Now there was a Pharisee
named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.2He 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.’ 3Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no
one can see the kingdom of God without being born from
above.’ 4Nicodemus 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?’ 5Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter
the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is
born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is
spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born
from above.” 8The 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.’ 9Nicodemus
said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ 10Jesus answered him, ‘Are
you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
So it is the season
of Pentecost. And if Pentecost is about anything, it is about the
surprising way that the Sprit often moves. And the things that She does.
I hope you found last Sunday a pleasant surprise (if you were here), I
sure did, as soon as I turned on my computer and looked online (I was
out of town), and I saw the Red River flowing down from the chancel, and
I thought "Oh, that's new, I like it!". And that was just the beginning
of many surprises throughout that service that was so delightful. And
it's just always wonderful to know you can leave, and leave things in
such good hands with so many folks who did such a great job.
I had a less pleasant, but equally surprising, experience in the midst
of watching it online, in that this logo appeared in the middle of the
screen and a voiceover that said "This is a demonstration of U-Stream
Producer", every 30 seconds for an hour and a half throughout the entire
service! Another little technological glitch that we hadn't discovered
before (it won't happen again :).
The story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus with his questions by night,
speaks to the surprising way that the Spirit works. The wind blows this
way and that, and you have no idea where it's coming from or where it is
But poor old Nicodemus doesn't quite get it, does he? He's used to the
way things have always been before. That's how God speaks, tradition!
Right? Through the written word. Through the established institution.
Through worship familiar and comfortable, the way that we're used to.
You know anyone like that? Like maybe most of us?
How many Disciples does it take to change a light bulb? Change?! My
Grandmother gave that light-bulb to the church!
So, I want to challenge us, in the
spirit of Pentecost, to think outside the box on what it means to be
'churched'. And to learn to trust the leading of the Spirit.
I want to do so this morning with the help of 3 other congregations and
their stories of transformation, and a young film-maker who tells those
Let me first of all set the stage for why I think the church always has
to be open to change. To renewal. To rebirth, as even this text
suggests. It's not just a one-time thing, but an on-going process.
In 1998, hurricane Mitch perched itself over the Gulf of Mexico just off
the coast of Honduras. And for three days, pummeled that poor
impovershed nation with rain. Lots and lots and lots of rain. It was
like a pipeline had been erected from the Gulf, directly over Hondurus,
and just poured that water out directly over the country. Over 100
inches -- that's over 8 feet of rain in 3 days! That's too much for
Entire communities disappeared, mudslides just wiped them off the map.
Over 5,000 people that perished. 150 bridges were wiped out. Now, think
how hard it is to deliver aid -- Week of Compassion was on the scene
immediately afterward with emergency supplies, but how do you get there
when you don't have bridges?
There was 1 bridge, however, that withstood the onslaught. It had been
been built by the Japanese, with the world's best engineers just 2 years
before, and they were so proud that their bridge had survived when so
few others did. There was only one problem:
The river moved :) Nature has a few surprises of her own, right?
Brian McClaren, the leading spokesperson for the 'emerging church'
movement, uses this image to talk about how the world has changed all
around us, sometimes literally underneath us. I heard him speak 6 years
ago at a conference up in Portland, and he talked about how, over the
span of his lifetime (50 years) how much the world had changed in those
50 years. But we could think about just the last couple of decades,
since I came to Eugene in 1991, how much it has changed. When I came
here, we had 2 -- count 'em, 2 -- DOS-based computers. All text-based,
no mice, right? My phone is 1,000 times more powerful than those
All of our recording was done on cassettes. All filming and pictures
were taken on film. A 'mobile phone' was as big as a bread-basket --
remember those? Amazon was a river :) And if anyone had said to you back
in 1991 that the day will come within 2 decades when we will have an
African-American President who will endorse same-sex marriage, they
would have locked you up for being crazy! Inconceivable.
Think about the changes that have occurred just since the start of this
millennium. Sept 11th -- literally changed our landscape. The war in
Afghanistan became the longest war in U.S. history. The economic
collapse of 2008 literally changed fortunes for millions of people
across this country. And, same-sex marriage is legal now in 7 states. Of
course, the biggest change of all? The Rose-Bowl became green-and-yellow
Now, granted, some of these changes
have had bigger impacts on the church than others. But the cumulative
effect is no less than 100 inches of rain.
Society, indeed, has shifted so much underneath the church that Diana
Butler-Bass says we're now living in a "post-Christian" world. That is,
a world in which Christians are increasingly in the minority, and we're
not being replaced by another religion. It's rather the case that we're
being replaced by a religion-less spirituality. That is, a spirituality
without the comfort and familiarity of institutionalized relgion. She
told us on her recent visit to Eugene that she loves coming to the West
coast because we're a good 10-20 years ahead of the rest of the nation
in this trend. That just means we have been more effective in chasing
people out of church than the rest of the country :).
But, she says, the good news is that we are showing the way for the rest
of the country. Of what it means to live in this new post-Christian
world. We're showing the way -- not necessarily on how to lead people
back into church, but how to go out and find God where God is working,
where the Spirit is very much at work and alive in the world. That's the
That brings me now to the stories of transformation of 3 congregations
-- all of them Disciples churches, all of them smaller than ours, that
have been re-born in some rather surprising, non-traditional ways as
they follow where the spirit leads. And the story told by this filmmaker
I re-discovered only because we were in Delaware, and showing videos to
my wife's family, of our son, who sings in On The Rocks, we're very
proud parents, you know, showing videos. And I thought, well, gosh, I've
got to show something of my daughter. And the only thing I could think
of is that I still had this video on my computer that she had made last
year of a story of transformation of 3 congregations, as a result -- as
a personal request by her father :) -- and also to fulfill some
requirements at college, and a result of a conference I had attended on
transformation and mission. And I first met a couple of these pastors
and heard these stories there, and so this video has been used all over
the state of Montana amongst Disciple churches there, and hopefully will
be used a few more places.
It's a little bit longer than what I would typically show in a sermon,
but I think it tells the story so well, I'm going to devote the rest of
my time to it. So here we go:
So what did you think as you were
listening? Did the Spirit touch you in some way? Did some ideas come to
You know, we are part of a larger movement -- the Disciples of Christ --
a movement of wholeness in a fragmented world. And we were reborn out of
death, as she spoke, a Phoenix arising out of the ashes of a dying
church. And one of our founding documents was actually called the 'Last
Will and Testament' of the Springfield presbytery. Because the old way
of 'being church' didn't work any more on the frontier. And so those
early Disciples sought sought to find a new way to follow where the
And you see, that was true 200 years ago when the Spirit fell upon those
Disciples at Cain Ridge who wrote that will and testament. It was true
2,000 years ago when the Spirit fell upon the first Disciples gathered
It is still true today as we seek continually to find new ways to create
that space where God changes lives and we partner with God to change the