February 17, 2008

John 3:1-17 Nicodemus is an example of an educated and religious person who doesn’t quite GET what Jesus is about. The exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus is a typical passage from John’s Gospel, full of metaphors and symbolic language. Jesus is speaking in riddles, it seems, and Nicodemus is thoroughly confused. Understandably confused, I think. First, of course, there is the mix-up over what Jesus is saying about being born. The Greek word used is “anothen,” and Nicodemus interprets it to mean “again.” He thinks that Jesus is requiring him to be born AGAIN in order to see the Kingdom of God. “How can a grown man ever be born a second time?” he asks. And Jesus tells him that he doesn’t need another physical, human birth. He needs to be born of the Spirit. You see, the other meaning of the word “anothen” is “from above.” Nicodemus, and all of us, need to be born “from above” by the Spirit in order to experience the Kingdom of God. As Jesus goes on talking about this spiritual birth, there’s a line about the wind. “God’s Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going.” Again, the Greek word is confusing. “Pneuma” means both Spirit and wind and breath. No wonder Nicodemus is confused by Jesus’ words! What is this spiritual birth that he needs to experience? Jesus says that if he … Read more »

March 20, 2011

Genesis 12:1-4a John 3:1-17 Abram and Nicodemus provide an interesting contrast in our readings today. First we have Abram, a model of faith, courage, and obedience to God. Today’s brief story is the first time that we hear about Abram in the bible. God tells him to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” And Abram goes. He does what God has told him to do. He goes. And we know that he becomes the father of many nations, and the father of the three major religions of the world. After Abram, so many others come to believe in the One God. They worship God, and listen for God, and do their best to follow God and God’s ways. Abram is a wonderful example of faith. Nicodemus? Not so much. John’s Gospel tells us that Nicodemus is a religious person. He’s a Pharisee and a leader in the religious community. And just like Abram must have been hearing God’s voice in a new way, telling him to leave everything and start fresh in a new place, I think Nicodemus must have been hearing God’s voice in a new way too. Nicodemus was hearing God’s voice and seeing God’s wonders in the man called Jesus of Nazareth. Maybe Nic was at the wedding in Cana. Maybe he saw what Jesus did – turning water into wine. Or maybe Nic was in the temple when Jesus drove out the money … Read more »

March 18, 2012

Numbers 21:4-9 John 3:14-21 It’s always interesting to hear your responses to my sermons. Whether you were inspired, confused, challenged, or blessed… whether you agreed wholeheartedly with what I said, or you want to tell me about an alternate perspective. It was a couple of months ago, I think, and I had preached a sermon that proclaimed the inherent goodness that God has planted within each human being. I don’t think I was denying the reality that human beings are sinful creatures. It is true: Every single one of us falls short of the glory of God and needs the mercy and grace of the God who loves us despite our failings. But I also believe that we are made to be good. We are gifted with the ability to love and forgive, to be faithful and kind to one another. God made us in God’s very own image, and that image is good, and that’s what I was talking about in that particular sermon. One of the things that I heard after church that Sunday was the gentlest of criticisms, or perhaps just a reminder about the other side of the coin. The comment was something like this: “Sometimes I think we need to preach about sin also.” Yes, I agreed. Sometimes we do need to preach about sin.  “Don’t you worry” I could have responded, “Lent is coming, and I’ll be sure to preach plenty about sin during Lent!” And Lent has indeed arrived – we’re more than … Read more »

March 16, 2014

John 3:1-17 “Why Don’t They Get It?” Nicodemus is an example of an educated and religious person who doesn’t quite GET what Jesus is about. The exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus is a typical passage from John’s Gospel, full of metaphors and symbolic language. Jesus is speaking in riddles, it seems, and Nicodemus is thoroughly confused. Understandably confused, I think. First, of course, there is the mix-up over what Jesus is saying about being born. The Greek word used is “anothen,” and Nicodemus interprets it to mean “again.” He thinks that Jesus is requiring him to be born AGAIN in order to see the Kingdom of God. “How can a grown man ever be born a second time?” he asks. And Jesus tells him that he doesn’t need another physical, human birth. He needs to be born of the Spirit. You see, the other meaning of the word “anothen” is “from above.” Nicodemus, and all of us, need to be born “from above” by the Spirit in order to experience the Kingdom of God. As Jesus goes on talking about this spiritual birth, there’s a line about the wind. “God’s Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going.” Again, the Greek word is confusing. “Pneuma” means both Spirit and wind and breath. No wonder Nicodemus is confused by Jesus’ words! What is this spiritual birth that he needs to experience? … Read more »

March 15, 2015

Ephesians 2:1-10 John 3:14-21 “Grace to Practice” As the weeks of Lent fly by, I am continuing the Lenten discipline that I began on Ash Wednesday. The United Methodist Church in the U.S. has provided a list of words – one for each day in Lent. So each day I reflect on the word, consider its meaning and significance, look around for inspiration, and then take a photograph that somehow connects with the word of the day. Friday’s word was “practice,” which made me think about learning to drive a car, learning to make my own bread, and learning to write and preach a sermon – all skills that can’t just be learned from a book, but they take giving it a try, and trying again, and practicing over and over. As I was working in my office that morning, I heard Gillian giving a piano lesson in here, and remembered how I hated to practice when I was trying to learn to play the piano as a young person. But as I turned my attention to this morning’s reading from Ephesians 2, I noticed another kind of practice that didn’t immediately come to mind. I’m not talking about an activity or skill that you need to repeat over and over in order to perfect it. And I’m not talking about something that you do for an intense but short period of time… until the performance or until the exam. Instead, I’m talking about a practice as in a thing … Read more »

May 31, 2015

John 3:1-17 What I will say to you this morning is based on a sermon by Sheryl Johnson, shared in the KAIROS worship service, “On the Path to Reconciliation.”  The story of Nicodemus that we heard this morning seems fitting in many ways, as this weekend in Ottawa the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is being presented. Both have an air of change about them, and suggest a liminal, threshold time. Jesus tells Nicodemus of his need to be born again, or to be born from above, or to be born anew (all these are possible translations of the original Greek). But he needs a new birth in order to enter heaven. We anticipate that the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, marking the culmination of the process that began in 2008 to deal with the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools, will describe the need for a new relationship marked by a new spirit of justice, to be forged between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. In the story from John’s Gospel, Nicodemus seems to come to Jesus in humility and uses the “right” words when speaking to Jesus. He is respectful and deferential, but Jesus seems to have no patience for these niceties and goes straight to the heart of the question of Nicodemus’ salvation. Jesus tells him that he needs to be born a second time to enter the kingdom of heaven. Nicodemus, though wise and learned in a conventional sense, seems … Read more »