Weekly Bulletin

July 31, 2022 Reflection for Sunday Morning Worship Sharing below-
 
THIS WEEK (125) of pandemic alterations
 
WEDNESDAY August 3     
 
 —Intercession Salad supper, 5:30 PM @ parsonage

No Sunday School Zooms this week
 –Monthly Meeting for Business, 7:00 PM by Zoom

SUNDAY August 7    
     
–Meeting for Worship-Sharing, 10:00 AM, both in person at the meetinghouse and online via Zoom
 
 
 
BULLETIN BOARD for JULY 31, 2022
 
AUGUST’s MONTHLY MEETING FOR BUSINESS will be held this Wednesday evening August 3 at 7:00 PM by Zoom or at the parsonage.  All Winchester Friends are urged to attend to hear reports on the church’s ministries and to help discern God’s leading for any resource decisions that must be made.  Let the church office know if you would like to get the Zoom invitation.
 
THE WELCOME CLASS BIBLE STUDY will not meet this Wednesday August 3 due to August’s Monthly Meeting for Business.  They will next meet on Wednesday August 10 at 7:00 PM by Zoom to study Lesson 7 “True Vine” in the Illuminate quarterly, drawn from John 15 and 17.  Everyone is welcome — please request the Zoom link from the church office.
 
READ THROUGH THE BIBLE IN 2022:  This week’s chapters are II Kings 20-25, Zephania 1-3, Habakkuk 1-3, Obadiah, and Jeremiah 1-8.  The year’s daily reading schedule is available on the parlor table.
 
PANDEMIC REQUESTS:  Randolph County is in the red (high risk) zone on one agency’s chart, and in the orange (medium risk) zone on another agency’s.  Mask-wearing remains optional but recommended while seated in the sanctuary during worship.  Please keep masks on when moving around the room, speaking with others, etc. 
 
THANK YOU to the Friends who assisted with yesterday’s memorial service for Judy Longnecker, to those who prepared and served the excellent lunch to her family afterwards, and to the Longneckers for sharing the beautiful flowers in the sanctuary with us today.
 
SUMMER READING:  The Book Discussion Group will discuss their favorite reads of July and August on Monday August 29 at 7:30 PM. 
 
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN $10 bills are available to Friends willing to carry them until led by the Spirit to share it with someone needing a bit of help and a reminder of God’s love.  See Ron Ferguson to obtain one.
 
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Winchester Friends Church        winchesterfriends@juno.com
124 E Washington     Winchester IN 47394     765-584-8276
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July 31, 2022 Reflection for Sunday Morning Worship Sharing on Zoom and in the Meetinghouse

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.           
Jesus to Nicodemus, John 3:5-8
 
Born of the Spirit
 
Toward the end of our years in Uganda, Pam and I met and became friends with Grace, a Ugandan woman who had for several years worked with the Christian ministry Prison Fellowship.  That is the organization started by Charles Colson of Watergate fame after spending time in prison for his involvement in the Nixon administration cover-up.  Grace had won the trust of officials at the infamous Luzira Prison on the outskirts of Kampala and was leading Alternatives to Violence Project trainings for both inmates and prison staff members there.  Our Mennonite Central Committee office made some grant money available to her program for that training, and also for providing hand tools for vocational carpentry classes she was sponsoring for the prisoners.  In appreciation for that funding, we were invited to tour the prison’s carpentry workshop and other facilities.  In conversation with the prison official who guided that tour, he learned of my two years of work as a spiritual advisor for a death row inmate in Idaho.  Before we left that day, we were invited to return a few weeks later to speak at a church service for the men on Luzira’s death row.
 
When we went back for that worship service, we were escorted through long, dark hallways towards what felt like the center of the prison complex.  At some point on that walk, we began to hear faint singing that got louder as we proceeded.  We finally were shown through a door into an open-air courtyard with coiled razor wire lining the roofline around its entire circumference.  Guards were stationed around the perimeter, and at least a hundred men in prison uniforms were gathered in the middle, singing hymns in Luganda with the polished sound of a trained choir.  The sincerity and passion of their singing made it difficult to believe that they were convicted murders, rapists, or political opponents of the government who had been sentenced to death.  I don’t recall exactly what I spoke about that day.  It took quite a while to say relatively little because every sentence had to be translated into Luganda, but I think I remember talking about Paul and Silas singing hymns in the jail at Philippi (Acts 16) to make the point that all the walls, bars, guards, and razor wire in the world could not keep God out of Luzira Prison if those men invited and welcomed his presence.  I do remember sitting there during “the formalities” of that service looking up at the razor wire and watching birds fly into those coils, perch on a wire, sing up a storm, and then fly away to sing to someone else.  They were a vivid picture of the Holy Spirit’s ability to be anywhere and everywhere, even when people think they’ve blocked his access.  That day at Luzira truly was a memorable experience for both of us.
 
I thought about Luzira a few weeks ago when the Wednesday evening Welcome Class Bible study had a lesson from the first half of John 3 that was partly based on Jesus’ nighttime discussion with Nicodemus.  In that conversation, Jesus told Nicodemus that the Holy Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it pleases – sort of like those birds.  Nicodemus was a member of the Pharisees party in the religious governance of Judah.  He evidently was a leading Pharisee since John wrote that he represented them in the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council in Jerusalem composed of high priests, elders, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees.  As a Pharisee, Nicodemus likely came from a line and tradition of Hebrew scribes (as contrasted with the Sadducees, who typically had ties to the inherited Hebrew priesthood).  My knowledge of what it took to be a Pharisee is very limited, but my understanding is that they spent years in rabbinical schools studying Moses’ law (Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy), plus all the enhancements and interpretations of that law written by respected Jewish scholars over the centuries since Moses lived.  They were like lawyers of the Law, and their main emphasis was on meticulously knowing, practicing, and enforcing even the smallest points of those regulations covering nearly every aspect of life.  Jesus was tougher on the Pharisees than on anyone else because their outward rule-following and rule-enforcing was so often a matter of pride that completely missed God’s intention for giving the Law in the first place.  Only a genuine spiritual awakening could change that.
 
