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, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Stations of the Cross in our graveyard

The Stations of the Cross began as the practice of pious pilgrims to Jerusalem who would retrace the final journey of Jesus Christ to Calvary.

Later, for the many who wanted to pass along the same route, but could not make the trip to Jerusalem, a practice developed that eventually took the form of the fourteen stations currently found in almost every church. This allowed people to follow the way in their hearts as they meditated on the last hours of Jesus’ life.

Our Stations features 14 paintings of our talented parishioner Mary Peterman and the work of Creative Color in Fredericksburg to create the posters. They are hung outside in our graveyard to increase visibility.

This video features photos taken by Catherine on the actual day they went up combined with the haunting Adagio of Tomaso Albinoni. If you are in the area, come by and walk the stations.

The stations can be walked in a small group or in solitude. Meditating on the words for each station, and on Mary’s watercolors, will be a spiritual experience that will deepen your relationship to Jesus and your faith.

Walking the stations of the cross also remind us that Jesus lived and died as one of us, and knew horrible suffering. As we travel with him through his last hours, we come to know that Jesus travels with us in our hours of greatest need.

Sermon for March 5, 2023 – “Faith is foundational to our lives as Christians”

Faith is foundational to our lives as Christians.

In the Living Compass Lenten devotional that some of us are reading during Lent, the readings last week were about faith.  Robbin Brent wrote in her entry for Friday, March 3, that faith is believing in something and then acting on that belief. 

And she quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who says that “faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole stairway.” 

We are practical people—we like to see what’s ahead, and plan accordingly so that we can be thoroughly prepared.  Planning trips, planning vacations, planning for school, planning for retirement, planning for issues that we may face toward the end of our lives—all of this planning is good to do.  But we so often plan as if we are the only ones in charge of our lives and fully in control,  forgetting that life is notorious for handing us unexpected and often unwelcome challenges that we have not planned for. 

But when these unexpected things happen, we can act on our belief in God by stepping faithfully into whatever the situation is, knowing that God is with us, and will go with us, and will never, ever leave us alone—so we can proceed, yes, often with trepidation, or with caution, or even with great sorrow, but proceed we can and will.  We can lay aside our own plans and enter the unknown into which life is calling us.   

We can step into the unknown because we are people of faith.

In today’s Old Testament reading, God tells Abram, just a regular person like us, to go from his country and his kindred and his father’s house to the land God will show him.  God does not give Abram a map or tell him anything about how to get where God is leading him—that is the future that Abram cannot see.   

But Abram believes in God, and so he acts in faith.  The writer of Genesis states succinctly, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.” 

Today’s psalmist is starting out on a difficult journey to Jerusalem, a trip that will be full of unknown challenges, since the traveler must pass through the barren wilderness, exposed to the heat of the day and the chill of the nights, possible attacks by thieves, getting lost, and no telling what else.  Wouldn’t it be easier just to stay home? 

But the psalmist is willing to set out because that person has faith in God’s steadfast love.  The traveler knows that especially in the difficulties of the journey, God, like a mother hen spreading her wings over her chicks to protect them from predators and to keep them warm and safe, will also protect the psalmist in the face of any challenge that may arise. 

And then we come to Nicodemus.  I really like the story of Nicodemus because he is a practical human being, a literal thinker with a bit of an imagination,  a law keeper and a planner, all admirable traits. 

It’s that bit of imagination and that need to plan that brings Nicodemus to Jesus at night.  After all, he and his fellow rabbis know that Jesus is a teacher who has come from God and that Jesus couldn’t do what he was doing apart from God. Nicodemus just might need to factor Jesus into his life and his plans.  So he decides to go have a talk with Jesus to find out.

The first thing that Jesus does is to dismantle the tendency of Nicodemus to think  literally, to believe only what he can see and understand.  Jesus introduces Nicodemus to the world of imagination—to the life of the Spirit, a life that requires being willing to enter the unknown, because “the Spirit blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”  

Jesus goes on to tell Nicodemus(and here’s the GOOD NEWS)  that God is on the side of the world—all of those who don’t know God, or have any idea of the Spirit—Jesus has come to clue them in, to open them up, to challenge them to go beyond what they can see to what they cannot even imagine, that is, the beginning of life in God, here and now. 

Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world but to save the world.

We’ve probably all been where Nicodemus is—we are curious, we can see that God is at work in the world, and we want to know—what do you, God, have to do with my life?  We believe in God, but we aren’t sure that we want to act on that belief by letting the Spirit in and possibly wrecking our carefully thought out plans. 

