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Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC)

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Lectionary Reflection

Year A, Lent 2 Year B, Trinity Sunday Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary Revised Common Lectionary Gospel

John 3: 1-17 (Year A, Lent 2: Standard and RCL) John 3: 1-16 (Year B, Trinity: Standard) John 3: 1-17 (Year B, Trinity: RCL)

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 about 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 not perish but may have eternal life.

"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

Reflection on John 3: 1-17 by Nan Stokes

Since Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, we may have been wrestling with what to "give up" or what to "take on" during this season of penitence. Whatever we decide to do or not to do, this is a time of change, of movement, of going from what we are to the place or condition where we want to be. In the Old Testament lesson, Abram heard the call of God to move to a new land, and we can only wonder at the strength of that call. What would it take to get us to move to a new land? Moving from an old place to a new place in our spiritual lives may be what we are called to do, and such a move will require an act of will, too. What will it take to get us to make that move?

Jesus says to Nicodemus, "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." Abram must have heard the "sound of the Spirit", and he picked up all his family and possessions and went where that sound led him. The Gospel of John doesn't tell us what happened to Nicodemus at that point in time, but he, too, must have moved to new places, because he appears again to help with preparations when Jesus is lifted down from the cross. As we move deeper into Lent, it is time to begin our journey, and who knows where it will lead?

Reflection on John 3:1-17 by John G Gibbs, PhD

The “practical” Trinity, the Trinity as experienced, is what the Gospel of John presents. The section 3:1-16 includes the “three Persons” of the Trinity, as the Church later described God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But this gospel does not try to integrate what it includes, nor does it present a kind of full-fledged “theological” Trinity.

First, concerning God and world: Even if not on the same wavelength about much else, Nicodemus and Jesus are agreed in their acclamation of God. The author of this Fourth Gospel has Jesus build on this agreement when he has Jesus make to Nicodemus the statement that is by now so well known: “For God so loved the world…” “He has the whole world in His hand.” God and world is the message, rather than God against world.

Though the Greek word kosmos (“world”) sometimes referred only to humanity as a whole, it was also a designation for the cosmic totality (heaven, earth, the sum of all creatures). The Prologue to this gospel, which built on the first creation story in Genesis (“In the beginning was the Word,” Genesis 1:1), had in view the cosmic totality: “All things came into being through him” (Genesis 1:3). God’s love reaches not only all humanity, but also “all things,” the comprehensive “world” of all creation.

William Temple, the great Anglican theologian and ecumenical leader, comments on John 3:16: “No object is sufficient for the love of God short of the world itself. Christianity … is the one and only religion of world-redemption.” Its scope is wider than that of individual salvation, for it is “as wide as the love of God.” Even judgment comes from God with the purpose of “salvation for all the world” (Readings in St. John’s Gospel, pp. 48-49; London: Macmillan, 1952).

Second, especially interesting to us so soon after Pentecost is the appearance of the Spirit, who is a kind of link not only between Father and Son, but also between believers and both the Father and the Son. This comes out in 3:8 and its context. Those who choose to live under God’s sovereignty (“kingdom of God”) make a new start, experience a reorientation, or in Johannine language, are “born of the Spirit” (3:5-6, 8) or “born from above” (3:3, 7).

The Greek word “pneuma” designated, according to its context, either “wind” or “Spirit.” 3:8 capitalizes on that double possibility: just as “the wind” blows any which way, “so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Where a particular wind comes from or where it goes is not apparent to most of us (except possibly to some extent with modern meteorological technology). So the Spirit is also beyond our control and beyond our predictability. As the wind is unseen, and only its effects may be seen, so the Spirit is unseen, and we may see only the effects of the Spirit among us.

God the Creator and God the Spirit have made their appearances in the “dramatis personae” (list of the drama’s characters) of this brief 21-verse “ ”drama.” Third, God the Son is also here, for the God who so loved the whole world “gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

“Eternal life” is that quality of life in the here and now that “abides” in practical life (as do faith-hope-love, I Corinthians 13), for that way of life accomplishes “deeds” that “have been done in God” (John 3:21).

“Belief” is here an act, designated by a verb, which responds faithfully to the harmony that binds God and created world. Belief responds also to the harmonious works of God the Creator-Redeemer-Sanctifier. Active practical believing lives out the harmony between believers and the Creation, both world and believers being held together by this triune God.

On careful reading, it thus turns out that the famous text John 3:16 always included not only individuals, but also the whole creation; and not only Jesus, but no less God the Creator, and the Spirit who makes belief possible and active. Environmental ethics, as “deeds done in God,” are rooted in John 3:16.

Printable version

To Reflections on other Readings for Year A, Lent 2:

Reflections available at the active links
Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary
Revised Common Lectionary
Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Reading:
Genesis 12:1-8
Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 33:12-22
Psalm 121
New Testament Lesson
Romans 4:1-5 (6-12) 13-17
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17 (this page)
John 3:1-17 (this page)

To Reflections on other Readings for Year B, Trinity

Reflections available at the active links
Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary
Revised Common Lectionary
Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Reading:
Exodus 3:1-6
Psalm 93 or Canticle 2 or 13
Psalm 29 or Canticle 2 or 13
New Testament Reading:
John 3: 1-16 (this page)
John 3: 1-17 (this page)

Nan Stokes (1929-2010) was an active member of St. Edward's Episcopal Church, Duluth, MN, when she originally wrote her reflection in 1999 for Year A, Lent 2. John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, resided in Park Rapids, MN, when he originally wrote this reflection in 2003 for Trinity Sunday (Standard Lectionary).

We welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:

MEESC c/o C. Morello 4451 Lakeside Drive Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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