Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection Year B, Trinity Sunday, Gospel Lesson

John 3:1-16
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 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."
Reflections on John 3:1-16 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.

Copyright Statement

To Reflections on other Readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament Exodus 3:1-6
no reflection available
Psalm Psalm 93
no reflection available or
Canticle 2
no reflection available or
Canticle 13
no reflection available
New Testament Romans 8:12-17
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Gospel John 3:1-16
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John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2003. John and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

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