Lent 2A


210: March 12, 2017

Psalm 121,  Richard Bruxvoort Colligan 

Voice in the Wilderness: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, Erin Geoffrion

Featured Musician - Risn “It Ain’t Easy”

Tasty Wafer of the Week:



54:March 7, 2014


Exegetical Notes

John 3:1-17 - Jesus and Nicodemus

Initial thoughts

  • Week two of Lenten series “Jesus and Pals.” How Jesus interacts with each of these reveals to us something of Jesus.

    • (last week) Lent 1A - Satan, “Worship and serve only God”

    • Lent 2A - Nicodemus “[Jesus was not sent] to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”

    • Lent 3A - Woman at the well, “I am [the Messiah]”

    • Lent 4A - Blind man, “I am the light of the world”

    • Lent 5A - Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life”

  • Read through the entire pericope - through verse 21

Bible Study

  • Context: Discussion with Nicodemus
    • Takes place at night, immediately after table turning incident in the Temple. Jewish leaders are not happy with him.
    • Nicodemus, a Jewish leader (Pharisee), is convinced by Jesus’ actions that he is “a teacher who has come from God.” Implies that there are others who have this same belief.
    • Jesus responds that this isn’t enough. You must be “born anew” to see God’s kingdom.
    • Nicodemus does not understand, so Jesus explains that people must be “born of the spirit.” Nicodemus still does not understand. This passage is a part of Jesus’ explanation to Nicodemus.
  • Nicodemus
    • At the margins- not the last nor the first, shrouded in night
    • Nicodemites - German Christians who sympathized with the reformers, but were not willing to be publically identified with them
    • Nicodemus, like many people, are curious about faith, but are perhaps unwilling to “take the plunge”
    • Is Spiritual but not Religious the Nicodemites of today?
    • Nicodemus is on a journey - first questioning in the night, then defending Jesus (John 7), then burying Jesus (John 19)
  • Johannine Theme:
  • Translation: “From above” - anonthen  - can also mean anew or again - hence being “born again”
  • Themes of light and darkness
    • Nicodemus comes at night and is referred to as the one who came at night
    • Nicodemus won’t “come into the light” until the end (chapter 19:38-42)
    • See verses 18-21 esp.
      • How to address this language of condemnation?
        • Do we truly want to be exposed by the Light of the World? To have our hypocrisies and justifications revealed?
      • Condemnation is not the judgement of God, but the judgement we bring on ourselves when we try to hide our unfaithfulness
  • v 14-15
    • “Just as Moses lifted up the snake” is a clear allusion to Numbers 21:4-9
      • Recalls God’s continued saving work in the world. In the Wilderness, there was a very present danger from which God was able to protect the people.
      • God continues to protect the people, now through raising his Son.
    • “So must the Human One be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.”
      • Crucifixion? Jesus raised up on the cross.
        • “Lift High the Cross” 159 in United Methodist Hymnal
        • “Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim till all the world adore his sacred name. Come, Christians follow this triumphant sign The hosts of God in unity combine. O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree, as thou hast promised, draw the world to thee.” George William Kitchin and Michael Robert Newbolt, 1916.
      • Lifted up as a model? Jesus raised up as the Way in which to follow.
        • “Help Us Accept Each Other” 569 in United Methodist Hymnal
        • “Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us; teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace. Be present, Lord, among us, and bring us to believe we are ourselves accepted and meant to love and live.” Fred Kaan, 1974
      • Resurrection? Jesus raised from the grave?
        • “Because He Lives” 364 in United Methodist Hymnal
        • “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow; because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know he holds the future, and life is worth the living just because he lives.” Gloria and William Gaither, 1971
  • John 3:16 - Faith and Works
    • Seen by many Christians as the summation of the Gospel
    • What does Jesus mean by belief in the Son of God? To simply testify, “I believe!”? I don’t think so
    • Verses 19-21 clearly link believe with deeds. One who believes in God, who “come to the light” do so because “their deeds have been done in God”
      • John 3:16 is not about a one time being born again, but an invitation to follow the Way of Jesus.
      • Your belief is shown in your deeds
    • The difference is demonstrated in real action
      • All things will eventually be exposed to light
      • Those who hate the light do wickedness. Those who remain in the light do truth.
  • v. 16-21
    • John often divides things into two distinct categories.
      • Spirit and World
      • Darkness and Light
      • Life and Death
      • Truth and Wickedness
      • Those that believe and those that do not
    • These dichotomies reflect a “minority group defining itself not only within the diversity of Judaism but also defining itself among followers of Jesus. In this context, polemical language against the Jews and secret believers functioned to affirm members of a minority community defining itself in relationship to other communities making similar claims to truth. The purpose is not to exclude others, rather to support those who likely make difficult choices to belong. Likely the intent was to encourage others to join them.” (Marilyn Salmon, from Working Preacher)
  • Purpose of the exclusive language is not actually to exclude, but to invite.
  • Gestating Faith
    • Being born again - there is a lot of time and energy that goes into birth - why would faith be any different?
  • Baptism - Is this a command to be baptized?
    • YES - Jesus says “born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of Spirit is Spirit.”
    • NO - Being born of water is natural birth, Also Jesus says (right after this) that he is the source of Living Water - again alluding to him being the way. To be born in water and the Spirit is to live in the way of Jesus.