We can’t predict or control the Spirit.  So how can we plan for the work of the Spirit in our lives? We have to have imagination, to be open to possibilities that may never have occurred to us, to be willing to jettison our carefully laid plans and be willing instead to enter the unknown. 

Ultimately we have to choose—we can take a chance and enter into the unknown life of the Spirit, and act on our beliefs, going where God calls us, or just continue on as we are, thank you very much. 

Remember, faith is believing in something and acting on that belief.  As Robbin Brent says in the essay that I mentioned earlier, “it is our faith in God, expressed through our willingness to act on what we believe, that prepares our minds and hearts to respond compassionately to suffering, our own, others’ and the world’s.” 

One person who chose to enter the life of the Spirit was Harriet Tubman. She was born a slave and escaped to freedom.  But Harriet could not forget all of the people who were still enslaved back home.  So she acted on  her belief that “God don’t  mean people to own people.”  She had compassion on those who were still suffering as slaves.  At great risk to her own life, Harriet Tubman kept going back into danger, over and over, even though she had a bounty on her head, to lead many more slaves to freedom. 

Quaker abolitionist Thomas Garrett said of Harriet Tubman in 1868 that “I never met a person of any color who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul…and her faith in a Supreme Power truly was great.”  His statement is on the wall of an exhibit at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park in Dorchester County, Maryland. 

 Many of us know about this intrepid woman because of our friend Cleo Coleman, who embodies Harriet Tubman and tells the story of Harriet’s faith and how she acted on her faith by becoming a liberator of her people.    As the History Channel says of Harriet Tubman, “she is one of the most recognized icons in American history and her legacy has inspired countless people from every race and background.”   

Harriet Tubman has a new separate feast day on the Calendar of the Episcopal Church, and that day is March the 10th. The Episcopal Church encourages all parishes and dioceses, in conjunction with other communities of faith,  to honor Harriet Tubman in a worship service  on or near the 110th anniversary of her death, which will be this Friday, March 10, 2023. 

So we honor her today as a person who did not hesitate to enter the unknown life that the Spirit called her into, by acting on her faith and responding compassionately to the suffering of others by leading them to freedom.  And as Harriet Tubman herself said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer.  You have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars, to change the world.” 

After Nicodemus left Jesus late that night and made his way back home, maybe he looked up at the stars and remembered God’s promise to Abraham,  that God would make of Abraham a nation as numerous as the stars in the heavens.  After all, Nicodemus was a member of that nation of Israel and a teacher.  But now, maybe Nicodemus wondered what else Jesus could teach him.    Would he ever understand what Jesus was trying to say about being born again, being born from above, being born anew?  Maybe Nicodemus wondered if he might dare to follow Jesus openly.  Or maybe he was just too tired and too puzzled to give the conversation he had just had with Jesus much more thought right then.  

We will never know.    

But what we do know is that several months before Jesus was crucified, the chief priests and the Pharisees, of whom Nicodemus was one, wanted to have Jesus arrested. Nicodemus spoke against this arrest.    He said, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?”  He was taunted for his statement—the others said, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you?” So now we know that  Nicodemus must have given more thought to what Jesus had said to him, for Nicodemus is acting on his belief that Jesus has come from God by having compassion on Jesus and speaking against his arrest. 

After Jesus is crucified and dies,   Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus, asks Pilate for the body so that he can give Jesus a proper burial.  Nicodemus goes with Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus, and brings with him a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.  The weight of these spices would be appropriate for the burial of a king.  Clearly, Nicodemus revered Jesus and had compassion for him, or he would not have honored him so lavishly. 

We hear nothing more of Nicodemus and we can only imagine the rest of his story.   Did his compassion for Jesus become compassion for the world around him? 

We don’t know the rest of our stories either.  We can’t know the future.  But what we do know is that God loves us with a steadfast love.  And that steadfast  love never ceases.  God’s love will carry us through all our goings and comings in this life, through all the joys and all the heartaches, because we know that God’s mercies will never come to an end.  Even after our longest and darkest nights,  God’s mercies are new every morning. We can proceed through the unknowns ahead with confidence.   

And we can faithfully act on our belief in our steadfast, merciful and loving God by letting the Spirit blow where it will through our lives.   We can faithfully step into the unknown, and go where God would send us, full of steadfast love and compassion for all this hurting world. 

