Response
2008-02-14 by Rick Brand

From the rural outpost of Henderson, NC, I do struggle as the semi-blind attempts to lead the semi-blind in faithful living.

My take on it this time around the lectionary is that Nicodemus does have a real question and a real intellectual curiosity. Why come and night if he wanted to confound and confuse Jesus or argue with Jesus? Your probably are right that he is trying to fit the answers he gets into his paradign but that is not strange. The fact that Jesus could not give him an intellectual answer that fit and changed his paradign at the same time means for me today that the rational debate will not satisfy anybody. We will not change the atheist by arguments. Just my opinion

To respond to the emailed question: I read the born by water as our natural birth from the womb, and by the spirit as that birth that happens when we are so caught up in a message to us that the Holy loves us that we suddenly discover that our past does not bind us, all fear is gone, and we begin to dance in the promises of a new future. The new life, the new birth, begins when I really accept that God loves me and wants me as a part of his Kingdom. And I find that my joy is really now in living like the Beatitudes.

Of course being, as pointed out, way out here in rural North Carolina, I may not have gotten the latest version of the Good News.





Hey, Rick
2008-02-14 by Tom Steagald

But is Nicodemus asking a question that can be answered? Which is to say, is he asking the real question?

My sense is that Nicodemus is trying to assimilate Jesus into his world view (for lack of a better term, though I know that expression is discredited among us post-moderns), instead of taking Jesus on Jesus' terms. I wonder if some of the "honest questioning" we do is, in fact, an act of hubris, meaning that we demand Jesus/God to do business with us as we set the rules...

I am thinking here of Job, too, who demands audience with God and God answers exactly none of his questions. The presence of God is answer enough, I guess, and the presence of Jesus to Nicocemus (who comes seeking but the wrong thing, I think) might ought to be...

But of course Nicodemus represents us, does he not, meaning the religious professionals. I have heard Willimon say something to the effec that the only time Jesus demands "new birth" on the part of his hearer is when he is talking to a preacher. Sobering, that.

So perhaps the issue is not the questions of atheists but our own questions, and then only if they are the real questions, the ones that are asked (and perhaps even answered) deeper than our presenting perplexities.

Just thinking "out loud."

By the by, are you not in Henderson, NC? My wife is from Henderson and attended FUMC there long years ago.





Even Jesus
2008-02-13 by Rick Brand

What strikes me this time around with John 3:1-17 is that even Jesus could not give Nicodemus an answer, an intellectual and clear answer, that resolved the questions of faith and doubt. In the rash of books concerning atheism, it is honest to admit that that debate is not going to be resolved by rational debate. Even Jesus was not able here to give an answer that satisfied Nicodemus. Like Abraham and Paul in Romans we live by faith which is never without doubts. So it sounds to me in this story.



I am struggling
2008-02-12 by Tom Steagald

to pin the Abram text and the Nicodemus text together, which may be homiletical suicide, but it seems to me that the "snap" may be at the point of "conversion." If the Genesis text lends itself to "pilgrimage" imagery, the corruption of that imagery will focus more on Abram's response that God's call and the resultant "journey we all take" with God. But God is calling Abram to a radical reordering of his life and world--and Abram's response has the character of radical obedience, not romantic "followinng."

Likewise, the Nicodemus story has about it an air of radical summons, I think. Nicodemus comes to Jesus, of course, but it is clear that Jesus is speaking a different language than the teacher of Israel understands. Nicodemus is trying to manage Jesus, so to speak, to incorporate Jesus into his world view (we know you are a Teacher come from God), when in fact Nicodemus knows nothing at all.

Which is to say both Genesis and John are conversion stories...at least as they read to me. Is it fair to go there with both?





John 3 and Genesis 12
2008-02-12 by David Carr

A reader noted that I did not say much about John 3:1-17 in my blog and wondered what I might add about that reading. I must admit that I do not have much to say about John 3:1-17 myself, being an Old Testament scholar.

Nevertheless, I consulted with my resident expert on John, my lovely wife, Colleen Conway, who is co-chair of the John section at SBL and professor of New Testament at Seton Hall. She mentioned ways that this story about the visit to Jesus at night by a Jewish authority, Nicodemus, contrasts with the following story, in John 4, about Jesus’s encounter with the anonymous Samaritan woman at the well during the day. As in that story, there is word play in this one about being “born again” and “born from above” (Greek anothen means both “above” and “again”). And this story is somewhat unique in John’s gospel in saying that Jesus does not come to judge the world, but to save it. Elsewhere Jesus very much comes for judgment.

So there is this and more to do with John 3:1-17 (all this is my redaction of my wife’s brief comments while fixing dinner). But this only relates in a general way to the themes of the promise to Abraham in Gen 12:1-4a and Paul’s use of this theme in Romans 4.

And this raises the question about how to preach lectionary passages. So often preachers will focus only on the gospel passage. I went to one church for a few years where the pastor seemed to only preach Paul (even when a Pauline passage was not read in the service). Few, if any, have attended to Hebrew Bible passages. So, I advocate taking some time through the year to give communities a taste of the gospel as spoken through the Old Testament (big surprise, since I’m an Old Testament professor!). This can offer a different perspective to the sermons audiences may have heard from year to year on the gospel passage (e.g. John 3:1-17). In this case, I would argue that attending to Gen 12:1-4a and its word of promise to landless exiles can be a powerful word of grace to lots of people in a community – even in a relatively privileged church – who may be experiencing isolation, disorientation, and suffering that they are not fully free to speak of. Paul opens this promise to Gentiles…us.





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