By Barbara Klugh
Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, God calls Abram to leave everything he knows and go to a new land—and he obeys, Paul explains that Abram was righteous because he obeyed God’s call by faith, and Jesus tells Nicodemus the way to eternal life is through faith in the Son.
Genesis 12:1-4a: This week’s reading is brief, but signals a momentous shift in the biblical narrative. So far, the stories in Genesis are the Creation, the Fall, Cain and Abel, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. Deceit, sin, shame, rebellion, murder, violence, and hubris have entered God’s good creation. Now God takes the first step toward mending this broken world. God’s call to Abram (later renamed Abraham), and Abram’s faith in God’s promises led to the birth of the nation of Israel, and began the restoration of creation and the blessing all the families of the earth. Here is the entire reading.
The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.
We have the hope that God’s dream of the complete restoration of all creation will be realized because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a descendant of Abraham. I’m reminded of Paul’s comment in Romans 8:22: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” God is still active, saving the world through his Son, and God will have the last word. And we, like Abram, can respond with faith to God’s call in our time.
Psalm 121: Our psalm this week is one of the Songs of Ascents (Pss. 120-134), which were the songs the pilgrims sang as they went up to Jerusalem. The psalmist expresses confidence in God’s protection in all circumstances. Psalm 121 is one of the psalms for Noonday in the Prayer Book. Click here for an exquisitely simple video of the Westminster Abbey Choir chanting Psalm 121.
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17: In this week’s reading, Paul argues that Abraham was in right relationship with God by faith, not by the law. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Abraham’s faith came before the giving of the law and before he was circumcised. “For this reason, it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants…” All people who share in the faith of Abraham had are spiritually related to him, “for he is the father of all of us.” Indeed, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, descend from Abraham.
John 3:1-17: Recorded only in the Gospel according to John, this week’s reading is the story of Jesus and Nicodemus. Although he is a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, Nicodemus is a seeker. Unlike other questioners, he does not come to Jesus to trap him—he realizes that Jesus is “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 is thoroughly confused because he doesn’t realize that Jesus is talking about a spiritual rebirth, not a physical one. And this birth comes by God’s Spirit. Jesus likens the Spirit to the wind—it will blow where it blows and we can’t control the Spirit any more than we can control the wind. Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can these things be?” He just can’t wrap his head around these new ideas.
Jesus says, “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.” Here Jesus is referring to the lifting up of the bronze serpent in the wilderness (Num 21:4-9). When people looked up, they were healed. Jesus will be lifted up on the cross, and those who believe that he is God’s son will be saved.
“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.”
Although Nicodemus didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about at the time–he was ‘in the dark”–later he defended Jesus when the authorities unjustly accused him (7:50-51), and then he supplied the spices for Jesus’ burial (19:39). Through the encounter with Jesus, the light of the Spirit was planted in his soul, and, by God’s grace, Nicodemus began the journey to of spiritual transformation.