We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

The Psalms Study

Mondays in Lent, Beginning on Zoom, March 6, 7pm Zoom link Meeting ID: 873 0418 9375 Passcode: 092098

Every week when we meet to worship, we hear a Psalm.   The familiar words of the Psalms wash over and through us, a foundational part of our liturgies.  We hear these psalms every week because their  words  hold deep theological significance for each of us and for our lives as the community of God. 

The Psalms teach us about the life of God, and about the life that God intends for us and for the world, as J. Clinton McCann, Jr., suggests in his Introduction to the Psalms in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol IV. We will be using McCann’s commentary to guide us through our Lenten/Easter study.   The themes in the following paragraphs come from McCann’s  commentary. 

The psalms teach us about happiness, the complete orientation of life to God and perpetual openness to God’s instruction, and the joy we find in God’s forgiveness and God’s faithful love.   

We will learn more about taking refuge in God and trusting in God.  The psalms describe righteous people as those who acknowledge their fundamental dependence on God for their lives and for the future, the people who live by grace.

“Justice for all!”  God desires life and a future for all living things, for peace on earth.  So when we choose to live under God’s rule, we work for political and economic systems that provide just access to everyone.  If we are living in God’s reign, then we will want to live in partnership with all other species of creatures and in partnership with the earth itself.    The Psalms have a lot to say about justice for all. 

“The Lord reigns!”  This statement lies at the heart of the Psalter, describing not some far off future, but the present reality.  Much of our current reality seems to deny this truth.  But there it is!  The Lord does reign, even in the midst of opposition and suffering. 

And we people of God respond to God, even in the midst of suffering, with prayer and praise, as do the writers of the Psalms and all of the people who have sung, read and prayed the psalms down through the centuries. 

As the Psalms make clear, the character of God is defined by God’s steadfast love.  When Israel’s future hangs in the balance, God (as God does in the Torah as well)  reveals God’s self to be merciful, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. 

God’s justice and God’s steadfast love come together in the person of Jesus, who knew the Psalms intimately.  The Psalms shaped Jesus’ life and understanding of the Reign of God.  Jesus is the ultimate example of God’s steadfast love for all of creation.

During our Psalm study, we will talk about how and when the psalms were collected, learn about different categories of psalms, how the Babylonian exile influenced the collections of Psalms, and most importantly, how the Psalms speak to us today about God and our relationship to God.  We’ll learn something about each of the 150 psalms and their value for us as we grow in faith in God.  We’ll learn how to apply the Psalms to our daily lives. 


Art for 5th week in Lent

Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome.

Death threatens life in the story of the raising of Lazarus, and János Vaszary’s Resuscitation of Lazarus invites us into the scene. This 1912 painting is a striking collision of styles: the figures recall the standardized style of Byzantine icons, while the background, color, and expression have a modern, vivid quality. This is revered tradition unfolding in the here and now, much like the Gospel message seeks to imbue our present day.

Vaszary isn’t as much telling the story as inviting us into the heart of it. Instead of a narrative, he offers three key realities symbolized by these figures. On the left, the women crying and imploring are Martha and Mary folding us into the sorrow of fear and loss as their brother is consumed by illness. In the middle, Lazarus hangs naked and limp in the arms of an imposing figure in red—Death. Lazarus’s body brings to mind the body of Christ off the cross, an anti-Pietà with a body that is held here not by a sorrowful mother but a triumphant and defiant Death. On the right, Jesus and the disciples enter to stop him.

Jesus, hand held up in blessing, stops Death in his tracks. As his disciples look to him in wonder, Jesus looks out at us, with a steady confidence that humbles Death’s assumed triumph. Christ addresses us, the viewers, with eternal truth: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.”

A notable expression of the modern style of this icon is the background. Instead of solid gold, we see a dawning sky, another sign of the awakening that is taking place. In the Gospel passage, Jesus teaches the disciples about walking by day versus stumbling at night. With the dawning sky, we can anticipate a steady road ahead, a sure way that leads to salvation and fullness of life. There is powerful symbolism here as Christ’s own path will soon lead him to Jerusalem, Golgotha, and the cross. Knowing the way ahead, Jesus’ act of faith is profound encouragement to dare to look further down the road and trust in God as the Author of Life.

