Tag Archives: John

Renewal

The Bible sets amazing standards for people of faith. If the ten commandments were not hard enough to live up to, Jesus interpreted them adding difficulty.

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
— Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

No wonder Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 3:1-2). What deep dark secret did he have in his life that might place him in danger of judgement? I like to write broad general confessions of sin so participants may write in their own sins and hear the assurance of pardon for those sins.

But what would it take for people to truly and perfectly live sin free lives? People who live real lives with daily temptations and compromises and imperfections? People affected by emotionally charged topics that lead to emotional outbursts?

Could real people set aside every past indiscretion and every past neglect and live new lives or would they have to start over? Or as Nicodemus suggested: crawl back inside one’s mother’s womb and be born again?

The amazing part of Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus is learning that God chooses us to be perfect. That we need only look upon Jesus to be healed of our imperfections so we can live lives as new people.

Letting Go

The Scenic Railway at Luna Park, Melbourne, is...
The Scenic Railway at Luna Park, Melbourne, is the world’s oldest continually-operating rollercoaster, built in 1912. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next few years will be roller-coaster-ish; boring and exciting, scary and fun, dangerous and safe.

I had written that sentence thinking about half a dozen boys and girls who were finishing a confirmation class. High school lay in their immediate future; a time that would at times be boring and exciting, scary and fun, dangerous and safe. In short roller-coaster-ish.

I suppose I could have used these same words a few years ago at the start of the great recession. The next few years will be roller-coaster-ish.

This year these words I will delivered to high school graduates and to their parents. The next few years will be roller-coaster-ish.

I wonder if Jesus might have had similar thoughts for his disciples as he prayed in the garden at Gethsemane. Had he been thinking of the trials and excitement, boredom and rewards they would face in the next few years.

And now I am no longer in the world,
and they are in the world, and I myself, come to you,
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me,
in order that they may be one, as we are one.

— John 17:11

As much as we might like to protect these graduates, and their parents, from at least the most precipitous dips and sharpest turns, they need to experience them for themselves so that they may mature and develop into full adulthood. For life is indeed like a roller coaster.

Eat a light lunch.

Blowing Bubbles

I remember the lifeguard teaching my classmates and I to blow bubbles at my first swimming lesson. “Take a breath of air, put your face into the water, blow bubbles, turn your head to the side, take another breath, and repeat.” This is a lesson I mastered as a six year-old.

Similarly the first lesson when sharing the gospel is learning to blow bubbles. Take a deep breath of the Holy Spirit, then while out in the world slowly exhale. Return to the community of faith and take another deep breath of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ disciples had a tough week: a passover celebration with a new symbol of bread and wine and foot washing, a rigged trial, and his crucifixion. John reports that they encountered the risen Jesus in a locked room when Jesus tells them: My peace be with you. … Receive the Holy Spirit. While you have your head up out of the troubles of life, inhale the breath of God.

This lesson applies not only to sharing the gospel, but to life itself. During the week we face many challenges and make our share of mistakes. Some of these feel like getting punched and having your breath knocked out. Knowing where to get a refreshing and life restoring breath of the Holy Spirit helps Christians flourish from one Sunday to the next.

Where can you find time to inhale the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, between time in worship?

Justice, Mercy, and Grace

I am a Christian because I trust that when I confess my short comings and deserve justice, I get more than mercy, I get grace.

Justice: Getting what we deserve.

scales-hiOur legal system is based on the concept of justice. Each action is balanced with an offsetting reward or punishment.

When you work, your employer pays you a fair wage. If someone hurts you, they pay for your care. And if you break the law, you get an appropriate punishment.

Mercy: Not getting what we deserve.

Mercy is like justice. You know what you did was wrong, and got caught, but the punishment was waived. Or perhaps you agreed to one wage and received more than you expected.

The Gospel of John tells of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11) who received mercy. Justice demanded stoning. But she was sent home and cautioned not to sin again.

The Gospel of Matthew records a parable of a generous landowner who pays all his laborers the same wage, despite that some work far fewer hours than a full day’s work (Matthew 20:1-16). This parable shows the problem with mercy, those who receive less, get upset.

