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Christian Teaching and Worship Resources

Lent 2 (Purple)


Introduction

The Gospel reading this week from John Chapter 3, tells of a man called Nicodemus. He came to Jesus and was obviously curious about who Jesus was. Nicodemus came from a great family, he was a leading Pharisee and religious teacher. But, he recognised that Jesus had something special and he wanted to know more. That was all it took, honest curiosity and a willingness to listen. Jesus went on to tell him important spiritual truths which have been passed on from generations.

  • Jesus said that it didn't matter how socially acceptable or unacceptable a person was, God loved the whole world just the same - everybody and everything.

  • Jesus said that we all start from the same place with God, there are no favourites.

  • Jesus said that anybody who turned to him would find forgiveness and life with God for eternity
     

Eventually Nicodemus would be one of those who cared for the dead body of Jesus. Then the words of Jesus would make even more sense. The death of Jesus was not a tragic murder, it brought to us an awareness that God's love was enormous. If the quality of love could ever be measured by the value of a gift, then there is nothing greater than God's love, for he did not even spare his own son Jesus.
 

Opening Verse of Scripture Philippians 2:9

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Collect Prayer for the Day—Before we read we pray

Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth, that they may return to the way of righteousness: grant to all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ's religion, that they may reject those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen. Common Worship

Almighty God, by the prayer and discipline of Lent may we enter into the mystery of Christ's sufferings, and by following in his Way come to share in his glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. Common Worship Shorter Collect 

Merciful Lord, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen   Methodist Worship

Christ, Son of the Living God, who for a season laid aside the diving glory and learned obedience through suffering: teach us in all our afflictions to raise our eyes to the place of your mercy and to find in you our peace and deliverance. We make our prayers in your name. Amen  Methodist Worship 

Abrham left his homeFirst Bible Reading Genesis 12: 1-4a

The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.
 

Second Reading Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

Gospel Reading John 3: 1-17

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." "How can a man be born when he is old?"Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."  "How can this be?" Nicodemus asked. "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Post Communion Prayer

Almighty God, you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Commentary

The Gospel reading this week from John Chapter 3, tells of a man called Nicodemus. He came to Jesus and was obviously curious about who Jesus was. Nicodemus came from a great family, he was a leading Pharisee and religious teacher. But, he recognised that Jesus had something special and he wanted to know more. That was all it took, honest curiosity and a willingness to listen. Jesus went on to tell him important spiritual truths which have been passed on from generations.

  1. Jesus said that it didn't matter how socially acceptable or unacceptable a person was, God loved the whole world just the same - everybody and everything.
  2. Jesus said that we all start from the same place with God, there are no favourites.
  3. Jesus said that anybody who turned to him would find forgiveness and life with God for eternity.

Eventually Nicodemus would be one of those who cared for the dead body of Jesus. Then the words of Jesus would make even more sense. The death of Jesus was not a tragic murder, it brought to us an awareness that God's love was enormous. If the quality of love could ever be measured by the value of a gift, then there is nothing greater than God's love, for he did not even spare his own son Jesus. 

The Victorian preacher C H Spurgeon describes how he went out with money from his church to give to a poor woman of the parish. He knocked and knocked again but she would not answer, she thought it was the rent man. The knock signalled a gift, she thought it was a demand. So what is it which convinces some people that there really is a gift from God which is worth bothering with? In the story today, what is it which makes Nicodemus different from the other Jewish leaders? Why was he willing to approach and listen to Jesus?

Let’s look at Nicodemus
Nicodemus was from the right background. he was a Jewish leader and teacher, a member of the Sanhedrin. He came from the right family and the right race. He was a prominent and respected Jew. But he came to Jesus and it is clear that this was not enough for him. He knew he was missing something which his Jewish religion didn't have but which Jesus clearly did. The message which Jesus gave to Nicodemus was clear. It doesn't matter into whose family you are born. You get no credit from God on account of your family. For somebody who would have been proud of his family tree, this was a blow. He suddenly was told that he was no better of than the lowest of the low.