On this fifth Sunday of Lent, we may be at different points along the way: wailing with the women in our sorrow, in the grip of death like Lazarus, wondering at the possibility of faith like the disciples, or facing a hard road ahead. Christ engages us from the painting directly: I am the Way; follow me to the fullness of life.

Lent 4 – Mothering or Laetare Sunday

This week was the first day of spring on March 20,  “And Spring arose on the garden fair, Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere; And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley, “The Sensitive Plant”

Spring is about a change in vision. Part of this is the increasing sunlight and warmth returning to the land, this year in fits and starts. The sky has a variety of light based on the clouds. Flowers appear in waves. Animals such as squirrels wake up from their hibernation.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is “Mothering Sunday” expressed with baking simnel cakes. It is sometimes called refreshment Sunday. This comes from Galatians 4:26 “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.”

There are several possible origins of this tradition: 

1. A tradition of visiting one’s mother after this particular service. Expecting their families, mothers would bake this cake to serve with tea.

2. Serving girls on estates and in households were allowed this Sunday off to visit their mothers.

3. A family would travel to its ‘Mother Church,’ or parish they were originally from, on this Sunday.

These cakes became popular over time for that occasion midway through Lent, which was a good time to break the fasting a little. Much like the third Sunday of Advent, ‘Stir Up Sunday,’ with its baking tradition. “Simnel” is from the Latin ‘similis,’ as in similar or same, as the cakes were originally made with equal parts of flour and sugar.

But today is also sometimes known as Refreshment Sunday. Rather like the 3rd Sunday of Advent, it’s a day which stands towards the middle of the season of Lent, and traditionally, a certain amount of relaxation of Lent was allowed. 

The Gospel in Lent 4 – Light for the World

We’re moving towards the end of Lent. It is helpful to review where we have been over the last 3 weeks. The second Sunday through the fifth has Jesus confronting various characters – a educated Pharisee, a Samaritan Women, a blind man and a man recently deceased. These texts from John are about revelation–the revelation of who Jesus is, the one sent by God, the begotten God, whose offer of life is in his presence and not necessarily delayed until his death.

Except for the beginning and end of the Gospel this week, Jesus is absent in the twists and turn of the plot. Jesus does make himself known in a significant way. It shows the power and glory of Christ and how humans confront it. The blind man gains more than his sight – he gains faith and spiritual maturity.

In today’s readings, we explore this idea of light for the world, dispelling spiritual darkness. In the first reading, Samuel sees beyond outward appearances to choose the least likely son of Jesse to anoint as king. Paul explains that the Christian’s life must be characterized by the light of holiness. In today’s gospel, a blind man gains sight and worships Jesus.

Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, the prevailing understanding of illness was that it came from God, the result of sin. The disciples, however, find a flaw in the theory: if illness was the result of sin, how could a tiny baby be afflicted? How could a man born blind be culpable? Passing the buck to the parents hardly seems fair.

Jesus turns from the verbal and intellectual exercise to the direct, and in this case dirty, work of healing the individual. It is as if he deliberately chooses the most basic elements–spit and mud–to show his preference for action over theory.

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Art for the 4th week in Lent, Year A

Art for the 4th Week in Lent, Year A

Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome.

We enter into this fourth Sunday of Lent with the words of Samuel I telling us that, “not as man sees does God see.” At Mass, we then hear the story of Christ healing the blind man at the pool of Siloam. El Greco painted two versions of this story; here we explore his first rendition. Christ Healing the Blind tells the story but also reveals El Greco’s blossoming artistic vision. In this early painting, we observe El Greco learning to see with the eyes of an artist as he depicts perspective and the movement of bodies from all angles. Just as the blind man learns to see, El Greco is gaining his unique vision here.