In both of these stories, I wonder what happens the next day to the woman excused from her adultery or the laborers paid for more hours than they worked. How would the community treat them? How long would suspicions and grumbling continue?

Grace: Getting restored in spite of what we deserve.

Grace takes mercy a step further. Those responsible for judgement know what misdeeds have happened. The scales of justice stay out of balance, but community is restored.

John’s Gospel also tells of a woman who meets Jesus at a well in the middle of the day (John 4:5-30). Jesus knows she has had five husbands and her current partner. Does she come to the well in the heat of the day to avoid the stares and name calling from other women who would have come early in the morning and just before sundown? Would the other women fear she would steal their husbands? Yet after meeting Jesus she returns to town and invites others to meet him. This is grace.

When have you restored someone to community?

Thy Will Be Done

“Can someone else do that?”

As a leader I have to present and execute the actions of boards that I have moderated. Most times these are easily done, for I usually agree with the other members of the board, at least to some degree. Occasionally, I have disagreed with the board, voted with the minority, even argued strongly against a winning proposition, and then had to carry out the board’s action, even writing letters requesting assistance.

This is the price of leadership.

To write letters those letters, I recall what the winning side had said, then imagine how they might write those letters.

I perceive Jesus expected us to take on  his mind-set when we pray, not merely tack on his name to the end of our prayers. I believe that Jesus came to instruct us how to build up the Kingdom of Heaven, considering his words and actions as we formulate our prayers. When Jesus heard of someone who was ill, he often went to them, touched them, and spoke with them. When praying for peace, I doubt Jesus would have us beg to send someone else, but have us ask what can we do, so that God might do greater things through us.

I tell you the truth,
anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.
He will do even greater things than these,
because I am going to the Father.
And I will do whatever you ask in my name,
so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.
You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
— John 14:12-14 (NIV)

 

After Easter

Easter Surprise 2007
(Photo credit: otzberg)

Most of the Easter lilies have been taken home. The chocolate bunnies, marshmallow peeps, and candy eggs if not already eaten are not likely to last the week. The bright white tapestries and table runners  will stay up until Pentecost, nearly seven weeks from now, but after a flash to red, even they will also quietly return to the green of ordinary time. It is almost as if Easter had not happened.

The Apostle John records that after Easter the disciples returned to what they had done before Jesus had called them from fishing beside Galilee (see John 21:1-3). If was almost as if Jesus’ birth, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection had not happened.

Most of the year I wonder how to design worship to invite people to take a deep breath of the Holy Spirit that will sustain them for nearly 7 days until we meet for again. For Easter, I wonder what difference the resurrection makes the next 364 days.

A short answer: Wow! Everything he told us is true! Jesus really IS God’s Son.

The long answer: Today I get to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven: making disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Christ commanded us (see Matthew 28:19-20). The resurrection opens believers to risk physical life to love our neighbors.

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Trust and Ministry

Being able to trust those around you can affect what you can accomplish and how well.

The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is providing several examples of trust and mistrust: Incomplete radar data, blurred satellite images, technologies used to detect pings, … When countries don’t or can’t trust their neighbors, they could have reasons to fear that releasing this data could be quickly reverse engineered to discern military capabilities: ease of flying under or over radar sensors, ability to detect troop movements, ability to detect submarines, …

At the other extreme many people have cooperated to develop a new technique for analyzing radio transmissions to satellites and discern the airplane’s direction as well as its range, guiding search crews to a useful locations to begin searching for wreckage.

On the night before he was crucified Jesus set the example for trusting those one’s neighbors. As the meal began he washed his disciples feet. When people routinely walked dusty roads in sandals beside animals, washing someone’s feet was humiliating. To wash the feet of people you trust is amazing, to wash the feet of someone who was plotting to kill you would be foolish, crazy, idiotic! Yet Judas was among the disciples when he washed their feet (see John 13) and Jesus knew who would betray him.

