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  • Writer's pictureFather Benjamin von Bredow

The wind blows where it wishes.

A Sermon for Trinity Sunday

May 26, 2024 at Holy Communion

John 3:1–15


"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, 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). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.


When I was a small child, I had a lot of trouble adjusting to changes of plan. My mom tells a story about an occasion when I was perhaps four years old. She surprised me, “Ben, guess what! We’re going over to your friend Meghan’s place to swim in her swimming pool.” Now, swimming at Meghan’s house was probably my favourite thing to do—but there I was, a weepy and inconsolable mess of toddler, because I hadn’t been told in advance that this was coming. So my mom got in the habit of sitting me down in the morning and saying, “Ben, repeat after me: these are the plans, but they might change.” And little Ben would repeat, “These are the plans, but they might change.”


I think I learned the lesson, because as an adult I often return to a few verses from today’s Gospel reading reflect on why it is important to stay flexible. Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, 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). The breath of God blows one way today and another way tomorrow. The person whose life is in God is like a sail to catch that wind and let it take him wherever it blows.


St James, the practical apostle, makes the same point when he says (I paraphrase): “Look: you make all these plans for tomorrow, plans for your life, plans for your business, but you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Your life is a passing mist. Poof! and it’s gone. So instead you should hold your plans lightly, and say, ‘God willing,’ whenever you make a plan” (James 4:13–15). Where Jesus talks about the Spirit of God, St James talks about the will of God. A person born of the Spirit, who goes wherever the Spirit blows, is a person who is sensitive to God’s gentle suggestion of what is good and right, which is how the will of God is revealed to us.


The danger of making inflexible plans, then, is that we might resolve something for ourselves and get so attached to it that we become insensitive to the proddings of conscience by which God would lead us into better things. We choose security and predictability, forgetting that God’s will is unfailingly for our good, even if it is not usually for our comfort.


Though we may smile at a story about an obstinate toddler, in fact my story is a story about all of us. How often we children of the Father are invited unexpectedly to the great pool party of the kingdom, but we we react with resentment for God’s intrusion into our plans rather than gratitude for his generosity beyond our imagining.


I don’t know where we ever got the idea that our own plans matter in the slightest. St James says, “you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (v 14). Nothing you accomplish in your business, or your community, or your hobbies, will outlast the rising of the Sun of Righteousness to burn up this world’s morning dew.


While we’re talking about the coming of the kingdom, this is an aside: have you ever taken seriously what it means that the soul is immortal? It means that you will exist forever. You will remain conscious of yourself and of God through endless ages of eternity. Your own mind will either be your prison if you live in it without God, or it will be your delight as you pass from age to age with God as your companion and guide into the deeper and deeper mysteries of existence. The point is that he only work that ultimately matters is the renovation of your soul.


There is, in fact, a deeper mystery at play when we talk about being sensitive to the will of God. It is the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the mystery of God-in-relationship.


Shortly before Jesus says that the Spirit blows like a wind, he says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). On one level, he is just making the same point as St James: since flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (see 1 Corinthians 15:50), planning for the needs of the body only rewards you with temporary security and temporary satisfaction; but living for God’s Spirit will reward you with the Spirit itself, and in the Spirit eternal life (see Galatians 6:8).


But Jesus is also unveiling higher things. Who is born of God but the Son of God? Who proceeds from God but God’s holy, good, and life-giving Spirit? The fruit of God’s womb is just more God, God the Son, God the Spirit, eternally one in divinity although three in person. Flesh bears flesh, but God bears God. Those three persons of God, because they are born from God who brings together and enlivens, not from the flesh which separates and dies: they are alive together with a single will toward what is good and right, a single thought on the true and the beautiful, for this will and this thought are God. Giving themselves to one another in love and knowledge, they enact the mystery of goodness and truth.


A person born from God moves wherever the Spirit goes because he has the life of God in him. A spiritual man moves with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit according to a single divine intention. He becomes almost a fourth person of the Holy Trinity: God in him, he in God, persons interpenetrating, together working a single divine will. Wherever God goes, he is carried, because he and God and have been made one by his birth from above.


A mentor of mine would often take a traditional prayer that we would “rest upon God’s eternal changelessness” and switch it around: may we “change upon God’s eternal restlessness.” Indeed! If you have been born from God the Father, if you are a brother of God’s Son and a breather of God’s Spirit, then get ready to change course unexpectedly. God is ready to bring you along to parties you never planned to attend.

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