Christ Healing the Blind presents two main groups of people: Christ healing the blind man on the left, and the Pharisees clustered on the right, suspicious and protesting. Front and center are the blind beggar’s meager possessions and a sniffing dog—perhaps his only loyal companion. Further back, two figures complete the circle, engaged in a pose of compassion and healing—God’s mercy juxtaposed with the confrontation below. Placing Christ and the Pharisees on the left and right is a point of irony: the Pharisees, who are assured of their right vision, are in fact blind to the truth unfolding before them, while Christ reveals the truth on the left. Behind the Pharisees a sky of swirling clouds reinforces their disarray, but Christ’s healing act takes place in front of a firm visual backdrop of stable architectural elements. Behind Christ, El Greco leads our eye to a vanishing point with a long row of arches, hinting that the sight Christ grants to the blind beggar is long-ranging and far. In contrast, the cluster of Pharisees obscures their own horizon, as their near-sighted vision lands on one another.

Finally, the four men gathered on the left seem unaware of what is going on. Here, El Greco inserts another kind of blindness: oblivion to grace unfolding before their very eyes. Their mild presence is perhaps more challenging than that of the Pharisees, who are lacking vision but not awareness.

This story invites us to open wider our eyes of faith and become aware of the merciful, healing grace all around us.

Lectionary, Lent 3 Year A 

I.Theme –   Water provides life in a physical sense and in a spiritual sense (affirmation, love, hope) as well as a pathway to the divine.

 “Christ and the Samaritan Woman”  –  Stefano Erardi (1630-1716)

The woman`s reaction of surprise is expressed by her hand placed against her chest as though in disbelief, while Christ points out a finger, not in accusation, but to communicate his innocent request for some water, with an expression of humility and compassion for the woman.

The lectionary readings are here  or individually:

Old Testament – Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm – Psalm 95
Epistle –Romans 5:1-11
Gospel – John 4:5-42

This lectionary readings this week address water both as a commodity and in a symbolic sense. 

The people under Moses had escaped from Egypt where they had become slaves in providing the economic base for Egyptian power. But the desert to which they had come in their bid to secure freedom – trusting that God through Moses would lead them to new life – was an inhospitable place. It was arid, dusty, hot – and seemed to be endless. As a group they railed against Moses. Maybe Egypt had deprived them of dignity, but at least they had had food and water. A crisis in leadership was emerging.

There is a subtheme in obeying God. Moses did what he was told, struck the rock at Horeb and there was water. He had in the past trusted in God and not been let down. He trusted that this trust would once again not be misplaced – and the water flowed.

The Gospel pits Jesus with the Samaritan woman in drawing water. S. Michael Houdmann contrast this passage with the Nicodemus a week ago. “While Nicodemus needed to see himself as a sinner in order to understand grace, the Samaritan woman, who knew she was a sinner, needed to see herself as a person of worth and value…”Jesus’ ministering to those outcasts of the Jewish society (the Samaritans), reveals that all people are valuable to God and that Jesus desires that we demonstrate love to everyone.”     

Water is more than life giving but is life transforming. She had had a difficult life with five husbands and is considered an outcast. In trusting her he uplifts her and gives her back her self-esteem. He accepts her with his conversation  about this “living water.” Well water is necessary for life and is temporary. Living water is necessary for eternal life and is everlasting. This is the water of revelation, love and spirit. This water is giving is life affirming and life enhancing. In the end she is doing more than the disciples in bring the word of Christ to the many.  The Samaritans flock to hear Jesus.

The Epistle doesn’t mention water directly. Paul goes into the benefits of justification by faith, including peace, hope and reconciliation with God. However, God’s love is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit like water – evident in baptism into His death and rising. . We were restored to God’s favor by Christ’s death and be given eternal life (“saved”) by the risen Christ.

The Psalm is a shout toward the power of God echoed from the Epistle – as a great god above all other creator of worlds, shepherd sustaining them. There is a reference to Exodus and the conditions of lack of water with the disobedience of the people. Failure to adhere to God’s ways will have dire consequences, as it did for the Israelites during their “forty years.” In the end he sustains them physically.