As the Good News of Jesus Christ spreads in the world, may we learn to trust one another, even our enemies, so we might minister effectively with one another.

January 27th: “Serve the Good Wine”

Like the cup of communion, the wine is poured out without request from those who benefit and is poured out with extravagant abundance!

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: John 2:1-11

B. Other texts for Year for Sunday within

C. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 What “third day”?

3 How do we ask Jesus for things? Do we simply expect Jesus to fill our needs when notified?

4a What concern is the wine to Jesus? –> “Give us this day our daily bread …”

4b When are we commissioned to ministry? Installation? Ordination? Seminary/Sunday School? Baptism!

5 This is a statement of faith! That Jesus can solve our problems, and even when he has objected, will solve our problems.

6 Did John have a numerological meaning hidden in the six jars holding 2 to 3 measures? (Six being the incomplete number.) Or is this only to demonstrate that this was a large household and the vastness of Jesus’ grace poured out for us?

7 Are we the treasure, in stone jars, filled with water, awaiting transformation into superior wine?

8 What would the servants have been thinking when they took the water to the wine steward?

9 Imagine the reaction of the servants when the steward proclaimed what they to be only water as the best wine.

10a Heard Baptists excuse this wine as weaker, less intoxicating, than modern wine, but the guests would get drunk.

10b Consider wine as a metaphor for God’s mission to the people.

10c Keep the good wine until later?

11 Jesus first miracle is to make wine! We should celebrate his glory!

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • John delimits this story with “On the third day” and with “after this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days.”

6. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

This is a unique passage.

Joel 3:18 In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD and water the Wadi Shittim.

H. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

Water for purification rites? Nothing overt in Scripture.

Wine: Other than this passage, and a reference to this passage, John does not use this word.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • This is the last Gospel written. John seeks to affirm that the actions of Jesus are continued by the actions of the Holy Spirit ‘Paraclete’ as present among believers. John seeks to show the revelation of the glory of Jesus Christ from the beginning of his ministry. John has a different understanding of the second coming of Jesus Christ. He understands that God is with us now in the form of the Paraclete.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

Jesus was a wedding guest. Is not concerned about the shortage of wine. But instructs servants to fill the jars with water. The miracle has to be deduced from Mary’s instructions and what we know of Jesus.

Jesus’ mother (unnamed in this passage) neither asks nor tells Jesus to provide more wine.

The servants are fully aware of what has happened, but only after the wine steward tastes the wine. Had they thought that Jesus was about to pull a fast one?

The wine steward affirms the completion of the miracle. And wrongly attributes the beneficence of good wine to the bridegroom.

The disciples are transformed through learning about this miracle.

The bridegroom is the beneficiary of the miracle, but is oblivious to it. Like people in a disaster benefiting from others.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

On the third day: If we presume that this is a sequence of days beginning with Jesus’ baptism (creation) then he recruits disciples on the second and third day, and this story comes on the third day after meeting Philip, or the sixth day after his baptism. The wedding then links to Genesis in the creation of humanity. The six jars of water may also link to the six days of creation.

Jesus is the only named character, keeping our focus on him.

Why six stone jars? Why two to three measures each? Stone jars would ensure ritual purity that an earthen jar would not, in the event of contamination with a dead unclean animal, including the washing of items so contaminated. The volume of wine produced connotes the superabundance of gifts available through Jesus.

Cana occurs later as a place where Jesus perceived the people demanded signs to believe in him.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: A sign that Jesus is more than a mere mortal.
  • Emotional Center: The surprise of the wine steward on drinking the good wine.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • What concern is the lack of wine to Jesus?
  • What does Jesus mean that his hour has not come? Has our hour come?
  • Does serving the good wine last parallel Jesus appearing after the prophets?

E. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • The sign swamps the details of the story.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Gail R. O’Day (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of John”) opines that these jars symbolize the new wine filling the old vessels of Jewish purification. She connects the abundance of good wine with Amos 9:13 & Joel 3:18 as a symbol of the joyous arrival of God’s new age.