Sermon Thoughts and Questions:

  • What does it mean to “do truth.” How can we as a church do more truth? It cannot be just about telling the truth, although that is an important part. Expanding on the concept of “doing truth” could make for a sermon. Truth, Justice, and Love seem to be linked by this passage. Part of loving the world is acting for justice. Part of doing justice is telling the truth. Part of doing truth is living in love.
  • Memorizing John 3:16 separates belief from action.
    • Belief is important, but verses 19-21 reveal that judgment comes not based on belief, but on action.
    • Remain in darkness or live in the light. The choice might start with belief, but it is only revealed in actions.
  • What does it mean to identify oneself as Christian? We often feel the need to explain or label our Christianity (progressive, evangelical, etc.)
  • Are we willing to take on the responsibility of being “Christian”? to Proclaim good news to the poor, hope in the face of crucifixion, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, to walk to the cross alongside  Christ?
  • What does it mean to believe in Jesus?
    • It is to believe that he is the divine incarnate who bled and died for our sins?
    • Or is it to believe that the Way of Jesus- living the Gospel of Love in word and deed to God and neighbor - is the path to salvation?

Psalm 121  - Where will my help come?

Initial thoughts

  • Psalm Song - "God is Holding Your Life" by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan
  • A pilgrim’s song
    • Dangers of traveling in ancient Israel were myriad.
      • Hills were a place of danger, hideout for bandits. A huge group could be over next hill.  Terrain was treacherous. Water was scarce, especially in dry months.

Bible Study

  • Rolf Jacobson calls the structure “Elegantly Simple”
    • v 1-2 Traveler’s question and confession
    • v 3-8 Priestly blessing
    • Beautiful chiasm in v 1-2
      • I look to the hills (creation)
        • From where will my help come? (Question)
        • My help is in the Lord (Answer)
        • Maker of heaven and earth (Creation)
    • Psalm tells us about God
      • God doesn’t rest
      • God is ever present
      • God keeps promises.
  • The Timeless Psalms, Joan Stott.
    • Daily reminders of God’s presence
      • Creating God, at work in the world all around
    • Enduring comfort of God’s presence
      • Permanence of God.
      • Present sense before the hills
    • Weathering the shadows in God’s presence
      • Trustworthiness of God
      • Growth is nearly impossible in the valleys, but God is still present.
    • Rest in God’s presence
      • Day or night, through all activities of the day.
  • Prayer of Saint Patrick

Preaching Thoughts and Questions

  • When you look to the hills, what danger do you see?
    • What is just over the horizon that is troubling you?
    • What is the source of the anxiety, stress, or burden?
  • As you move along your journey, you never reach the horizon, but God is always present.
  • Jacobson says that Psalm 121 is often hung in labor and delivery rooms and over cribs in Jewish homes.
    • How can use this blessing in our daily life, as we embark on journeys.  How may the Psalm, and the God it describes, be a blessing this Lent?

