Trinity Sunday

June 18, 2000
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 6:1-8
Reading 2: 
Psalm 29
Reading 3: 
Romans 8:12-17
Reading 4: 
John 3:1-17
By Patricia Farmer

This week I want to share with you a sermon I wrote on the first part of the Gospel reading for this week, John 3:1-17. It expresses the process idea of God being the “whisperer of possibilities" in our darkness. Like a lot of right brain preachers I use lots of stories and metaphors, so don't expect a scholarly exegesis. (I find such sermons exceedingly boring.) I hope this one brings to life for you Nicodemus' quandary in a fresh and novel way!

"Healing in the Dark"
In 1976, shortly after we were married, Ron and I moved into student housing at the seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. It was there in the kitchen of that little cracker box of an apartment that I met my first cockroach. And being in Texas, these weren't just cockroaches. These were BIG cockroaches! And there was not only one cockroach but dozens and dozens, a seemingly endless trail of creepy crawlers that came out of the walls and cabinets and scattered when I turned on the lights. I was petrified, horrified, mortified, terrified, and stupefied. What on earth was I going to do? I had never seen, let alone imagined having cockroaches in my house.

I called home. My mother answered. With a tremble in my voice I said, "Mother, Ron and I have a serious problem." Mother got Dad on the phone. I could tell she was worried. She was just now recuperating from the exhaustion and expense of the wedding, and now she was thinking Ron and I must be having marital problems and on the verge of divorce, so she gets my dad on the phone. They said, "What's going on?"

I said, "We've got cockroaches."

Instead of sympathy or help, all I heard on the other end was laughter. They were both relieved but not very helpful. My mother mentioned between laughs something about "roach motels" and My dad said, "Well, you know, the only good cockroach is a dead cockroach." And that's all the help they were.

What I learned from these little pests during the following months of battle was that the best way to sneak up on those critters was to leave them alone in the dark for a time and then flip on the light switch to come in for the kill. Insects, and sometimes people prefer the cloak of darkness to the light of day.

The dark represents mystery, secrets, hiding and dimness. Light is its nemesis. Cockroaches don't like the light and neither we at certain times in our lives. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a leader of the Jews "came to Jesus by night." Maybe he was up late studying the scriptures (something we tried to do in seminary when we weren't distracted by roaches). Or maybe he wanted his visit to go undetected. In the secret darkness he went to find Jesus.

On this auspicious night of mystery and candlelit darkness, Nicodemus begins a conversation with Jesus in which Jesus says something rather illogical and confusing. Jesus said, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Nicodemus takes this very literally and says, "Wait a minute. How can anyone be born after having grown old?" Jesus tried to explain himself further. "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. Jesus goes to say "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."

Rebirth is what Nicodemus was seeking, although he probably didn't know it. He thought he was coming for information, for rabbinical teaching, for clarification, but what he discovered was how to be born from above, to start fresh, to renew old flesh with new Spirit.

We might call this whole process of rebirth that Jesus is talking about, healing. Healing. That's not the only word we can imagine here, but the word that I want to focus on today. Think about it in your own families. How many times has the birth of a child brought about healing in relationships that were once strained? I recently heard a grandmother say to me, "Grandchildren are your reward for not strangling your teenager." We, here in this room, here in this community, here in this country, need to be reborn in terms of healing. And it begins in the dark. It begins by coming to Jesus where we are, as we are.

I once knew a woman who refused communion when it passed down the pew and I asked her about it later. She said she felt unworthy to take communion because of some problems and struggles she was having. I couldn't help but think of Nicodemus who came to Jesus in the dark, not in the light. We are invited by this passage to come to God right in the middle of our own darkness, our nagging doubts, our worst guilt, our secret fears, our sagging self-images. We don't need to wait until the light of day when we feel good about ourselves to come to God. We need the broken bread of God's suffering with us now, as we are, in the darkness.

There is a mystery here that cannot be solved in dogmatic assertions or logic or any words at all. Only the image of birth is available to us. As I sit and meditate in the mornings I am aware that meditation is a wordless prayer, simply sitting with God in the darkness of closed eyes and quiet room. And in that wordless prayer of focusing on a word or on my breath, something struggles to be born.