Gerard Sloyan (Interpretation: John) notes ancient interpretations which link the mother of Jesus to Eve, with both sharing the title of Woman. He notes potential problems of upstaging the wedding with this miracle if everyone knew of the source of the wine, thus explaining Jesus’ silence regarding the transformation, and also the difficulty of keeping this secret in a small town (thus when Jesus returns the people want to see more miracles from him).

The NIV Life Application Bible opines that running out of wine at a wedding was more than a breach of hospitality. They suggest that Mary was not asking for a miracle, only that he find someway to solve the bridegroom’s social problem.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received, when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,” were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Since this is the last Gospel, written long after Paul’s letters, does this function as the institution of the Lord’s Supper? This cup is the new covenant, sealed in my blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Like the cup of communion, the wine is poured out without request from those who benefit. And it is poured out with extravagant abundance!

July 29th: “What Can We Do?”

Some might rationalize around the miracle in this week’s Gospel passage as generous sharing or appetizer-sized portions or assign the miracles as only signifying Jesus as succeeding Moses, and thus not relevant now. But what possibilities are we over looking today?

This Week’s Passage: John 6:1-15

I. Establish the text

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 This puts Jesus on the eastern or southern shore of Galilee.

2 How did the crowd follow? by boat? Or did they walk? The determination of the crowd attests to Jesus authority.

3 This may indicate an opportunity to teach the disciples. Teachers at that time sat down to teach. Verse 6 would then be in a context of a lesson. Where else does John use mountain top experiences?

4 What is the significance of Passover being near? Does this attest to the crowd’s interest in Jesus even to the point of neglecting preparations for Passover? Do members of the crowd have food for the Passover in their pockets, but are not ready to share it, so they may celebrate the Passover? The multiplication of the loaves echoes God providing manna in the desert.

5a The crowd must have separated from Jesus after the last episode. Giving Jesus time alone with his disciples.

5b-6 What does this say about what Jesus had been talking to the disciples about before the crowd arrived? Perhaps something like, with God all things are possible. What things today do we see as improbable, like feeding the 5,000, that we need to turn over to God?

7 A denarii = a day’s wages for a common laborer. Thus 200 denarii would be $8*8*200=$12,800. For 5,000 men and their families (nominally 20,000 people?) 200 denarii would yeild only $0.64/person, or about a bite.

8-9 Andrew is looking towards a solution rather than sizing the problem. He sees this as a beginning of a solution, although not its completion.

10 Does “plenty of grass” signify good grazing land with the potential for feed many?

11 Rather than urge others to contribute bread and fish, Jesus gives thanks for what has been given.

12 What would they do with 12 baskets of leftovers, since five loaves and two fish fed 5,000? Are the twelve baskets symbolic of the twelve tribes/apostles/fullness of leftovers?

13 This is more than a symbolic meal. The people are fed more than the morsel typically given at communion.

14 Who is the crowd expecting? Elijah? Or a prophet of the ilk that Moses wrote?

15 Jesus cannot be king because he must die, and such an earthly kingdom would be shortly lived. On the other hand, a kingdom with Christ as king will live from eternity to eternity.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • There is probably enough to deal with in verses 1-15.
  • Although verses 25-34 (and 35-71) might also be considered in conjunction with 1-15.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

In verse 14, more recent variants add “Jesus” to clarify who did the signs, although this is inferred by the context. Was this to refute an early heresy?

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

Matthew 14:13-21 – Jesus has come to a deserted place to grieve the death of John the Baptizer. The crowd is waiting for him when he goes ashore. Jesus heals the sick and lame then feeds them when the hour is late.

Mark 6:30-44 – Jesus and disciples go away to a deserted place to rest. The crowd arrives before Jesus does. Jesus teaches the crowd many things then feeds them when the hour is late. The people sit on green grass.

Luke 9:10-17 – Jesus withdraws to Bethsaida (on NW shore approx across sea from Tiberias) for privacy and the crowd follows him. He teaches them and heals them. No mention of grass that the people sit on. Not followed by Jesus walking on water.

