Has anyone ever heard this one before?
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.
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)
Sign - Dialogue - Discourse (Karoline M. Lewis - Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide)
No sign, but Nicodemus refers to the signs that Jesus has done
dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus
Discourse on the Light and the Dark - v. 11 that can be directed at the reader as much as at Nicodemus (Nic does not matter for the rest of the passage)
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
“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.
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.
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.
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?
“Here I Am Lord” hymn- based at least partly on this (and the calling of Samuel)
Immediately precedes the O Come, O Come Immanuel passage - MAKE THIS LINK!
Two parts of a Three part story:
Theophany of God (vv.1-4)
Calling of Isaiah (vv.5-8)
Prophecy (vv.9-13) not included in Lectionary
Why is this here instead of Isaiah 1? Isaiah’s prophecy (vv.9-13) specifically relates to the oracles of chapters 7 and 8
Ahaz is afraid and wants to ally with the Assyrians instead of trusting “Immanuel” God with us
Theophany - visible manifestation of God - What does this tell us about God?
“The year King Uzziah died” - died from leprosy in 742 which he contracted because he arrogantly decided to burn incense to God- a task assigned only to the priests (descendants of Aaron) 2 Chron. 26
God is not subject to Kings- even faithful Kings - Kings come and go, but God last forever
God is seen! This is extraordinary- rarely is God “seen” - most likely a dream
God is enthroned in Jerusalem - God is with Judah (Isaiah 7) not simply enthroned in heaven (Ezekiel 1:1-3:11; 1 Kings 22:19)
Only biblical mention of Seraphs- very little is known biblically, simply God is attended by supernatural creatures and then they cannot behold the glory and majesty of God
Holy, Holy Holy - Holy means “separate” or “other” - three times = Yahweh is the ultimate “other”
Hem fills the temple- rob was a sign of power and none can equal the power of God
Protestation - common (Samuel doesn’t recognize God’s voice, Jeremiah says he is too young, Moses rejects God’s call repeatedly)
Fear - Isaiah has seen what Moses and even Seraphs cannot behold - death is imminent
Fear is met with recognition and confession- both individual “I am a man of unclean lips” and corporate “I live among a people of unclean lips”
Confession is met with ritualistic purification - coal to the lips - specifically addressing his confession/sin
Moses needs proof he talked with Yahweh: is given a staff, given and cured of leprosy, bloody Nile water
Jeremiah cannot speak- God touches his mouth
Ezekiel given a scroll to eat
Seraph acts as intercessor - very priestly acts in response to Uzziah’s disregard of ritual
Ritual is important!
Only after confessing and accepting forgiveness can Isaiah hear the voice fo God- not through seraphs but directly from God
“us” most likely referred to the Seraphs and unmentioned divine council over whom Yahweh in majesty reigns - think of a King asking the court - who will go for us
Thoughts and Questions
God calls us whether we like it, want it or not- in our weakness (unclean lips) God gives us strength. What is keeping you (or your church) from answering God’s call? How is God helping you overcome that obstacle
Isaiah confesses both individually and corporately. What sins are we guilty of corporately and what are we guilty of individually? Are they separable?
God with us - in the midst of fear, in the midst of impending invasion, in the midst of dying Kings and unfaithfulness and uncertainty- God is with us. God is Holy and God’s ways are not our ways, but God is with us. How will we preach this while not watering down the fear, turmoil and need for confession?
God chooses to offer healing, purification and forgiveness not directly but through a messenger (Seraph). How might we be God’s messengers?
Forgiveness can burn us while making us whole
The paragraph after this in Romans was the lectionary reading last week, so this is the prelude to last week’s much more popular passage of Romans (8:22-38)
Forces us to examine what we mean by “Child of God.” We often use this term to mean something different from what Paul seems to be writing here.
Whenever a passage starts, “So then…” the previous paragraph should probably be read. Following the “So’s” backwards leads to the start of chapter 7, in which Paul starts this section talking about freedom from the law. “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you also died with respect to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you could be united with the one who was raised from the dead so that we can bear fruit for God.” This passage is a part of a two-chapter extrapolation of this thesis statement.
Dead with Christ.
Dead to Law.
United with Christ
United with Resurrection.
God’s Spirit Family (Paul Achtemeier, Interpretation: Romans, p. 137)
To be adopted into a family means that the adopted gains all rights, responsibilities, and privileges of being in the family. There is no differentiation between adopted and born sons and daughters.
The metaphor of adoption into God’s family is multi-faceted, and one which allows the family of Abraham to grow into the Gentile world.
“The letter to the Romans offers a contrast between the children of the Spirit and the children of the flesh. Children of the Spirit are adopted as sons and daughters and become heirs with Christ. Children of the flesh resist adoption. As in the legal process of today, there is a waiting period, according to Romans, before full adoption is completed. Suffering is to be expected with adoption, as those adopted become heirs with Christ who suffers. Yet the suffering is outweighed by the glory of the finalization of the adoption.” (Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, The Spirit of Adoption, p. 110.)
“Abba, Father,” is a term of close endearment, read “Daddy.” Only use in the Gospel is in Mark at Jesus’ final prayer before the passion. It is not translated into the other gospels, perhaps because it is such an intimate expression it made those authors uncomfortable.
Metaphor of Family of God is different than the metaphor of Body of Christ, yet that is often a popular use in congregations. Many congregations like to describe themselves as “family.” All too often, this means that they really like each other, but really don’t need anyone else. The metaphor of an actively adopting family opens up the love to all, and includes the possibility of the other because at one time we were all ‘other.’
To be adopted means to be let go of one set of parents, and adopted by another.
What we need to relinquish is self-centeredness.
Selfishness is the way of the flesh.
When selfishness is relinquished, it allows for Divine adoption.
“Those who by calling God “Father” enter his family are transformed in such a way that their former world is no longer their home. Ruled by flesh and its rebellion against God, that world cannot understand those who are at peace with God through Christ” (Achtemeier, p. 13)
“Family of God”
“Belonging to the family of God directs the character of our lives. Most of us grew up knowing key family values: things like never showing weakness in public, excelling in academics or sports, caring for those who could not care for themselves, and so forth. These guiding principles helped us know how to live and relate in the world. They reminded us of who we were and how we ought to be.” (Abingdon Preaching Annual, p. 74)
Family Values is now a politically fraught term, but perhaps it can be reclaimed. What are the values of God’s family?
“If we are children of the king, then our lives are meant to reflect God’s kingdom values.” (Abingdon Preaching Annual, p. 74)
Can the metaphor of adoption be lifted up more often? “No other model better suits the church than that of the healthy adoptive family. Often through pain and disenchantment, the loving adoptive family releases certain expectations and embraces what they have been given. This is a profound act of love of which I speak, and it can be born of much loss and patience. There is also a great joy in loving freely.” (Stevenson-Moessner, p. 9).
Lift up the translation in CEB of “selfishness” over “flesh” of NRSV. In many circles, the term ‘flesh’ is about the body. Thus anything that has to do with the body, i.e. sex, is deemed sinful. To be of the flesh is to be sexual is to be sinful. This seems to be an unhealthy attitude toward sexuality. Instead, the CEB renders it “selfishness.” The sin of selfishness is what Paul talks about. Michael Curry, in his sermon at the Festival of Homiletics said that the “opposite of love is selfishness.” Narrow, self-centered living is not life-giving. It leads to death. A life lived for the sake of others, that is self-sacrificing is a life that is authentic, real, and eternal. This shift from “flesh” to “selfishness” can open up a world of interpretation and re-understanding of Paul’s message.
THANK YOU FOR LISTENING 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 Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).