When I was in seminary, one of the metaphors we used to describe the wide range of acceptable beliefs within Christian orthodoxy was buoys as channel markers. While the picture above shows signs, not buoys, the idea remains the same: if you operate your boat within the buoys on either side, safety can be guaranteed, but if you should move outside of the designated channel, the odds are pretty good you’ll get snagged by something. When you are driving a motorboat, staying within the channel markers is a relative breeze, but the truth of the matter is that the life of faith is much more like a sailboat, tacking back and forth as you attempt to both keep wind in your sails and to stay within the channel.
I think this is sort of what Jesus had in mind when he told Nicodemus, “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.” The breath of the Spirit is what keeps the faithful disciple ever moving forward. As I said on Monday, it is always compelling us to go beyond our place and level of faith, to find new ways to share the love of God. At times, we might get carried away, forget to tack, and find ourselves pushed way out of bounds, even as we thought we were being faithful to the Spirit. The key in the life of faith is the same as the key to be a good sailor, always be alert. Paying attention to the subtle shifts of the Spirit will allow us to remain faithful.
Nicodemus could feel the wind shifting around him, but wasn’t sure just how to adapt to what the Spirit was doing. This idea of being born from above seemed way beyond the bounds of the channel marker, but God was doing a new thing, pushing Nicodemus ever forward toward his Kingdom.