Empathy for Nicodemus
2009-06-03 by Stephen Schuette
In the exchange Nicodemus identifies Jesus as “a” teacher (vs. 2) while later Jesus acknowledges that Nicodemus is “the” teacher in Israel (vs. 10). The definitive article is present in the Greek in vs. 10 although it is not indicated in translation.
This shatters an assumption I had always brought to the text. Since Nicodemus came at night, under cover, I assumed that Nicodemus is already acknowledging his inadequacies and recognizing Jesus as a superior teacher. But is it reasonable that such a transformation should take place in Nicodemus simply through a second-hand report? Do settled power structures and the people enmeshed in them shift that easily? If there is a transformation wouldn’t it be through a direct encounter with Jesus?
The ability of Nicodemus to see Jesus for who he is (The Teacher) hinges on his ability to identify himself correctly in relationship with Jesus (no longer even “a” teacher, but a student). So in the ministry of Jesus the reordered Realm of God requires a letting go of structures and positions so that something new might be born.
I have a new empathy for Nicodemus. His being born anew will only come about when he lets go of everything that has defined him, his whole identity. Jesus is asking a lot of him, and of us to see through the total reorganization of our lives and to recognize the surpassing worth of such a transformation. (See Phil. 3:8)
But as one in our study group this morning suggested, this is not about just a little polishing up of who we already are. It is more like the journey of an addict through a 12-step program with the same acknowledgement of our inability to heal ourselves.
As with so many stories we don’t immediately know how it ends. We know that Jesus is in the role of Teacher. His words, his lecture, move forward to the close of the chapter. Nicodemus reappears chapters later as a follower (7:50, 19:39). But here, at the close of Chapter 3, the question may not be so much about Nicodemus as it is about us, and who we are, and who Jesus is to us.
More on Isaiah 6
2009-06-03 by Paul Wilson
We tend to romanticize the call of Isaiah, particularly "Here am I, send me." We tend to imagine that his call is ours. I would want to argue that his call was very specific to a particular people at a point in time. His call really has little to do with us. Who is Isaiah to me apart from being a prophet who bore the Word of God? He is not my Saviour. But he is a worthy witness to God and what God revealed to him.
As Christians we associate the holy seed with Jesus Christ. Isaiah's call to faithful witness to God becomes our call only through our baptism. Just as the angel pronounced to Isaiah the words, "your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out," so too, Jesus Christ in the cross and resurrection has pronounced those words to us. Our calling as disciples is not Isaiah's calling as a prophet, but the same God who cleansed Isaiah has cleansed us. For that reason, not for any romantic attachment, we too may say, "Here am I send me."
Witnessing by God's Power
2009-06-02 by Paul Wilson
I want to speak more on the subject of the Trinity later in the week, but for now I focus on the importance of our witness to the Trinity that God empowers. As Paul implied in Athens in Acts 17, we witness to the God we know, and as Christians we know one God in three persons. Were we to try to witness to God in some other way, our witness would be diminished, and our ways of naming our experience of God would be more limited.
The account of Isaiah's call can be read as an account of what would happen were we not to witness as we have received. The vision in 6:1-8 moves from high to low, from heaven to earth, from the exalted Lord to the humbled prophet. Unfortunately the lectionary does not continue the lesson to the end of the chapter because there we see a similar diminishing movement as God's blessing is removed from the peoples, the cites, the houses, and the land, and if a tenth remain, the land will be scorched until only a stump remain. In the first, a humbled Isaiah becomes is cleansed of sin and brings the Word of God, and as bearer of that Word he is a sign of hope. The word is ultimately hope for the Israel, the holy seed is in the stump.
In a time of apparent decline in the church, we may need to remember that God is still in control and the church still belongs to Christ. The triune God can raise up witnesses to God's true nature from even one single person or the smallest remnant.
Trinity and the Spirit
2009-06-01 by Paul Wilson
On Trinity Sunday it is important that we use as many ways to speak about God as possible.
I love in this text in Romans 8 where Paul says, "When we cry, 'Abba! Father!' it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (vv. 15-16). It speaks not only to the gracious and generous nature of God, it is also profound witness that what we do by way of ministry for others is by God's grace. Even calling to God, even prayer, is a testimony to the gift of the Spirit. Many people who pray for instance only in dire need, or who pray with uncertainty or haltingly might need this affirmation of God's love. It reminds me of Jesus' words in John 15:5, "Without me you can do nothing," for all our outreach, all our ethical involvement, all of our commitment to social justice is evidence in faith of God's presence, love, and ongoing commitment to those same sorts of people Jesus ministered to in his earthly ministry especially the poor, outcast, and alone.
These words also remind me of another text that is more puzzling to me. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:3, "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit'". Plainly Paul does not mean those who take God's name in vain. And he cannot mean those who simply say those words for instance as one might read them from print. Yet even if what he says is restricted to those who mean them, who use those words to confess Jesus Christ, it is powerful testimony to God's active involvement in their faith.
I like to think that every action of God is a miracle. Many people may think that miracles are a thing of the past and that God is not longer actively involved in human affairs. It is wonderful to contemplate that every dimension of ministry and Christian living is empowered by God.
Peace to you, Paul Scott Wilson
Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2009-06-01 by David Howell
The Rev. Dr. Paul Scott Wilson, Professor of Homiletics at Emmanuel College in the University of Toronto and the Toronto School of Theology. He has served numerous churches. He is the son of a minister and is himself an ordained minister of the United Church of Canada and has served several churches in full-time and interim capacity. He is a past president of the Academy of Homiletics, and is the author of several books including: Setting Words on Fire: Putting God at the Center of the Sermon (Abingdon, 2008); The New Interpreter¹s Handbook on Preaching Abingdon, 2008) of which he is general editor; The Practice of Preaching, Revised Edition (Abingdon, 2007); Broken Words: Reflections on the Craft of Preaching (Abingdon, 2004); Preaching and Homiletical Theory (Chalice, 2004); God Sense: Reading the Bible for Preaching (Abingdon, 2001); The Four Pages of the Sermon: A Guide to Biblical Preaching (Abingdon, 1999); The Practice of Preaching (1995); A Concise History of Preaching (Abingdon, 1992); Imagination of the Heart: New Understandings in Preaching (Abingdon, 1988). He is the general editor for a series of books on Preaching and its Partners (Chalice Press) and has co-edited two books, written many articles, for nine years was the co-editor of Preaching: Word and Witness. He lectures and preaches widely throughout the United States, Europe, and Canada. He and his wife have three grown children.
Dr. Wilson will be a presenter at the 2010 Festival of Homiletics in Nashville, TN.
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