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Another look at the Gospel – Lent 3

Another Look at the Gospel, Lent 3 – “Rebuilding the World with Everyday Wisdom” 

We can go further and look at Jesus’ example beyond the woman in simply doing what’s needed to be done.

Pschologist Barry Schwarz in a Ted Talk laments the loss of Wisdom. He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives often backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world.   Here is the Ted Talk

“Practical wisdom,” Aristotle told us, “is the combination of moral will and moral skill.”

A wise person knows when and how to make the exception to every rule, as the janitors knew when to ignore the job duties in the service of other objectives. A wise person knows how to improvise, as Luke did when he re-washed the floor.

Real-world problems are often ambiguous and ill-defined and the context is always changing. A wise person is like a jazz musician — using the notes on the page, but dancing around them, inventing combinations that are appropriate for the situation and the people at hand. A wise person knows how to use these moral skills in the service of the right aims.

To serve other people, not to manipulate other people. And finally, perhaps most important, a wise person is made, not born. Wisdom depends on experience, and not just any experience. You need the time to get to know the people that you’re serving. You need permission to be allowed to improvise, try new things, occasionally to fail and to learn from your failures. And you need to be mentored by wise teachers.”

The essence of the Samaritan woman at the well

This is a scripture of compassion and giving.

The key is that Jesus sees her, really sees her pain – she’s had five husbands before and then he reveals himself to her. She is living an unfocused life without husband and she is looking for direction and help.

He provides a direction with life giving words and his messianic identity. This is part of the living water. What Jesus is driving at is the divine life that is never exhausted even as it is given, since it is, in its essence, nothing other than giving. Jesus is uniting the tribes of Israel to “worship the Father in spirit and truth.”

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.” By leaving her water jar there she takes on a new more purposeful life.

Daniel Goldeman looked into compassion in a TED talk –“Why aren’t we more compassionate?”

He explains “And this is, I think, the predicament of our lives: that we don’t take every opportunity to help because our focus is in the wrong direction.”

What is the wrong direction ? Here is the TED talk for his answer

Blessing at the Well – A Poem for Lent 3

Jan Richardson is an artist, author , United Methodist minister, and director of The Wellspring Studio, LLC.

Her website is Painted Prayerbook  She combines her art, poems and scriptural references in a wonderful review of church seasons and individual Gospel passages.

This poem is for Lent 3 – -the woman at the well. Richardson writes that “the encounter between Jesus and the unnamed woman offers something of an icon of the Lenten season and the invitation it extends to us. If we give ourselves to a daily practice, if we keep taking our vessel to the source even when we feel uninspired or the well seems empty or the journey is boring, if we walk with an openness to what might be waiting for us in the repetition and rhythm of our routines, we may suddenly find ourselves swimming in the grace and love of God that goes deeper than we ever imagined.”

Blessing of the Well

If you stand at the edge of this blessing and call down into it,

you will hear your words return to you.

If you lean in and listen close, you will hear this blessing give the story of your life back to you.

Quiet your voice quiet your judgment quiet the way you always tell your story to yourself.

Quiet all these and you will hear the whole of it and the hollows of it: the spaces in the telling, the gaps where you hesitate to go.

Sit at the rim of this blessing. Press your ear to its lip, its sides, its curves that were carved out long ago by those whose thirst drove them deep, those who dug into the layers with only their hands and hope.

Rest yourself beside this blessing and you will begin to hear the sound of water entering the gaps.

Still yourself and you will feel it rising up within you, filling every hollow, springing forth anew

Song – “Jesus Met A Woman at the Well” – Peter, Paul and Mary

One of the first albums I had growing up was Peter, Paul and Mary in Concert, their first recorded concert. On that piece of vinyl was the song “Jesus Met a Woman at the Well.” The story from John  was popularized within a whole new generation. These lyrics conclude that Jesus is “the prophet” because he knew everything the woman at the well had ever done.

Hear the song in concert.

