Sunday, March 12, 2017

Say what?

Lovely spring morning. Sky completely overcast, but the Bay is clear to the south, to the west, and east all the way down to the string of lights on Tyndall Bridge that divides StAndrewsBay from EastBay. 

Two of us lead the adult Sunday School class. Although we usually concentrate on the lectionary readings for the Sunday, our agenda is not agreed in advance, generally we do not collaborate, neither of us knows what the other will bring. This has seemed to work for us and for the class and it will be so this morning. 

We may spend some time on Abraham and his call story that is today’s Old Testament reading in Genesis 12. I’d expand it to include the end of Genesis 11 to get the whole story of not just the call but the background and Abram's response, as there are interesting things to contemplate. Also what Paul says in Romans 4 about Abraham’s faith. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  Romans 4:3, also Galatians 3:6 and James 2:23, prooftexting Genesis 15:6. 

But my focus might be on this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to John, expanding the selection to add four more verses and look at what to me seems the whole pericope, John 3:1-21 (which obviously includes John 3:16 of stadium banner fame). How much of the text is meant to quote Jesus, and how much is meant to be John, commentary or exhorting members of his church to believe in Jesus over against then contemporary Jewish claims that this new religious sect of Judaism is false? Nonexistent in the evangelist’s NT Greek, and also in the King James Version, where in modern English do the quotations marks go? Of several modern English translations, including the NRSV that we will read from today, it varies. Considering the almost universally rejected additional endings to Mark's gospel after Mark 16:8, that everything in the Bible isn’t necessarily what the evangelist himself wrote or intended, we can also wonder whether everything we read was actually spoken by Jesus: how much is meant to be the evangelist speaking, asserting, and how much Jesus? 

Again, there are some harsh words in our pericope about nonbelievers: how much of this credibly quotes Jesus, and how much may more likely be Gospel John cajoling, threatening members of his church over against Jews and others who have not accepted Christ and who in the era of this late first or early second century gospel are arguing and trying to close the church down?

It makes a difference, and not only to which are the “red letters.” I say the NRSV interpreters went overboard with quotation marks and marked it wrong. And what about the pericope in general? Have a look and decide:

John 3:1-21 (NRSV) Nicodemus Visits Jesus

1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 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.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 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?” 

5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 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.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 

10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 “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. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “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.

17 “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. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

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