nicodemus seems to have—his own night terror at a change that would bring a kind of death to the person he had been? And yet that fear is needless because the “death” that he is creeping toward in the night time is really not a death at all, but a rebirth, a fundamental change, a reorienting—and a new life forever infused with the grace and love of God. Venturing into unknown territory can be so scary, even when we are attracted to the change—sometimes we only see vultures, and don’t think about the freshening wind and life giving rains that come with it. And we don’t want to remember that we may need housekeeping, to clean away the parts of our lives that are dead and that keep us from moving into a new season and new life.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be looking through the parish surveys about what feeds us, what brings us here to St. Mark’s, and the Outreach Committee will be thinking through ways we might reach out to new members. It’s not just St Mark’s: everywhere I turn I hear that the winds of change have come to the church—membership declining, churches closing, people with no religious commitment now more than 50% of the population in America. Many people talk about the vultures circling, predicting that churches like the Episcopal church will disappear. I don’t believe it. In the Gospel, Jesus says that 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. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. We don’t know what and where change goes, but I know we can find ways to take that message of transformed life—of being reborn in a new way, on a new path, into the community, The Spirit is with us, blowing us where it will, and blowing where it will. And the refreshing water that brings growth is what we had in baptism, and what we have every day in baptism, a moment in which we are marked as Christ’s own forever, and yet a moment which we live into every day of our lives.
 Anne Lamott, Travelling Mercies, New York: Patheon Books, 1999, 49.