Lectionary, Lent 2 Year A

I.Theme –   Signs and promises, signs requested, signs given, and signs difficult to discern. 

 “Christ Instructing Nicodemus” – Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678)

The lectionary readings are here  or individually: 

Old Testament – Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm – Psalm 121
Epistle –Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Gospel – John 3:1-17 

Today’s readings are all about signs and promises, signs requested, signs given, and signs difficult to discern.  Lent is a time to ask God to help us to be more loving, remembering that God is always ready to strengthen us.    The thrust this week is to believe and be reborn.

Abram is covenanted by God; he is given the promise of a being a leader of a great nation, when he was beyond the years of having children. Abram trusted God to chart a path for him into the unknown, leaving his people and country and venturing into a new life.

In contrast, Nicodemus, certainly better educated, never understood the significance of Christ beyond the miracles.  Nicodemus comes to Jesus looking for a sign – and when he is given it, he cannot understand it.  

The issue is how you can be reborn at his age.  The meaning of being “born from above” begins their discussion. The first is ‘anew, again’ on the physical level, which is what Nicodemus understands; the second is ‘from above’ spatially, which is what Jesus seems to intend. Jesus contrasts the realm of the Spirit, which is eternal and heavenly, with the realm of the flesh, which is earthly, weak and mortal (but not necessarily sinful).

Nicodemus never understood that Jesus’ teachings were for more than the Jews and that he would have to abandon his older understandings. His knowledge was a barrier trying to understand. God ultimately gave us his Son for stengthening us and the community.

Paul discusses Abraham’s ‘wages’ which he says are a gift when the promise comes true.  Paul explains how Abraham’s faith, revealed in his willingness to believe and act on God’s promises, makes him right with God.

Who is driving your car ? You or God ?

II. Summary

Old Testament

In a time of migration of peoples about 4,000 years ago, Terah has travelled west with his son Abram, Abram’s wife Sarai ,and his grandson Lot from Ur, near the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Terah and his family settle for a time in “Haran” (11:31), where Terah dies. Abram now comes to centre-stage.

This is the call from God to Abram”

God makes a pact with Abram: if Abram will leave behind his land and kin (and his pagan past), and live in “the land that I will show you” (12:1, cease to be semi-nomadic), God will honor him in seven ways:

-make of him “a great nation” (v. 2), (2) confer favor on him (“bless you”),

-make his name renowned (“great”)

-make him a vehicle of good fortune (“be a blessing”),

-show favor to those who show him favor (“bless”, v. 3), (6) exclude those who show him disrespect (“the one …”), and as other peoples come to trust in God, they will find themselves similarly blessed.

In doing “as the Lord had told him” (v. 4), Abram shows his trust (faith) in God. This covenant marks the start of communal relations with God. Being blessed seven ways is being blessed totally: he, his family and his people. In v. 5, “the land” is identified as Canaan.

At Shechem, when Abram erects an altar at a pagan shrine (“the oak of Moreh”), God promises the land to his descendants. At “Bethel” (v. 8), Abram builds another altar. God is god of the whole land. Abram and his family continue southward in stages and, due to famine, go on to Egypt – to return later.

All this at age 75, when most folk stop wandering or are unable to do so due to age. This is a covenant, an agreement between God and his people, and is something God carries out throughout the history of his people. The covenant with Adam and Eve – with Noah and the rainbow – and later with Moses – God promises great things to those with whom he covenants and his word is his bond.

There may be a feeling that God cannot use us as we get older. We may not be able to do the things we once did but there is always something we can do, encourage, watch and pray – these things we can all do.

Abram steps out in faith and sometimes we too can do no other, frightening though it may seem but resolute in the knowledge that God can do more than we could ever ask or think.


Psalm 121 is a Psalm of the Ascents; this was probably sung by the Hebrew Pilgrims as they climbed the steps to the Temple at Jerusalem. Psalms 120 – 134 were the fifteen psalms of ascent and this particular psalm is a hymn of trust.

The opening imagery can be interpreted in two ways; either that the mountains represent God, who made them, or that they represent the alternative source of hope.