Sunday Links, March 5, 2023, Lent 2

Lent 1, Feb. 26, 2023

  • Second Sunday of Lent Service 11am YouTube link Sun., March 5, 2023

  • Lectionary for March 5, 2023, Second Sunday of Lent, Second Sunday of Lent
  • Bulletin for March 5, 2023, Bulletin
  • Coffee Hour immediately following the service
  • Morning Meditation , Mon., March 6, 6:30am Zoom link Meeting ID: 879 8071 6417 Passcode: 790929
  • The Psalms study , Mon., March 6, 7:00pm Zoom link Meeting ID: 873 0418 9375 Passcode: 092098
  • The Book of Psalms is generally believed to be the most widely read and the most highly treasured of all the books in the Old Testament. It is a collection of poems, hymns, and prayers that express the religious feelings of Jews throughout the various periods of their national history. The Psalms contain wisdom that is eternal. “ “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” -Psalm 37:3,4. There are 5 ideas in this one passage that will help you lead a productive life.

  • Ecumenical Bible Study, Wed., March 8, 10am-12pm.
  • Village Dinner, Wed., March 8, 4:30pm-6pm. Italian Night—Spaghetti and Meatballs, Salad, Garlic Bread, Dessert–Cost $10. Let Catherine Hicks (540) 809-7489 know if you would like to reserve a dinner and whether you plan to eat in or take out.

  • March, 2023 Newsletter
  • Stations of the Cross in our churchyard
  • Meditate on the last hours of Jesus’ life by walking the Stations of the Cross. Mary Peterman’s moving watercolors and the text for each station are on a series of fourteen banners which you will find placed outside the church for quiet meditation either in solitude or in small groups.

  • All articles for Lent 2, March 5, 2023
  • The Lenten Gospel Readings

    The Lenten Gospel Readings- the Path Ahead

    Lent has five Sunday plus Palm Sunday.

    Except for Lent 1, all of the Gospel readings come from the Gospel of John, specifically the second part Book of Signs (Jn 1.19-12.50).  Palm Sunday has its own readings.

    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.

    The key is in the dialogues that the characters try to understand Jesus from their own backgrounds. Is he who he says he is ? How does he challenge Jewis teachings in the past ?

    Along the way, it deals with man’s constant temptations and limits vs. Jesus as the source of light and eternal life.  Jesus does make himself known in a significant way.  It shows the power and glory of Christ and how humans confront it .

    Are they going to find themselves within Christ ?  Ultimately, how are we finding our way through Christ ? Will we recognize him? Will we witness for him? Will we see him and worship him? Will we come when we hear him call our names? Will we move as these stories show from darkness to light, from insecurity to testimony, from blindness to sight, from death to life?  Here are the Sundays:

    First Sunday of Lent: The Temptation of Jesus, following upon the account of Jesus’ own baptism, is a vivid reminder that our baptismal life is similar to Christ’s life: we will be subject to trial and temptation.

    Second Sunday of Lent: The Story of Nicodemus , the Pharisee never understood the significance of Christ beyond the miracles despite his education. 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.

    Third Sunday of Lent: In the story of The Samaritan Woman the gradual enlightenment of the woman by Jesus is a pattern of baptismal grace that steadily purifies and enlightens us.

    Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Man Born Blind shows the power of God offered to cure a helpless blind man. God’s power is no less evident in the sacrament of baptism.

    Fifth Sunday of Lent: Raising of Lazarus is a powerful reminder that Christ is the “resurrection and the life” and those who believe in him will have eternal life.

    Indeed the continual revelation of Jesus becomes a reason why the authorities conclude he is a dangerous man that needs to be dealt with in Holy Week.

    Nicodemus in Art – Lent 2

    Nicodemus is connected with Lent 2, Year A. John 3:1-17

    The readings in Lent 2 are all about signs and promises. Nicodemus was both a pharisee and a member of the Jewish Council Sanhedrin. 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.

    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. 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.

    Nicodemus discovered that eternal life was his for the receiving. Eternal life is not something attained on the other side of the grave. Eternal life is something lived in the continuous present of the here and now (eternally), living freely in the fullness of faith in God over and above all else.

    The second time Nicodemus is mentioned (John 7: 50 -52) is when Nicodemus confronts and questions his fellow Pharisees about arresting Jesus without adequate proof that he had broken the Law. Nicodemus’ own journey was to give Jesus a chance.

    The third time (John 19:39) he is noted in the Gospel of John as having assisted Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus’s burial. We can surmise that Nicodemus has become a devoted follower of Jesus as he brings myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus’ body for burial.

    Here are some of the artistic depictions of Nicodemus, mostly around the first appearance of Nicodemus in John 3:1-17:

    1. “Head of a Bearded Man (Nicodemus)”, (1577–1660) Giacomo Cavedone The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    He was a Italian Baroque painter of the Bolognese School. His career as a painter was cut short by a set of misfortunes; these included a 1623 fall from a church scaffold and, in 1630, the death of his wife and children from the plague. He lived until 1660, and died in poverty.