John 6:1-15 – Unique in: 1) Purpose of going aside was for instruction of disciples. 2) Jesus uses questions about the source of the food to instruct disciples. 3) There is “PLENTY of grass” for the people to sit on. 4) A boy is noted as the provider of the loaves and fishes. 5) Barley bread is specified. Jesus admonishes the disciples to gather up the leftovers so there is no waste. 6) The crowd desires to make Jesus king.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • Barley bread?

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

Jesus asks a question, knowing the answer, and knowing that had any of the twelve seen the possibility would be a miracle.

Philip approaches the problem of feeding the 5,000 rationally, wondering where they would find the money.

Andrew finds the first step towards a solution, but it is only a small step on a long journey. Five loaves and two fish might have fed the twelve.

The crowd is oblivious until everyone is fed, then they want to make him king.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

The setting evokes Moses entering the Sinai: Crossing to the other side of the sea, Ascending the mountain with his disciples, the multitude of people, and proximity to the Passover. Thus the providing of bread in this wilderness evokes manna from heaven.

The verbs Jesus uses (take, give thanks, and distribute) foreshadow the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • God fed the people through Jesus with bread like manna in the wilderness, a nourishing sacrament for all time.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

The solution to the question that Jesus posed, stood before them, but they could not see it (him). When do we miss opportunities for Jesus to nourish our lives?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

Some might rationalize around the miracle in this week’s Gospel passage as generous sharing or appetizer-sized portions or assign the miracles as only signifying Jesus as succeeding Moses, and thus not relevant now. But what possibilities are we over looking today?

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Gerard Sloyan (Interpretation: John. JKP, 1988.) describes chapter 6 as a transposition: concluding Jesus’ successful activity in Galilee. He notes how the setting lends a Mosaic character to the feeding: crossing to the other side, ascending the mountain, the multitude of people, and the proximity to Passover. Jesus’ actions foreshadow the institution of the Lord’s Supper when he “takes,” “gives thanks,” and “distributes,” but does not break the bread.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Jesus as the bread of life calls us to think trans-rationally.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

What possibilities do we ignore?

June 3rd: “Born Anew”

Nicodemus went to Jesus to seek help, but ended up with more questions than answers. How can I be born over? If I cannot tell from whence the wind/Spirit comes, how am I to be born of it? Who is the Son of Man?
Question for discussion: How has the cross, and not the reader’s decision, been the source of transformation?

This Week’s Passage: John 3:1-17

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B, Trinity Sunday

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 Frequently Jesus’ ministers to those who are weak, but here Jesus ministers to the mighty.

2a Why does Nicodemus come at night? To hide from others? Because of darkness in his own soul? How do we come to Jesus?

2b Nicodemus tells Jesus that he has come to learn from a recognized authority. Although Nicodemus does not tell what it is he has come to learn, and perhaps he does not concisely know. Do we truly know what it is that God must teach us?

3 To what implied question does Jesus respond? Is it: “Are these miracles of the Kingdom of God”?

4 Can an old dog be taught new tricks? Can life-long sinners be saved and taught to live within the law?

5 Does Jesus refer to the waters of baptism or to amniotic fluid? Is it the Spirit or the breath of life?

8 You can’t tell where a person born of the Spirit comes from or where s/he is going, nor control how they will be transformed, only that the Spirit is present in them.

9-10 Jesus has explained this as clear as mud.

11 Note shift from 1st person singular to 1st plural, and to 2nd plural “you people do not receive”.

12-17 Jesus implies Nicodemus and his colleagues won’t believe heavenly things, then proceeds to tell him heavenly things.

12 But Nicodemus has believed earthly things. He has recognized the miracles as divine signs.

14 See Numbers 21:4-9. The seraphim snake that Moses raised in the desert saved the people from its venomous bite, which was sent among them as punishment for their rebuke of God for the lack of food and water in the desert.

17 This is an important corrective to those who might read 3:16 exclusively.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Some interpreters deem Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus ends at verse 15. If so 16 through 21 are didactic material. If part of the conversation, verses 16-18 function as a transition to illustrating the acceptance of salvation as being and acting in the light.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • Some variants expand verse 13 to read, “No one who has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, [who is in heaven].”
  • John used several words with multiple meanings that smooth English translations cannot accommodate.