In the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, the mother of Jesus, we are told that Jesus will bring down the mighty from their seat and exhalt the humble and the meek. Today in the Gospel reading, Nicodemus is one of the mighty when he comes to Jesus. He is told that it counts for nothing, he discovers what Mary meant. With Jesus birth, social status, wealth, all count for nothing, it was like you had to be born again, and we were all equal. We are told that it was dark when Nicodemus came to Jesus, but there was a light switched on in his life when he went away, Jesus had illuminated his spiritual vision through this encounter and Nicodemus was changed. He was changed so much so that he was able to become brave enough to care for the body of the dead Jesus. 
There are many people like Nicodemus, they have questions and they are not sure about Christianity, or who Jesus really is. Jesus taught Nicodemus something which changed his life. The same Jesus still surprises people today. Christians are those who have heard God’s knock on the door and are prepared to respond knowing that it is not the rent man. They trust that what is offered really is a gift and not a life sentence. 

Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of wind. The wind blows where it will. You can hear it, feel it, but you can’t predict or control it. How do some people come to faith and others don’t ? Are we able to give explain the work of the Holy Spirit ? The answer must be no. We all want to know answers which help people to believe, but they are not there. We want God in a box, but God won’t fit. Perhaps this is what W.H. Auden meant when he said it’s hard to be a Christian if you’re not something of a poet.
We do not get to know God by study, we won't find God on the internet, God isn't passed on from generation to generation, God isn't for the well educated, indeed Jesus said, that God hides from the wise and reveals to the simple !  Our part is very simple, one of faith and trust, and all are equal, there are no special places for the talented and gifted. 

Jesus reminded Nicodemus that in the desert Moses told the people of Israel to look at a bronze snake and they would survive snake bites. Those people in the desert didn’t understand how the bronze snake worked. It just worked and it became the source of life for them. All they had to turn was to focus on the snake. The cross of Christ is the same. I do not even begin to understand the atonement of God, or how the cross brings salvation to the world. Nobody knows how in the cross the enduring and overpowering love of God is at work to bring salvation to the world. Fortunately, we are not saved by explanations or understandings, we are saved by God. 

Medieval map makers located the spot on which the cross stood as the centre of the earth and then they arranged the rest of the world around it. That may not be great cartography but it is excellent theology. The cross of Christ is our theology, its what it is all about. Faith begins when we turn to Jesus and see in his death a vision of who God is. The death of Jesus on that cross assures us of his God’s good intentions towards us. We might not understand it but, because of the cross we trust that such a God has our best interests at heart. Charles Royden

Meditation

Martin Luther (1483-1546) The ideas of Martin Luther changed the church and influenced Christian thinking for centuries. He was sent to university by his father to train as a lawyer, but during a terrifying episode in a thunderstorm when a thunderbolt landed near him he said, ‘Help me Saint Anna, I will become a monk.’ He kept the vow and entered a monastery. Luther was terrified by his own sins and like other monks he shared in rituals of self mortification, extreme fasting, exposure to cold and beatings. He said that if anybody could have been saved by monkery it was he. However it was in the Bible that he found the teaching about what that makes people acceptable to God. It is not our own efforts to win favour, but faith in Christ. Forgiveness and eternal life are a gift from God, we are saved not by what we do, but by trusting in what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This teaching was not new, but often we all forget how willing God is to show love and mercy. Some of Luther’s prayers are shown below, read the first one with this meditation in mind and think how far he had understood his complete dependence upon God and not his own abilities.

Hymns

See hymn sheet

  1. Crown him with many crowns Tune Diademata

  2. Come let us sing of a wonderful love

  3. There's a wideness Tune Cross of Jesus

  4. Be thou my vision Slane

  5. Blessed assurance

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Behold Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen me. I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent that my love may go out to my neighbour. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether. O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you. In you I have sealed the treasures of all I have. I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor. I am a sinner; you are upright. With me there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore, I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give. Amen. Martin Luther

Come Lord Jesus be our guest, and may our meal by thee be blest Martin Luther

O God, graciously comfort and tend all who are imprisoned, hungry, thirsty, naked, and miserable; also all widows, orphans, sick, and sorrowing. In brief, give us our daily bread, so that Christ may abide in us and we in him for ever, and that with him we may worthily bear the name of ‘Christian.’ Martin Luther.

Deliver us, O Lord, from a deceitful heart. Forgive, we pray, the barbed word deliberately spoken; the thoughtless word hastily said and the envious look furtively cast. Forgive the ear rejoicing in the news of another's downfall; the feet loitering in forbidden paths and the grasping hand reaching out for personal gain; and all for the sake of Christ our Lord. Amen John Baillie, 1886-1960.