Perhaps a pilgrim asks the rhetorical question in v. 1, as he journeys through hill country, where pagan gods were once thought to dwell. He begins to answer his own question (v. 2): his help is from God, the creator. Then another voice, perhaps a priest, continues, telling of God’s protection of Israel: God is always vigilantly protecting the way of the pilgrim (v. 3). God is “your shade” (v. 5): he protects him from sunstroke and from moon rays (then thought to be harmful). He protects the faithful “from all evil” (v. 7), throughout their lives. 


Paul has written that one can attain a right relationship with God through faith, without living by Mosaic law. Now he takes Abraham as an example; he asks: what can we conclude about faith vs. Law by looking at Abraham’s life?

Judaism claimed that Abraham kept the Law before it was given, that he was godly (‘justified”, v. 2) because his “works” were in accord with the Law. Paul rejects this claim; rather, it was, as Genesis shows, Abraham’s faith which counted for him (“reckoned”, v. 3) as godliness. God “justifies the ungodly” (v. 5). For the worker, “wages” (v. 4) are expected, but for one who trusts (with no certainty of reward), such trust counts with God.

In vv. 6-9 Paul quotes from Psalm 32 and Genesis, interpreting the verses jointly as showing that those who trust in God obtain his favour, whether they be keepers of the Law or trusters in God. Paul then argues that, because Abraham trusted in God’s pact before he was circumcised, Abraham’s faith (and not his keeping of the Law) was what counted for him with God (v. 10). Indeed, he says, circumcision was a confirmation of the right relationship he had attained through faith. It made Abraham “ancestor” (v. 11) of all who trust in God, both Jews (v. 12) and non-Jews (v. 11).

So the “promise” (v. 13) that Abraham would be father of many nations (“inherit the world”) came as a result of his faith and not his law-keeping. If the only way of achieving union with God is through keeping the Law, faith is irrelevant and the promise to Abraham is nonsense (v. 14). Because it is impossible to keep every law, sin is inevitable; God’s response to sin is punishment, breakdown of human relations with God: “the law brings wrath” (v. 15). But for those living by faith, transgression (“violation”) of the Law is irrelevant. So a right relationship with God “depends on faith” (v. 16), resting on God’s “promise” of “grace”, his gift of love – made not only to Jews but also to all those who trust in God, “of many nations” (v. 17). God spoke these words to Abraham; God gives spiritual “life” to the unbeliever; he restored Isaac’s life when he was as good as dead; he brought a son “into existence” to Abraham and Sarah, in their old age. They were “fully convinced” (v. 21) that God could do it. If we trust in God and have faith in the power of Christ’s resurrection, our trust will count with God too (vv. 24-25).


This story, like several others in the fourth gospel, is primarily addressed to persons living c. AD 90 who were flirting with joining the John’s community, but were reluctant to come forward publicly and do so

Nicodemus was an important and wealthy man in the city of Jerusalem who was both a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. It may have seemed that Nicodemus had everything–money, prominence, and power. However Nicodemus needed something else; he was a seeker of truth. He addresses Jesus as “Rabbi”, recognizing him as a new teacher of the Law.

Unlike the other Pharisees who scoffed or plotted against Christ; Nicodemus went to meet with him defying social prejudice. It was at night so it could be secret . The night may be symbolic with Nicodemus cast in darkness, in ignorance, in unbelief.

Verses 3:1-17 contain 3 questions / statements by Nicodemus, and 3 responses by Jesus – each beginning with Jesus giving his word of honor to his response, “Very truly, I tell you:”

1_ 3:3, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above; (born anew).

He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God, a teacher, for no one is able to do these signs which you do except God be with him.”