II. Literary Study.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

3 & 7: /anothen/ again, anew, from above, over. If Jesus spoke in Hebrew or Aramaic, he would not have a word with this double meaning. But John, writing in Greek, does. I believe that John was more concerned with capturing the ambiguity of meaning that Jesus would have used to make his hearers really think about the impossibility of being “born again.” We must not allow a simple spiritual reading, as if one may be “born from above” without having to crawl back into one’s mother’s womb and do over that which we would like to correct the second time around. Nor must we allow a reading that one need only be born twice: once physically and once in Christ, but we must recognize turning to God as a life long process, needing to be born again and again and again. Repenting not only our additional sins that require us to turn once again to Christ, but also of inflicting once again our sins against Christ. Being “born again” is both continually available and calling for great personal sacrifice and trial.

7: Jesus uses 2nd person singular when addressing Nicodemus (I say to ye) but the 2nd person plural when describing rebirth (you all must be born from above).

16: /kosmos/ earth, cosmos, universe. God loves not only this planet but the whole of creation. O’Day notes that comsos frequently refers to those people at odds with Jesus and God.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

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Theological discussion that flows into a a theological discourse.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

Nicodemus went to Jesus to seek help, but ended up with more questions than answers. How can I be born over? If I cannot tell from whence the wind/Spirit comes, how am I to be born of it? Who is the Son of Man?

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

“Born again,” as Nicodemus complained, complicated, rather than illustrated, being able to see the Kingdom of God.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: What must I do to see the Kingdom of God?
  • Emotional Center: This is unexplainable Spirit work.
  • Music: “Lift High the Cross”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Nicodemus, the leader of the religious establishment, gets a lesson on God’s establishment.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • John 3:16 has become so familiar the illogical, unearned, and uncontrolled process it requires can get ignored.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Gerard Sloyan (Interpretation: John. John Knox Press, 1988.) interprets Nicodemus’ dialog with Jesus as exemplifying a religious debate that continued to separate the new Christian sect from the traditional Jewish order. “One party rejects the other’s speech as literalist; the other responds by complaining of an unwarranted use of figure.” Two thousand years later, Water and Spirit language seems obvious to us, but would have been nonsensical to 1st century Jews. Thus Nicodemus opts for the literal interpretation of “born /anothen/”.

Gail R. O’Day (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of John.” Abingdon, 1995.) notes that the Greek word order of verse 11 echoes Nicodemus’ opening words in verse 2 (we know). Verse 3:15 “makes explicit the salvific dimension of the crucifixion. … The cross thus makes sense of the double meaning of anothen: To be born from above is to be born again through the lifting up of Jesus on the cross.” She warns preachers of the temptation to pare this rich text into either a story about a religious leader questioning Jesus or as a lesson on faith and judgment. She warns that “contemporary usage of ‘born again’ privileges anthropology over christology,” emphasizing personal change over the external source of that change: the cross.

Fred B. Craddock (Knox Preaching Guides: John. John Knox Press, 1982.) recommends preachers approach this text as a dialog between two perspectives. The first is earthly. It lines up historical and logical evidence arriving at a clear conclusion without risk or decision. The second insists life is God given from above: unearned, unacheived, uncontrolled, uncharted, and uncalculated; as mysterious as the wind. He recommends preachers consider verses 16-21 separately as they form a theological reflection.

Kenneth E. Bailey (The Presbyterian Outlook, “John 3:1-15: Jesus and Nicodemus”. Feb. 11, 2008.) summarizes that the Trinity is the topic of discussion by Nicodemus and Jesus. Three times Jesus used the phrase “Truly, truly, I say to you …” each pointing to a different person of the Trinity: in verse 3: the Father; in verses 5-8: the Spirit; and in verses 11-15: the Son.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

— Seeing the kingdom of God requires an illogical rebirth by God.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

— Acceptance that the cross and not the believer is the source of personal transformation.