Genesis 12:1-4a Calling of Abram

Initial Thoughts

  • Conversation with Walter Brueggemann about his book Chosen?
  • Who was Abram’s brother?
    • Read 11:27-32 and you see that Abram came from somewhere, too.
    • The narrative of him moving makes less sense if you don’t get an idea of where he starts.
    • “Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran was the father of Lot.” (Gen. 11:27, NRSV)
    • “Terah took his Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred five years, and Terah died in Haran.” (Gen. 11:31, NRSV)
    • This begs the question - were they already on their way to Canaan when God spoke to Abram?

Bible Study

  • Hard division between chapters 1-11 and chapters 12-50?
    • “It has long been practice in Genesis study to drive a sharp wedge between chaps 1-11, the so-called Primeval History, and chaps 12-50, the Patriarchal History. More recently… there has been renewed interest in the integrity of Genesis as a whole.” (Terrence Fretheim, New Interpreter’s Bible Old Testament Survey, p. 21)
    • For those proposing a hard break, “12:1-3 is a fulcrum text linking Abraham with ‘all the families of the earth.’ Hence, it has been common to claim that God’s choice of Abraham had a universal purpose: to extend God’s salvific goals through his family to the entire world.” (Terrence Fretheim, New Interpreter’s Bible Old Testament Survey, p. 21).
    • God’s salvation is rooted in Creation - not only Abraham’s family. “God’s work of blessing in the world does not begin with Abraham; it is integral to chaps 1-11 and so God’s blessing work through Abraham must involve intensification and pervasiveness, not a new reality. Since God saves Noah, his family… Issues of creation and redemption are integrated throughout Genesis. God’s promises and salvific acts must finally be seen as serving all of creation. God acts to free people, indeed the entire world, to be what they were created to be.” (Terrence Fretheim, New Interpreter’s Bible Old Testament Survey, p. 21, emphasis added)
    • Brueggemann: “There is no doubt that in the construction of Genesis, a major break in the narrative is intended between 11:32 and 12:1. Indeed, it is perhaps the most important structural break in the Old Testament and certainly in Genesis…” And yet, in his Interpretation: Genesis, Brueggemann creates a reading block of 11:30-12:9. “The reason for this arrangement is that God does not begin the history of Israel ex nihilo. The history of promise does not emerge in a vacuum.” (Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Genesis, p. 116)
  • The nature of the promise
    • All about God’s work
      • I will make of you
      • I will bless you
      • I will magnify your name
      • I will bless those who bless you
      • I will curse those who curse you.
    • All of this is a gift of God. Abraham’s place of promise is a pure gift from God.
    • Provides stark contrast from the situation presented in 11:30. Abram and Sarai are not going to make this happen - only through God.
    • “The promise is concluded by what seems to be a commissioning. The well-being of Israel carried potential for the well-being of other nations. Israel is never permitted to live in a vacuum. It must always live with, for, and among the others. The barren ones are now mandated for the needs of others.” (Brueggemann, p. 119)

Sermon Thoughts and Questions

  • God’s call is one “to abandonment, renunciation, and relinquishment. It is a call for a dangerous departure from the presumed world of norms and security… The narrative knows that such departure from securities is the only way out of barrenness. The whole of the Abrahamic narrative is premised on this seeming contradiction: to stay in safety is to remain barren; to leave in risk is to have hope.” (Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: Genesis, p. 118)
  • When you put this story in the greater context of a bridge between chapter 11 and 12 - when you consider that Abram’s father Terah was taking his family “went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there.” This begs the question - “Was God simply nudging Abram to get up and finish the job he had already started?” Abram’s family moving to Canaan was actually a part of the Creation narrative, the calling of Abram was actually the impetus to move toward the completion of Creation.
    • God wanted Abram to finish what he started.
    • How many times do we start a project, a good work, a ministry, but leave it uncompleted when it get difficult, or we burn out? Abram was on his way to Canaan, but settled for five years.
    • Settling - while generally seen as a positive in our culture - is not a Biblical value. In modernity, “to settle down,” means to behave or mature. In the Bible to “settled down” is to stagnate, become barren, and die.

Thank you and get in touch:

Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com, @pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”"Real Ride" and “Summertime”) and The Steel Wheels for our transition music(“Nola’s First Dance” from their album Lay Down, Lay Low) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).