the new and the old …

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. “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.

John 3:1-17

This week’s gospel is the visit of Nicodemus to Jesus. It has a number of themes: authority, spiritual vs physical, faith. But yet again it illustrates that in Jesus there is a radical change. Authority is with Him and He is the continuation of Israel. No longer is the relationship by birth but it is now a relationship “from above” – a relationship in faith.

Somehow I feel I am repeating myself!

Pentecost gospel

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

John has been the gospel for this Easter season. And it is the gospel reading for the Day of Pentecost, Whitsunday, the Solemnity of Pentecost. Traditionally it is the day when the church remembers the descend of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. It is a day to think, meditate, reflect on the work of the Holy Spirit.

I think the Holy Spirit is a very difficult topic. Our experience of the Holy Spirit is always so much more than any text could describe. And our experience is always very personal, very intimate.

So just one point from the above: “when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin … about sin, because they do not believe in me”. Sin is much more than an action – it is “not believing in Jesus”. Sin is a broken relationship. The actions follow the broken relationship. But stopping the actions does not fix the relationship. Only faith in Jesus will restore me to a living relationship with the Father. And the point is that the Holy Spirit grants us the gift of faith and there is nothing more needed.

Faith is the highest passion in a human being. There are perhaps many in every generation who do not even come to it, but nobody goes further.

Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy), 108.

Jesus, the individual, and the world

This week’s gospel text is from the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, the bridge between Jesus’ ministry and His Passion in John. I must admit I find the whole of John 17 a little confusing. But I think it does follow the texts the lectionary has given us for the last three weeks. It is a summary of what it means to “abide in Jesus”.

Jesus said:
“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

John 19:6-19

I am always struck by the distinction Jesus makes between the individual believer, who receives Jesus and the One who sent Him, and the world that stands against Jesus and His mission from the Father. In fact Jesus uses pretty tough language, “the world has hated them”.

Paul picks up some of the themes when he write to the people at Ephesus:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

Ephesians 2:19-20

Icon of friendship?

Icon of Christ and Abbot Mena

The above is the Icon of Christ and Abbot Mena and is said to date from the 8th century. Jesus is holding the book and Abbot Mena is the one with the grey beard. I like how Jesus has His arm around His friend. There is a sense of intimacy in the icon. A warm welcoming Jesus embracing the Abbot.

I have been thinking about being friends with Jesus – the theme of this week’s gospel (and tonight’s study). What does it mean for me? What does the intimacy that the above icon illustrate mean to my day to day life? Not as a slave but as a friend of Jesus do I love – what does that mean for me now?

I like the image of Jesus as my friend. I like the above icon.

I pray you have a Jesus filled day!

friends of Jesus

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

John 15:9-17

This week the Bible Study Group will look at John 15:9-17 – a follow on from last week’s reading from John. I have been struck by the idea that I am a friend of Jesus. Most likely because I do not have a lot of friends, real friends, and not the variety that goes by the modern term.

Friendship suggests an intimacy. The readings from the last three Sundays have all spoken of the intimacy between Jesus and the individual. An intimacy beyond ideas – a personal intimacy. The opposite is the servant or slave. The friend is motivated by intimacy while the servant does things out of fear or in a desire for a reward. So the command to love is set within the context of this friendship, this intimacy, between Jesus and the individual. Not because I have to but because I want to, do I love! Just like Jesus who goes willing to the cross for me.

Looking forward to the study!

the eunuch

Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

Acts 8:35

Today one of the readings was from the Book of Acts, as is traditional after Easter, Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). I was struck by how this particular person was chosen by God to hear the gospel proclaimed to him. I was especially struck by how this person, a eunuch with all that includes (or not!), is everything the modern church tries to avoid at all costs. I often wonder if some within the modern church are so concerned with issues related to sex (and the choice of partners) because they are not having any?! (A rare joke!) But more importantly the eunuch is a sign of how God does not want my perfection but my heart.

There is a difference between what a Christian life looks like (morality and service) and who a Christian is (or is becoming). The eunuch, to me, shows us what it means to “abide in Jesus” (as the gospel for today would put it). And, to put a Kierkegaard spin on it, the eunuch is a “single individual”:

The paradox of faith then is this, that the single individual is higher than the universal, that the single individual, to recall a now rather rare theological distinction, determines his relation to the universal by his relation to the absolute, not his relation to the absolute by his relation to the universal.

Fear and Trembling (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy), 61

So my insight for today: proclaim the gospel to all! Do not judge anyone on the choices that they make! It is about Jesus and not my perfection – it is about my heart.

abide in me

This week’s text for our online Bible Study is John 15:1-8, “I am the vine”. So here is the text:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

John 15:1-8

“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11-18)

I am back to teaching online this week. I really enjoy the interaction with people. And I love seeing the change in people. But most of all I know that the process of reflecting on the gospels has changed me. I teach not from an academic point of view but from my journey with Jesus.

So here is this week’s text:

[Jesus said]
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

John 10:11-18

Just one point on the text: the good shepherd’s relationship with his flock is intimate and sacrificial. Jesus reveals His very nature and in the process reveals the very nature of God. I-am’s relationship with me is intimate and sacrificial. Jesus knows me and freely lays down His life for me. And my job is simply to listen – to hear with my heart.

Anyway …