    His principal works are the Adoration of the Magi, the Four Doctors, Last Supper; and his masterpiece, the large altar painting in the Pinacoteca di Bologna, Virgin and Child in Glory with San Petronio and Saint Alo (1614).

    2. “Christ-instructing-Nicodemus” – Jacobo Jordaens (mid 17th century)

    He was a Flemish painter, draughtsman and tapestry designer known for his history paintings, genre scenes and portraits. After Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, he was the leading Flemish Baroque painter of his day. Unlike those contemporaries he never traveled abroad to study Italian painting.

    Like Rubens, Jordaens painted altarpieces, mythological, and allegorical scenes, and after 1640—the year Rubens died—he was the most important painter in Antwerp for large-scale commissions and the status of his patrons increased in general.

    3. “Nicodemus Visiting Jesus by Night” – Henry Ossawa Tanner (1899)

    Tanner was the first African American artist to attain a reputation abroad. Tanner’s renders Nicodemus and Jesus on a rooftop.

    The setting is authentic. Tanner travelled to Palestine to study its landscape and ways in order to be true to it.

    Tanner unites the prologue of John (‘what has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.’) with Nicodemus’ deep conversation andwith Jesus’ declaration ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ (John 8:12). It may well also allude to his death and burial. The large urn standing near Jesus could refer to his entombment as John says that Nicodemus brought a large portion of spices to anoint Jesus’ body.

    4. “Interview between Jesus and Nicodemus” 1886 and 1894 – James Tissot

    Tissot was a French painter and illustrator. He was a successful painter of Paris society before moving to London in 1871.

    In about 1863, Tissot suddenly shifted his focus from the medieval style to the depiction of modern life through portraits. During this period, Tissot gained high critical acclaim, and quickly became a success as an artist. He quickly developed his reputation as a painter of elegantly dressed women shown in scenes of fashionable life.

    In 1885, Tissot had a revival of his Catholic faith, which led him to spend the rest of his life making paintings about Biblical events. Many of his artist friends were skeptical about his conversion, as it conveniently coincided with the French Catholic revival, a reaction against the secular attitude of the French Third Republic. At a time when French artists were working in impressionism, pointillism, and heavy oil washes, Tissot was moving toward realism in his watercolors.

    Widespread use of his illustrations in literature and slides continued after his death with “The Life of Christ and The Old Testament” becoming the “definitive Bible images.”

    5. “Christ and Nicodemus” – Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn, (1604-1645)

    He was a painter at the height of the Dutch golden age in painting.

    6. “Christ and Nicodemus” – Fritz von Uhde (1886)

    von Uhde (1845-1911) was a German mid-19th century painter. His style lay in-between Realism and Impressionism and was once known as “Germany’s outstanding impressionist”. A journey to the Netherlands brought about a change in his style, as he abandoned the dark chiaroscuro he had learned in Munich in favor of a colorism informed by the works of the French Impressionists.

    7. “Visit of Nicodemus to Christ” – John La Farge (1880)

    La Farge (1835-1910) was both a painter and a competitor to Louis Tiffany for stained glass windows in the late 19th century.

    In the 1870s, La Farge began to paint murals, which became popular for public buildings as well as churches. His first mural was painted in Trinity Church, Boston, in 1873. Then followed his decorations in the Church of the Ascension (the large altarpiece) and St. Paul’s Chapel, New York.

    In 1892, La Farge was brought on as an instructor with the Metropolitan Museum of Art Schools to provide vocational training to students in New York City.

    La Farge experimented with problems of shifting and deteriorating color, especially in the medium of stained glass. His work rivaled the beauty of medieval windows and added new resources by his use of opalescent glass and by his original methods of layering and welding the glass.

    Opalescent glass had been used for centuries in tableware, but it had never before been formed into flat sheets for use in stained-glass windows and other decorative objects. For his early experiments, La Farge had to custom-order flat sheets of opalescent glass from a Brooklyn glass manufacturer. La Farge apparently introduced his competitor Louis Tiffany to the new use of opalescent glass sometime in the mid 1870s, showing him his experiments.

    Both came up with patents for opalescent glass. The major difference in their patents is that Tiffany lists somewhat different technical details, for instance relating to the air space between glass layers. La Farge’s patent focused more on the material and Tiffany’s more on its use in construction.

    8. “Jesus and Modern Day Nicodemus – Richard Hook (1970’s?)