Lord God, you so loved the world that you gave your only Son so that we might have eternal life. Now we ask that you would help us in our daily lives to live for you in everything that we do, and not to be ashamed. Let our lives reflect the same mercy and goodness that you have first shown to us. Amen

Additional Material

I am not over fond of museums and when Corinne took Max this week to the British Museum I was pleased to be allowed to stay at home and work. However I am always impressed by Egyptian mummies. They show us how ancient people thought they might obtain everlasting life. Throughout history some have built pyramids, others have sacrificed their children, some have bowed before a variety of gods and prophets. However, Christianity has proclaimed that eternal life is found located through the actions of one alone, -Jesus Christ. 

If you look carefully at the crowds in the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, just occasionally you will see somebody with a banner on which is written ‘John 3:16’. the same verse is sometimes found written on motorway bridges or other places where Christians have decided that the message is more important than the obvious crime of criminal damage! It is one of the most favourite passages of all the Bible, because it answers the most basic human question which has occupied people of every civilisation in human history ‘how can we live forever?’ We are told that it is Jesus who saves the world, or perhaps more accurately ‘the Cosmos.’ The verse proclaims the importance of belief in Jesus as a means of securing eternal life and it forms a challenge following on from Jesus words that we must be ’born again.’ John Wesley said ‘If any doctrines within the whole compass of Christianity may be properly termed fundamental, they are doubtless these two, -- the doctrine of justification, and that of the new birth.’

Nicodemus was an important person in Jerusalem; he was a Pharisee who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. He came to Jesus secretly at night, perhaps not wanting to upset his friends by being too closely associated with somebody who was making enemies among the religious hierarchy. What belief he has in Jesus is linked to miracles, ‘We know that you are a teacher come from God, because no one can do these miracles which you do, unless God is with him’ (3:2). Jesus is not happy with this as a basis for belief. On the contrary he confronts Nicodemus with the need for a totally new beginning, radically portrayed as starting life all over again: ‘Unless you are born from above you cannot see the kingdom of God’ (3:3).

Nicodemus was confused because the Greek word ‘anothen’, used in this context, has a double meaning. It can mean ‘again’ or ‘anew’-but it can also mean, ‘from above.’ So the word can be translated either as being ‘born again’ or ‘born from above’. Nicodemus took it literally by focusing on the concept of human birth, instead Jesus tells him that he will need faith of a deeper level. The miracles are signposts which should point to the reality of who Jesus is. He is not a great teacher or wise leader, he is not a prophet or specially appointed person by God, Jesus is nothing less than God himself.

How the salvation of Christ will extend to the ‘Cosmos’ which is subject to the love of God - we do not know. How every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord—again we do not know. However it is for certain that it is in Christ and through Christ—and in him alone, that the searching of human kind for eternal life finds its fulfilment. Thank God, for I would hate to have to become a mummy. I leave you with one of the most wonderful verses of scripture to complement our reading.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9

Commentary

When Jesus tells Judas to get on with his terrible betrayal and do it quickly, the Gospel writer of John records (John 13:30) that Judas left the table and went off and ‘it was night.’ The deed was not made worse by the fact that it was dark outside, but the symbolism of darkness is used to give literary force to the story. So in the reading today from John 3, the writer again uses this method to give effect to his writing. We are told (John 3:1)
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night. Now some have suggested that the writer was making out that Nicodemus was afraid of being seen. He might have been, but it was this same Nicodemus who was later to make a bold statement of his support for Jesus (John 19:39)

And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.

It is probably fair to say that John uses the word ‘night,’ not to symbolise fear so much as a metaphor for moral and spiritual darkness. Nicodemus came to Jesus confused, searching and seeking for his own heart and mind to be illuminated by something which he perceived in Jesus.

The extraordinary thing was that Nicodemus was no fool. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee, a zealot for the law, a highly regarded teacher in Israel, a devout and well educated Jew. Nicodemus would have presumed that his future in God’s kingdom was guaranteed. Yet it was to this most exemplary Jew that Jesus says   ‘You must be born again.’

What does Jesus mean ? The following passage is taken from Ezekiel 36:25

Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Nicodemus would have known this passage and he would have associated it with the coming of the Messiah. The passage from Ezekiel is followed by a story about a valley of dry bones brought to life by the Spirit. Wind comes and brings flesh and sinew to the dry bones and makes of them living beings. Ezekiel speak of the dead rising and being brought to life. Jesus is therefore clearly telling Nicodemus that this time of cleansing and regeneration of the promised Messiah is now present. For centuries the Jews had believed that their privilege of birth, their race, circumcision and keeping of the law, made them superior over all others and specially selected by God. The words of Jesus contradict all of this and proclaim that what is needed to understand and enjoy the secret of everlasting life is faith in him.

