St Alban’s Episcopal Church
Friday, March 3, 2023
Lent 2 – Trust: Genesis 12:1-4, Psalm 121, Romans 4:1-5,13-17, and John 3:1-17
How do Episcopalians usually read the Bible?
Anticipating discomfort or argument over what some of you have been told John’s gospel means, (Relax – it doesn’t actually intend what you have been afraid it says. You are not under threat,) I want to remind you how we read the Bible.
Episcopalians tend to read scripture in its entire context. That is, no single verse “means” anything outside its longer context – in this case, the whole of the Nicodemus story. Further, we want to understand the place that story has in the whole gospel of John – How does it relate to other stories in John? (for example, the ones that precede it, and John chapters 7 and 11)
Then we ask, how is the language – i.e., words like “perish” or “born from above/born anew/born again” or, “see”, or even “believe” used in other parts of the Bible?
Finally, what does this passage (or any passage) show us about God that we might not have noticed or known before? How is it good news? How does it relate to other scriptures by other authors – for example, today’s passages from Genesis and Romans? Can you see any connection?
We do not try to force all texts to say the same thing. We do not try to harmonize differences. We allow each story to tell its own truth, each author to express themselves in their own way, to their own audience, and listen to hear the good news in each.
We do not read into any passage what is not there. In texts like Sunday’s in John, this is especially important, and it’s hard if you think you already “know” what it means…and that it is scary, or worse, if you think it proves you are “in” and someone else is “out.”
And we value scholarship – linguistic, historical, all of it. And we know that as we learn more, our understandings of the times and words of the Bible also change.
In this case, what if we think that John 3:17 is as important as John 3:16? What it THAT were our “go-to” favorite passage from John? What if John 3:17 were on t-shirts and banners and pens and John 3:16 wasn’t? Think about it.
John 3:1-17 (This comes after the story of the wedding feast at Cana where Jesus changed water into wine at his mother’s request, and immediately after Jesus drove off the money changers in the temple at Passover time – and it comes just before Jesus and his disciples are found baptizing people close to where John was also baptizing so that John declares his faith in Jesus, and then Jesus decides to return to Galilee but has to go through Samaria where he found the woman at the well. – a most magnificent story.)
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly , I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from, or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, 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 abut heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Adult Class – Sunday 9:30
Paul, Jesus and Salvation
How does Jesus use the language of salvation – redemption, faith, trust; and how does Paul use those concepts? Do they agree? Did Paul really corrupt the simple teachings of a country rabbi and “invent” an unhappy Christianity? Let’s think about this together.