    We used this image for our bulletin in 2020. Hook (1914-1975) married artist his wife Frances who was from Ambler, Pennsylvania. Richard must also have come from the same part of the country, since the couple met as students at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) in Philadelphia.

    After their marriage, Richard found work in an advertising agency and provided illustrations for popular journals like Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post. When the demand for original commercial art waned in the 1960s, the couple turned their attention to the growing inspirational art market. Hook met the need for a more masculine Jesus with his own rugged, sunburned (somewhat Semitic-looking).

    9. “Born Again” – Lauren Wright Pittman

    Comments by the Author “In reading this text, I felt the kind of dizzying brain space that I think Nicodemus is reeling in at this moment. Jesus lists metaphors that swirl around and fly over Nicodemus’ head, such as, “the wind blows where it chooses.” Jesus’ words create a halo of confusion around Nicodemus’ head. I imagine Nicodemus faced away from Jesus with his eyes closed, grappling for answers by playing the metaphors in his head like little vignettes on repeat. While Nicodemus spins in his searching, Jesus says simply, “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony.” In Jesus’ perspective, his explanations to Nicodemus are as real and tangible as earthly things, but for Nicodemus, Jesus’ words seem so distant, so celestial. Nicodemus is a leader of the Jews; he has all of the knowledge of the law and of doctrine, but he doesn’t know Jesus. He’s not even really listening to Jesus. Jesus is right in front of his face. He can reach out and touch him. But they are light years away from one another. I wonder how things would shift for Nicodemus if he would just look at Jesus…”

    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

    Yet another look at Nicodemus.. getting back up again and being constantly reborn

    Source:  South West Presbytery Lenten Block Party

    “In most cases we become experts at doing things we’ve never done before by using the skills we have and working with them. We learn more by doing. In the cycle of reflecting, acting and reflecting we are being constantly reborn, born anew.

    “Skateboarder Rodney Mullen in Ted Talks looks at the process of constant reformation from the perspective of skateboarding, which not only taught him about the sport but gave him an approach to life, a language that can inspire others to break through to their new birth.

    “In skateboarding, like life, there are challenges, there are obstacles. Mullen observes, ‘In order to achieve success you are going to have to push through.”

    “Pushing through is not one heroic act, it is made up of many little steps that we chain together until we ‘get it’ and which we keep performing until they become natural, unthinking, automatic.

    “Can you think of examples in your life where you have had to break through? Challenges which you overcame by chaining together smaller steps (for example, learning to ride a bike, play an instrument, or a particular game)? What were the challenges along the way? What did it take to get to where you wanted to be?”

    Two quotes to share – “The biggest obstacle to creativity is breaking throught the barrier of disbelief, especially when no one else is doing it.”

    “Getting up again is what shapes and forms the engine.”

    What is TED ? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation. The slogan – “ideas worth spreading.”

    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 

    Art for the 2nd Week in Lent, Year A

    Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome.

    “From James Tissot’s famous Bible illustration series, the Interview between Jesus and Nicodemus strives to depict with careful attention to period detail the scene from John’s Gospel in which Nicodemus seeks out Jesus at night to learn more from him about his teaching.

    “Tissot researched his Bible series by traveling to the Holy Land, and the details in clothing, furnishings, and domestic life all help transport the viewer into the world of the Bible, or at least the Middle East at the turn of the 20th century. Even more compelling than the setting, though, is the intimacy between the figures of Jesus and Nicodemus. The image communicates the hospitality, warmth, and friendship that are available to us no matter who we are or when we arrive at Christ’s door.

    “Jesus and Nicodemus are seated close to one another. One can almost hear their hushed tones, their low voices so as not to disturb the sleeping world around them. Jesus embodies hospitality—he looks squarely yet kindly at Nicodemus as he explains to him what has become the most quoted passage of the New Testament: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Jesus reaches over with one hand to reassure Nicodemus and invite his friendship. There is no sense in Christ that Nicodemus is intruding at this late hour, but he welcomes him and meets him where he is with kindness and truth. Nicodemus leans in and looks down; he is listening intently and seems deeply moved by the words.

    “For today’s viewer, the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus might bring to mind the contemporary Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially the moment when the penitent, having confessed his sins, now listens intently to the counsel of the confessor. The candle-lit setting is reminiscent of a retreat or a Reconciliation service, often the context of the sacrament. Jesus’ reassuring hospitality is powerful when perceived in this light.

    “With this understanding, the removed shoes in front of the mat, a sign of domestic tradition, here become symbols of something more: the holy ground of encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus, a holy ground for friendship and reconciliation, for healing and finding truth.