The Sunday school lesson tomorrow covers John 3:1-17, with an emphasis on being born anew/from above (my husband says it’s a play on words in Greek, difficult to translate) and John 3:16, that oft-memorized verse seen as a summary of the entire Jesus good news.
There are a lot of big ideas in this passage. I’m teaching eight- and nine-year-olds, though, and their minds are still pretty large. I’m having trouble with my own, however, feeling like I want the mind of a child to see these words anew.
Ability to take in and thoughtfully consider large ideas can and often does diminish with age, as the mind learns to categorize, label, tidily hang ideas up on mental pegs in labelled sections of the mental closet. An adult education instructor once told us, her WordPress students, that she would be teaching specifically to the adult mind, because it was so full, so actively working on practical, day-to-day and important mental tasks that it would actively shut out new ideas. So teaching adults was partly about convincing those full mental cupboards to open, that, yes, this information was important, multi-sensational, immediately useful, and would not be going away any time soon. It made me feel more patient toward my apparent dullness, that it was not simple forgetfulness or lack of mental acuity with which I grappled, but a biologically-driven effort of my mind to stick to the tasks that had hitherto been most important and not be distracted by new. Even that flush of recognition that she was right was part of the opening up that allowed me to pick up these new skills and concepts, and want more.
Nicodemus, Pharisee, Jewish leader, sneaks in to visit Jesus by night. Says he knows Jesus is a teacher from God and has God’s presence. Jesus cuts straight to what, apparently, Nicodemus needs to know: he must be born anew, this time of the Spirit. Those born of the Spirit, Jesus continues, are akin to the wind: it blows where it will, you hear it, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going. What did he mean by that? Those born by the Spirit (born anew/from above) can’t be recognized by the usual means, though they are somehow recognized just the same. They are free, their activities are mysterious, one senses them and sees the effects. When Nicodemus wonders at this, Jesus still doesn’t lay it out straight, only teases him for being a teacher of Israel and not understanding, tells him his people have experienced this and are telling about it, but the Jewish teachers/establishment don’t accept their accounts.
That’s as far as I can get with this for now. The next passage seems disconnected, or almost in a different voice, though it contains the famous John 3:16. I am intrigued with this wind-spirit passage (john 3:8); I’ve skimmed over it before, but now, there it is. That’s what I was hoping for in studying this in preparation for tomorrow, and now I’m ready to see what the children say about this. We must be born again, there is the life of the spirit, and believing (not a mere intellectual assent, but a trust and obey and live as a disciple version–as Eugene Peterson said, “A long obedience in the same direction”) in Jesus allows one to pass from the earthly, perishable kind of life into an eternal, spiritual life.
When it comes to talking about eternity, all the curriculum writers came up with was to show the kids something about taking forever by going really slow in a relay. I’m skipping that, because even an adult should know that’s not what eternal means–like a kind of waiting in a doctor’s office without any books or toys. I’m going to ask them to think of situations where a week takes forever (waiting for a birthday? a package in the mail?), and ones where it flashes by way too fast (last week of summer vacation? Special time with Dad?). I think eternal life in the kingdom of God is like the second, except it doesn’t go by too fast–the fullness and beauty and vividness and meaning just keep happening. And we’re not waiting around, but involved. That’s what I think. I might share that with the children, or maybe they’ll see it more clearly. I wouldn’t be surprised.