First Sunday after Pentecost, May 26, 2024

May 20, 2024 | by Nichole Torbitzky

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John 3:1-17

For this Sunday, we look at the comedy of errors conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. I wonder if Jesus is messing with Nicodemus a little bit with his cryptic answer(s) to a pretty straightforward question. Regardless, this conversation helps us get a glimpse into the depths of God’s uncontrolling love and the dance of divine creativity. Jesus reveals to Nicodemus and therefore to us as well, that God is not a static, unchanging being, but that God too moves in a constant process of becoming, engaging in an ever evolving in relationship with each of us and the world.

The Eternal Dance of Love

In this passage, we encounter Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a leader among the Jews, who comes to Jesus under the cover of night, seeking understanding. Jesus responds with a profound truth: “For God so loved the world that he gave the only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). These words encapsulate the very essence of Process Theology’s vision of God as the eternal Lover, the one who continually pours forth love into the world. God’s love is not a static, one-time act but an ever-flowing, ever-renewing dance of creative transformation. Just as a dancer moves in harmony with the music, God moves in harmony with the world, responding to its joys and sorrows, its triumphs and struggles. This dance of love is not a one-sided affair but a reciprocal relationship, where the world, in turn, influences and shapes the divine experience.

The Invitation to Participate

Jesus’ words to Nicodemus extend an invitation to participate in this eternal dance of love. “You must be born again,” he declares (John 3:7). This rebirth is not a one-time event but an ongoing process of transformation, a continual becoming in relationship with the divine. Like a dancer learning new steps, Jesus calls us to shed our old patterns, our preconceptions, and our limited understandings, our safe and settled ways of doing things, and to embrace the ever-unfolding mystery of God’s love. This rebirth is not a solitary journey but a shared experience, as we join the cosmic dance alongside the divine and all creation.

The Wind of the Spirit

Jesus uses the metaphor of the wind to illustrate the workings of the Spirit: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). We can understand the Spirit as the lure of divine love, that creative force that beckons us towards ever-greater beauty and goodness. Like the wind, the Spirit, the call of God, moves in ways that can seem unpredictable, inviting us to let go of our need for control, to always know what the outcome will be before we act, and to allow for the guidance of the Spirit to help us move to new ways that may seem to us at first, like it did to Nicodemus, a little difficult to follow.

Let me tell you a story about learning to Irish folk dance. I am not Irish. By heritage I am German, but a good friend of mine was interested in learning Irish folk dance—not River Dance, more like square dancing. She asked me to learn with her and I figured it would be fun. I was not wrong. Soon I learned that each tune had a very specific set of steps that went with it. If one person in the group of three messed up a step, the whole group was disrupted and it would take a little while to get everyone else back on track. Eventually, with lots of practice and some very forgiving dance partners, my friend and I got pretty good. We got particularly good at the steops to one tune in particular—the Keel Row. We got to the point where we wouldn’t miss a single step and even the REALLY experienced dancers enjoyed dancing with us. It was great fun to have all of the steps memorized and not miss a beat! But, then, the band turned to Waltzes. I was invited to Waltz with my experienced partner and although there are steps to a Waltz, it is much more spontaneous. And, I was terrible at it. My partner politely thanked me for the dance and went to find a better Waltzer. When we use the metaphor of the dance, we have to be very careful about what we mean. I’m great at memorizing the steps and moving to the music when everyone is moving exactly like I expect. What we do with the Spirit is much more like a Waltz.  Sure, there are steps, and familiar tunes, but there is also room for ‘unscripted’ moves. When we dance with the Spirit we have to trust the music and the steps, and we are called to trust the Spirit’s leading, to follow both its gentle nudges and bold promptings, even when the steps seem unfamiliar or the path uncertain. God too, like a good dance partner, follows our lead, swaps lead, and the dance goes on.

In the dance of life where the music of creation echoes, each dancer represents a unique expression of the divine love, a thread in the tapestry of existence (to mix metaphors). Some dancers move with bold, sweeping gestures, others move with subtlety and grace, their influence felt in the quiet moments and tender interactions, all their steps leaving indelible marks on the world around them. Yet, no dancer moves alone. Each step, each turn, each leap is a response to the movements of others, a reciprocal exchange of energy and influence. The dance is a symphony of interconnected lives, woven together by the music of the divine Lover. In this dance, there are moments of joy and celebration, where the dancers move in perfect synchronicity, their movements a testament to the beauty and harmony of creation. There are also moments of struggle and dissonance, where the dancers stumble, collide, or lose their way, reflecting the pain and brokenness of our world. But through it all, the divine Lover remains, ever-present, ever-patient, ever-inviting us to rejoin the dance, to find our steps anew, and to contribute our unique movements to the unfolding masterpiece. This, beloved friends, is the eternal dance of love, the choreography in which we are all invited to participate. As we embrace the message of John 3:1-17 this Sunday, may we open our hearts to the divine Lover’s invitation, stepping into the transformative power of God’s love. May we learn to move in harmony with the Spirit’s leading, trusting in the unfolding mystery, and finding our unique steps in the grand dance of creation. For in this dance, we discover the true meaning of eternal life – a life lived in intimate relationship with the divine, a life of continual becoming, a life of ever-deepening love. So let us dance, beloved friends, let us dance with abandon, with joy, and with trust, knowing that the divine Lover holds us in an eternal embrace, guiding our steps and inviting us ever deeper into the sacred rhythms of love.

Nichole TorbitzkyRev.Dr. Nichole Torbitzky is Associate Professor of Religion and University Chaplain at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO. Her current research investigates Whiteheadian notions related to Christian atonement theory. She serves as the editor for the Center for Process and Faith’s Lectionary Commentary series.  She co-edited the process and preaching book, Preaching the Uncontrolling Love of God: Sermons, Essays, and Worship Elements from the Perspective of Open, Relational, and Process Theology.