There's a virus going around; maybe you've heard.
The technical term for it is fear.
It is spreading very quickly and infecting an alarming number of people.
It has a new symptom which has replaced the others in the headlines recently.
Instead of immigrants and guns and female presidents and capitalism and socialism and
crime and compromised elections and the fate of the environment and/or the economy, now we have coronavirus.
This threat is so scary that even Californians are using water to wash hands.
Concerns have been expressed about the safety of worship, not because of the real
danger—the presence of God—but because we're in public, which is where this invisible virus hangs out.
We touch each other when we share the peace.
We share a sacred meal together.
We share these two ritual acts with the early Christians, who were mocked and avoided and feared and admired throughout the Roman empire because they regularly touched the contagious: the sick, the quarantined, the dying and the dead.
They acted like Jesus, who was criticized for doing the same things, but who made others
clean instead of becoming unclean himself.
They were immunized against fear with weekly injections of the Jesus story.
They showed compassion for others before concern for self.
With that in mind, I invite you to continue to share the peace with one another, because
the health of relationships and our whole community depend upon it, but please
do so attentively.
Some people will not want to take your hand or touch you, so honor them with a wave
and a smile—I've not heard of anyone catching coronavirus from a smile yet.
I also invite you to take Communion, to receive Christ into your bloodstream, which you
can do completely with only bread or only wine, because he is present in both.
Some people will take bread and wine, others bread only, others will come forward for a
blessing only, and still others will stay in their seat.
All are welcome to participate as fully or as little as they deem best.
Please worship as you feel comfortable without judging anyone else who makes
The goal of all of it is life, which is threatened differently by coronavirus and by fear.
Wash your hands, for your neighbor's sake as much as your own, and then wash
your spirit too.
Bathe it in the Jesus story.
Today's episode is a timely one.
A religious leader named Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, which is John's
way of saying he's in the dark, which explains the awkward conversation.
It also gives us a character with whom we can relate.
After working all day, scrubbing our lives, doing our best, following as many best
practices as we can, we turn on the TV, become re-infected with the news, and go
to bed wide awake.
Maybe we pray.
Like Nicodemus, we come to Jesus at night.
Jesus welcomes us, and then proceeds to be confusing and unhelpful.
You can't see the kingdom of God he says, knowing we can't see anything.
You must be born from above, or born again, which could mean either or both.
No clarity, no solid answer, so Nicodemus tries to make it concrete for him, and
that gets much too weird much too fast.
Jesus talks about the wind, which sounds rather like a virus.
It can't be seen, predicted, contained, or controlled.
You can brace for it but you can't solve it any more than you can enter your mother's
womb a second time and be born.
The birth canal is a one way street which none of us gets to drive.
The wind blows where it will.
The virus spreads and we try to catch up with it like dust in the wind.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
You must be born again from above.
And you have control over precisely none of this.
It doesn't stop Nicodemus, or later Christians, from trying.
Churches have workshops, acid tests, and theological arguments about how to be born again which all make about as much practical sense as Nicodemus' idea.
The truth is that we are not in control and it terrifies and enrages and frustrates us.
The truth is that we all die from something: to dust we shall return.
Dust, of course, is the maternity ward for humanity.
It is how we were born the first time, and to see the kingdom of God, we will have
to be born again.
We will have to die so that we can live, but dead people don't drive the process.
Just like that lump of Eden dust, they are helpless in the hands of God.
The gospel of the Lord.
This is the gospel, the good news, the magic pill, the antidote to fear.
It is out of our compromised hands and all in God's.
We are in the dark, and God makes the surprising choice to meet us there.
Jesus shows up and listens to Nicodemus and tries to tell him that God's intentions are enormous and loving and trustworthy.
God makes strange choices with a bigger picture and a greater good in mind.
Retired, successful Abram is newly blessed and uprooted to become a blessing for
the whole world.
Moses puts a snake on a pole to save the people from the outbreak of snakes.
God puts a human on a pole to save the world from the outbreak of people.
Jesus faces the most terrifying death imaginable and turns it into a vaccine against fear, his broken body and spilt blood the medicine of life and hope.
The blessing and the transformed curse which is the cross are for the healing, the saving
of the world which God, who most religion teaches us to fear, deeply and dearly loves.
Somehow God is leading us all through death into life, and we have as much control
over this as you had over your first birth and this morning's sunrise.
This first life can work the same way the second one will if we trust God—or to use the
translator's word, believe.
Trust in this strange God, and God's doomed Son, and God's invisible, uncontrollable
wind we call the Spirit.
Trust in the bread and the wine and the word and the water and the weird story.
The wild truth is that God loves the world and is determined to save it, and the American President was right: the only virus we have to fear is fear itself.