Nicodemus was aware that Jesus had come from God because no one could do the signs/miracles that Jesus did if he weren’t from God and shows his significance

However, Jesus wasn’t simply a great teacher, but the one who reveals God’s essential character of love for the whole world (3:16). A person can see signs and miracles and still not have genuine faith. He is still not quite what faith in Jesus must be.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (v. 3). Only here and in verse 5 is the kingdom of God mentioned in John. The faith that Nicodemus and his group affirmed is not adequate for seeing the kingdom of God. He needs a spiritual rebirth

Jesus responded that the ties of “flesh,” though real, were spiritually meaningless. These words are the first words directly spoken by Jesus in John’s gospel about transcending the strictures of tribe

One cannot experience the kingdom of God simply by virtue of the miracles of Jesus. Nicodemus and his group are looking at things only from a human perspective. What is needed is new life, new sight. The real birth was a new birth through Spirit, “from above.”

The kingdom of God cannot be seen, observed, or experienced simply as a human phenomenon, legitimated by miraculous signs. It is a gift to be received.

Being born of the Spirit is talking not about a new mystical height of experience but about a way of living out the life of God in the world. When you see like this, you see the connection between Jesus and God and you see God in Jesus not trying to compete for adoration but seeking to establish a relationship of love and community. The focus is life. The means is relationship. The motive is love. This is the emphasis of 3:16.

2_3:5, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit; and,

What does it mean to be born of the water? To have our sins washed away. We never outgrow the need for having our sins and imperfections washed away daily and continuously. The water in baptism reminds us of our need for daily cleansing and washing.

Water is a major symbol in the opening chapters of John.

John baptizes with water (1:26, 31, 33). Jesus has the purification jars filled with water (which become wine) (2:7, 9).

Water is connected with nature and earth. It knows no obstacle. Going around, under, and through, it always attains the lowest level. Water is the great decomposer, ultimately more powerful than any other form of matter.

What does it mean to born of the Spirit? To have the Spirit of Christ living inside of us. It mean to have the love of Christ, the joy of Christ, the peace of Christ, the patience of Christ, kindness of Christ, the goodness of Christ, the faithfulness of Christ, the gentleness of Christ, the self control of Christ living inside of us. It is having the Spirit of Christ taking up residence in us and living within us.

The wild and free spirit, unlike the water, is airborne, blowing where it wills. It has a trajectory. It’s going someplace, though it’s not at all clear where. Spirit is both creative and chaotic, unpredictable and dangerous, inspiring and irrational–the masculine.

To be “born again” means to hear thell of God and throw our lives into his service.

And so, salvation lies in being born anew; in being born from above – in re-defining one’s “family of origin.”

3_3:11, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

Nicodemus apparently, at this moment, did not comprehend Jesus and what Jesus was talking about. He doesn’t have faith.  Jesus says: you, Nicodemus, don’t comprehend what can be told in analogies (“earthly things”, i.e. “wind”, v. 8), so how can you possibly believe mysteries?

The story of the Bronze Serpent in John 3:14-15 can be found in Numbers 21:1-9. Specifically, he recalls the story of the plague of venomous serpents that were threatening the Israelites (Numbers 21:6-9)

Christ is the antitoxin to the “snake” released upon our world (Satan). Christ would be “lifted up” in what Satan thought was his triumphant moment. All are bitten by sin, yet those who gaze upon Jesus will be healed.

In this Gospel, it is Jesus’ being “lifted up” on the cross that is the moment of triumph for the one who is God’s own presence among us.

In John, the Son of Man is “lifted up” (on a cross), whereas in Matthew, Mark and Luke the Son of Man is killed. Indeed, in John, Jesus is not said to die, but rather he gives up his Spirit. (Verse 19:30) Instead of this being a shameful, brutal death, “being lifted up” reveals God’s glory, for it is from on high – where God resides – that God sees the world, and so loves the world as to send his Son.

Jesus, like the serpent, will similarly be lifted up (gloried), and this sign can also easily be misunderstood as a mark of the defeat rather than perceived as the place where Jesus accomplishes the mission entrusted him by God (19:30). Only those who can look beyond the material referent of the sign (flesh) will perceive and participate in God’s redemptive work (Spirit).

The phrase, “believes in him,” occurs here for the first time in this gospel, When we believe in Christ, we are given eternal life.