This new birth through faith in Jesus is not brought to a particular race. God’s gift is spread about indiscriminately, just as the wind blows wherever it wills. Jesus makes it expressly clear that God has no favourites, God loves all people, the whole Cosmos, perhaps worlds we have not even seen. That love is nothing transitory or partial, it is a love so deep that God spares nothing, not even his son. If the quality of love could ever be measured by the value of a gift, then there is no greater love. Nicodemus would have been familiar with the concept of a loving God, but it was a Jewish God who had a special love for Israel. Now Jesus tells Nicodemus that God’s love is much broader than had ever been thought.

Later in this passage there is a reference to another Old Testament story, Jesus tells Nicodemus that just as Moses lifted up bronze snake, so he must be lifted up. it is worth reading the passage from Numbers 21 to understand what Jesus was saying.
The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
One day Nicodemus would see Jesus lifted up in a most brutal manner on a cross. Only when he saw Jesus in this way would the words of Jesus make complete sense. As the Israelites in the desert received new life when they turned to face the bronze snake, so all of those who turned to Jesus would find the new birth which Nicodemus searched for.

Jesus is saying that new life in him is possible for all. But it occurs not by any kind of outward conformity, but only by an inner change. Nicodemus would have believed in the importance of being born into the right family, of being a child of Abraham, Jesus makes it plain that there is no special privilege given to a particular race or culture, God’s gift of everlasting life is not hereditary. Only God is involved and there is no accounting for how God works, God is as unpredictable as the wind. Let’s finish by reminding ourselves of those magnificent verses which stand out so forcefully from the Gospel of John. Charles Royden.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Picture of Martin Luther For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. Rom 1:17

 

Meditation

Moslems are followers of the religion of “Islam” - a word that means ‘surrender’ or ‘submission to God.’ Across the world, people of the religion of Islam set out to pray five times during the day.

Before the start of prayer they prepare themselves and get into the right frame of mind. Preparation for prayer includes washing head and hands and feet - it is a sign of wanting to approach God in the right way, with the intention of being “clean” within. The prayer mat is spread towards Mecca in the east, a special place of worship. Barefoot, the Moslem stands on the mat and begins to pray from their holy book, the Koran. Prayer starts with words in the Arabic language that are translated as: “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” In humility before God, they then kneel and touch the ground with their foreheads, and say, “God is great.” Personal prayers are added.

One of the five duties of Moslems is to pray five times each day - at dawn, mid-day, afternoon, evening and night. One thing that Moslems and Jews and Christians have in common, is that many pray several times throughout the day - even if it is just for a moment each time. People find that this helps them realise that they live in God’s presence, and so their attitude is more likely to be positive and joyful and loving. 

Let’s spend a moment in silence - in common with many Moslems and Jews and Christians across the world - and simply call to mind that we are in God’s presence - in the presence of God who cares for and loves each individual… (pause…)

We’ll use as our prayer some words written by the father-in-law of Mohammad: 

I thank you, Lord, for knowing me better than I know myself. I thank you for letting me know myself better than others know me. Make me, I ask you then, better than they suppose I am, and forgive me for what they do not know. Amen.

Hymns

  1. At the name of Jesus
  2. Jesus put this song into our hearts
  3. Tell out my soul
  4. Will your anchor hold
  5. Fight the good fight

Lenten Prayers taken from Methodist Worship

Christ, Son of the living God, who for a season laid aside the divine glory and learned obedience through suffering: teach us in all our afflictions to raise our eyes to the place of your mercy and to find in you our peace and deliverance. We make our prayer in your name. Amen.

Merciful Lord, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty and merciful God, you hate nothing that you have made, and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts, so that when we turn to you and confess our sins, we may receive your full and perfect forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 51 Have mercy on me, O God, in your constant love; in the fullness of your mercy blot out my offences. Wash away all my guilt, and cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Give me the joy of your help again and strengthen me with a willing spirit. Amen.

The Following prayer is used for the Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday:

Almighty God, you create us from the dust of the earth. Let these ashes be for us a sign of our repentance and a symbol of our mortality. may we always remember that by your grace alone we are given eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.