Pentecost: What’s next?

Kevin Boteler


With a small congregation this Sunday (due to most people being at our annual “play weekend,”) Kevin gives some introduction after each scripture passage that was followed by discussion (which was not taped or contained in the following).

Those of you who have heard me speak before may remember that I have bemoaned challenging lectionary texts.  I suppose that today is an example of life balancing out, as today’s texts are an embarrassment of riches.

Last week, on Pentecost, we heard about the Spirit coming to the followers of Christ as they worshipped together in Jerusalem as the first manifestation of the promised sending of the Holy Spirit to all mankind.  This week’s scriptures help us explore the implications of that event.

First, the Gospel:

John 3:1-17:

3 There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”

Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?”

Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’

Nicodemus said, “How are these things possible?”

10 “Jesus answered, “You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? 11 I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. 16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

                                                                 Common English Bible

My first thought as I look at Jesus’s answer to Nicodemus’s question about being reborn, is that it seems that receiving the Holy Spirit is something in which we have to participate.  it doesn’t just happen to us; we have to make active choices to participate in the rebirth.

I’m also struck by verse 8: “God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  I can understand the first part of the verse, and it makes sense, especially if we consider the dual meaning of the word from which Spirit is derived, as Connie pointed out last Sunday.  It’s easy to understand that wind can be heard and that we can’t see where it is going.  But what does the second part of that verse mean?  What does it mean that the people born of the Spirit can be heard but one can’t know where they are going?  

[Discussion]

Now to the Epistle:

Romans 8:12-17 Common English Bible (CEB)

12 So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. 13 If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the actions of the body, you will live. 14 All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. 15 You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children. 17 But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him.

Maybe here we find an answer to Nicodemus’s question.  Adults who live in the way of the world are in reality dead anyway, so the only way to live is to be born again through the Spirit and that Spirit touches us in the deepest places.  I believe that the use in this passage of the Aramaic word for father, “Abba,” is one of the few places in the New Testament where a non-Greek word was used.  Perhaps this is an indicator that this cry or plea comes from so deep within us that it overcomes our “book learnin’” and speaks from the depths of our soul.

[Discussion]

Now back to the Gospel.  We can’t leave this week’s Gospel lectionary without touching on one of the most well-known passages of all the Gospels – John 3:16. One of the reasons I enjoy bringing the teaching is that the preparation forces me to dive deeper into the scriptures than I tend to do in my regular study and devotional time.  So when I turned to my New Interpreter’s Study Bible to prepare for this teaching, I once again learned something new in regard to the references to eternal life:

‘Eternal life’ does not speak of immortality or a future life in heaven but is a metaphor for living now in the unending presence of God. Jesus’ offer of his own life though being lifted up on the cross makes eternal life possible for those who believe.  This is the new life Jesus promised Nicodemus in verses 3:3 and 3:5.

So the cycle is complete.  God allowed God’s love to come to the entire world by allowing Jesus’s death on the cross; and through Pentecost that love enters us and stays with us forever.

[Discussion]

But how does today’s Hebrew Scriptures text fit into all this?

Isaiah 6:1-8 Common English Bible (CEB)

In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, the edges of his robe filling the temple. Winged creatures were stationed around him. Each had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew about. They shouted to each other, saying:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heavenly forces!  All the earth is filled with God’s glory!”

The doorframe shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke.

I said, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces!”

Then one of the winged creatures flew to me, holding a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.”

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?”

I said, “I’m here; send me.”

In this passage I was struck by the reference of touching coal to lips, which is of course a metaphorical reference to the gift of prophecy.  But if we consider a literal touching of coal to lips we realize that would be intensely painful.  And that though hearkens to verse 17 of the Romans passage: if we really suffer with Christ we can be glorified with him.