God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Neither are Jesus’ followers to condemn the world that we live in either.

At the same time, we disciples know that we are to be “in the world but not of the world.” Followers of God and God’s ways are forever tempted and enticed to follow the values of the culture around us.

We human beings are not to judge or condemn any person of any religion, denomination or belief system that is different than ours. We may disagree with their religion, their denomination and their belief system, but we are not condemn that person to hell or everlasting death. We love that person as another child of God. At the same time, we share with them the love and knowledge of the true God, revealed through his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17 clearly states that the purpose of God’s sending his Son was not to condemn the world but to offer it eternal life. He has come to offer it freedom, preservation from obscurity (or worthlessness). The selfish life leads to death.

The incarnation, life, death and exaltation of Christ are all rooted in the love of God. In John the death of Jesus is never viewed as God’s outpouring of punishment on Jesus in our behalf, but as a revelation of God’s love for the world and the glorification of the Father and the Son

God’s love means attaching himself to the world. God sent his Son. The Word became flesh. Love is not necessarily an inward emotion, but outward actions — a theme that reoccurs throughout this gospel.

God loved the whole world including people who don’t like him, who don’t believe in him, who could care less about him. God loves the world, and the world does not love God.

However, the next statement (v. 18) makes it clear that salvation is conditioned upon believing in him. This is most clearly stated in 3:18-21. In effect, it is not God or Jesus as such who judges or condemns, but it is the human response to what God has done in Christ that has within it the makings of human destiny, whether eternal life or eternal judgment (note particularly verse 19).

This passage is about the life which his coming brought as it opened our eyes to a new way of seeing and engaging with God through Jesus. Jesus feeds 5000, but this is a pointer to that deeper reality: he is the bread of life. He heals a blind person; but the truth that matters is that he is the light. So he is also the life, the truth and the way.

John 3:15 is the first time “eternal life” is used in the gospel. Every time the phrase is used in John, it is with a present tense verb — usually “have”. It is something believers have now, and perhaps should be translated “unending life”.

Eternal life was not a concept of time. It meant “perpetual” and, even more, “abundance.” To plunge into the love of Jesus means to finally know perpetual and abundant life.

To have eternal life is to live life no longer defined by blood or by the will of the flesh or by human will, but by God (cf. 1:13). “Eternal” does not mean mere endless duration of human existence, but is a way of describing life as lived in the unending presence of God

So, life eternal is a gift of God’s grace. We apply that grace to ourselves by trusting Christ. It is when we reach out to him as the only ground for our eternal security, that we receive, as a gift of God, eternal salvation. “Ask and you shall receive.”

In summary – To stand accepted before God requires a conversion of one’s whole being. It requires being born from above, washed new by the Spirit of God. Such a dynamic life-change demands a total renewal of our being. For our frail humanity, such a spiritual change is impossible. Our only hope lies in the hands of God. Only the Spirit of God can renew our beings, only he can give eternal life as a free gift.

God has no particular designs or plans for our punishment or rejection. Instead, God only plans and works for our salvation and health. God desires for us only life, life in all of its abundance here and now as well as in the age to come. 

III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

Old TestamentGenesis 12:1-4a

PsalmPsalm 121

EpistleRomans 4:1-5, 13-17

Gospel – John 3:1-17 

One more look at Nicodemus – from a sermon in 2011

“Nic was a big guy in many ways.  He was tall, and even though he had put on a little weight in middle age, he still had a certain youthfulness and confidence that other men envied.  Nic was a big guy at work too, having successfully risen to the top of his profession, known as a leader, not only in the local company, but also at the corporate level.  People listened when Nic spoke.  They paid attention, sought his guidance.

Black Escalde“Nic drove a large black Escalade. He loved the way the Escalade roared to life when he turned the key in the ignition, the way he sat up high above the rest of the traffic, barely having to press the accelerator to gun past anyone in his way and to get to his destination in record time.The Escalade suited Nic, summed up who he was, really.Big, bold, in charge.”

Read more of the 2011 sermon