The Robert Redford film, The Horse Whisperer, is a sweeping story of the mystery of healing of both human beings and animals. Kirstin Scott-Thomas plays a powerful businesswoman whose daughter and a friend are involved in a serious riding accident. The daughter's friend and horse are both killed and the daughter and her horse are both severely injured, not just physically but in spirit. While the daughter recuperates in the hospital, the vet wants to shoot the horse, but the mother of the daughter refuses. After the daughter is out of the hospital she is severely depressed. The mother, Kirstin Scott-Thomas wants desperately to see her daughter's spirit healed and she knows that the little girl's horse is going to be a part of that healing. In an effort to affect healing of her daughter Scott-Thomas contracts a man in Montana who is reputed to have a special way with injured and abused animals. The man, played by Robert Redford, is a horse whisperer, a person with the special skills to calm and soothe animals without speech and with few touches.

Like the little girl, the horses physical damage was healed but his spirit was still damaged, making him dangerous and out of control. In one scene, the horse goes wild during a training session. The horse whisperer lets the horse run and run into the open grassy meadows until he tires. And the Horse Whisperer just sits silently in the tall grass, and stares at the horse with a kind of hypnotic connection. He sits and watches the horse that is moving aimlessly about in the grass. The horse stares back in the most mysterious way. The horse whisperer sits for hours in the grass, concentrating fully on the horse, and finally the horse comes to him, calm and quiet. A mysterious connection between the horse whisperer and the animal creates a new spirit in the horse. Mysterious and wordless.

Healing was multi-layered in this film. The horse whisperer, himself, was in need of healing after losing the love of his life. As he allows Scott-Thomas, her daughter and the horse into his life, he finds that he can love again. Scott-Thomas, whose marriage needs healing, finds that she has the strength to renew her relationship with her husband, and most importantly, the daughter and her horse become whole again under the gentle and loving hand of the horse whisperer. The power of God's creation is an almost palpable character in this drama of physical and spiritual wounds being healed.

The words off Edward Schillebbeckx comes to mind here. "Either you let yourself fall into the emptiness and darkness of your finite existence or you believe in a mystery that cannot be expressed in words, which embraces you and never lets you go." Rebirth in the Spirit is mysterious, beyond words, a connection between ourselves and God right in the midst of our deepest wounds.

Being born from above is not about being "born again" in the sense of some Christian exclusivists who believe they alone are reaping eternal rewards. No, that interpretation doesn't fit well with Jesus' explanation about what it means to be born from above. He says it means to be born of the Spirit, something that can't be pinned down in absolute certainty and dogma, but must be experienced in trust and faith. Picture our rebirth in the spirit as a horse running free rather than being pinned in a small stable.

A well-known minister, Patricia de Jong, in her sermon on this passage writes, "There is a human struggle in faith between those who want life to be defined and packaged and the invitation of Christ to move and flow and be open to its mysteries." She says that Nicodemus wants to hang his faith on something firm and definable, and Jesus says he needs to start over. Wow! What a blow! Nicodemus is like so many in our cultures who wants absolute certainty in life and are not open to faith, to trust themselves to the leading of the Spirit that blows where it will. De Jong has a wonderful sentence in her sermon. "Imagination, freedom, and wonder belong at the center of our faith, rather than certainty, dogma, and ironclad truths." (Patricia de Jong, Mystery And Misunderstanding, First Congregational Church Berkeley; Sermon March 3, 1996.)

Do you want to be healed? This Lenten season is a time for healing. Do you want to enter in to the mystery that cannot be pinned down or bought or reasoned through? Then you must do five things:

1) you must come to meet God in the dark, where you are, with all your wounds and demons--open and curious, like Nicodemus.

2) You must leave behind your need for absolute certainty and absolute results and absolute endings.

3) You must leave behind your preconceived notions of God as judge and policeman, and let God be the healer, the whisperer of fresh possibilities.

4) You must be willing to start over, fresh, new.

5) You must be open to mystery.

God longs to meet us in the dark and be reborn within us. This rebirth is a kind of deep healing of mind, body, and spirit. Healing begins in the dark, in the dimness of who we are and what we can be, in the questioning, the doubting, the loneliness, the struggling. That's where God meets us and gently whispers to us the possibilities of healing and wholeness.

The choice is yours. "Either you let yourself fall into the emptiness and darkness of your finite existence or you believe in a mystery that cannot be expressed in words, which embraces you and never lets you go." AMEN.