Nicodemus met with Jesus at night most likely because it would have been scandalous for his colleagues to know he was having a serious conversation with the radical, uneducated teacher from Galilee.  He recognized that Jesus taught with a depth of inward understanding and authority that was absent from the instruction he received from his learned teachers.  He was stumped by Jesus’ statement about the necessity of being “born again” because for him, the Hebrew faith had always been a straightforward matter of knowing what the law books said and obeying it to live an acceptable outward physical life.  Birth applied only to the physical arrival of a baby into the world.  Righteousness resulted from study and performance.  Jesus invited him to discover and receive another kind of life which God from the very beginning created humankind to experience – the inward, spiritual life of union with our Creator, of infilling by God’s Spirit.  John did not tell us in John 3 what shape Nicodemus was in after that nighttime meeting. 
              I am aware of only two other appearances of Nicodemus in the narrative of the New Testament. In John 7, Jesus and the disciples traveled to Jerusalem for the harvest Feast of Tabernacles.  Jesus went into the temple courts to teach, and what he said impressed some of the crowd but infuriated the Pharisees.  They sent guards to arrest Jesus, but they came back emptyhanded saying “No one ever spoke like this man does.”  The Pharisees berated the guards until Nicodemus spoke up in their defense.  When he suggested that Jesus shouldn’t be judged until he had been heard, the leaders turned on Nicodemus with their insults and accused him of being a secret disciple. 
              Nicodemus doesn’t surface again until after Jesus was crucified.  Thankfully, John wrote in John 19:38-42 that Nicodemus came forward on the afternoon Jesus died and openly assisted Joseph of Arimethea in moving Jesus’ body to a new tomb in a garden near Golgotha.  Nicodemus contributed a large amount of the spices needed for a proper Jewish burial, and together he and Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body with the customary strips of linen.  They were able to complete that work in time to secure the body in the tomb before the Sabbath began at sundown.  There is no indication in the Gospels that their work was done in secret, so one could surmise that Nicodemus had awakened spiritually – been born again – sometime between his nighttime interview with Jesus and his unhidden ministry of compassionately caring for his body.  He no longer feared admitting that he was a follower of Jesus.
 
Joseph of Arimethea, the man credited with getting Pilate’s permission to take Jesus’ body from the cross to a tomb before Sabbath began, was wealthy (Matt. 27:57), a prominent member of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43), and a godly seeker who had opposed the Jewish leaders’ treatment of Jesus (Luke 23:50,51).  We’re not told whether he was a Pharisee, a Sadducee, or had some other qualification to be on the Council.  John wrote (19:38) that Joseph had become a disciple, but only secretly because he feared those leaders.  Similar to Nicodemus, the crucifixion of Jesus apparently became for Joseph a moment of decision.  To do what Joseph did meant he knew that he no longer could keep a foot in both camps, one ruled by the Law and human performance, the other led by the Spirit in the way of grace.  His decision to go to Pilate for permission to remove Jesus’ body, and his openly helping to bury it, surely risked his standing with both the Roman governor and the Sanhedrin.  He sacrificed financial resources by providing the tomb into which Jesus was placed.  It appears that he, too, had a spiritual awakening to a reality greater than the Law.  
 
Apostle Paul      Paul grew up in Asia Minor (now southern Turkey) in a devout Jewish family who determined fairly early in his life that he should be sent to the best schools they could access to train him as a scribe, one of those “lawyers of the Law.”  He ended up being taken to Jerusalem for mentoring by the top scribes and Pharisees, and it is thought that he was being groomed as a legal expert eventually to succeed the Pharisee leader Gamaliel.  Saul (Paul) was in Jerusalem when persecution broke out against the early Church and was present in a supporting role at the stoning death of the Christian leader Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:1).  Some time later, he was dispatched to Syria to round up Christ-followers and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial.  On his way there, Saul encountered that “reality greater than the Law” when a bright light from heaven blinded him and the voice of Jesus asked why he was persecuting him.  After three days of darkness to think it over, Saul went to an elderly Christian Ananias whom God had prepared to heal his eyes.  From then on, Paul used his vast learning in the Law as it was intended, to point people to the living inward reality of the Spirit’s presence that enables God to be known through relationship, beyond information.
 
George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, was raised and religiously trained in a devout Christian family in England in the early 17th century, but that training was primarily composed of information.  As a serious teenage believer and seeker, he spoke to clergy and elders, studied the scriptures, and explored every source possible in search of a spiritual reality that could help him to live in victory over his sinful selfishness.  Fox walked for months over a large portion of England looking for someone who could provide answers, but he found none.  At the point of absolute despair, his journal records that in a quiet, rural place he sensed a voice speaking to his soul saying “there is One, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to your condition.”  That birth of the Spirit in Fox changed the rest of his life, led to his unique and profound expression of Christ’s gospel, and attracted over 50,000 Friends in five years.
 
Marcus Borg (1942-2015) was an American theologian, Jesus scholar, author, and professor.  His biography tells of his upbringing and religious education in a conservative North Dakota Lutheran community.  He considered pursuing physics, math, political science, and philosophy in college but ended up studying at seminaries and doing a Ph.D. in theology.  In Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, he describes a progression during that long, elite education from being a conservative Christian Lutheran, to a liberal Christian student, to an agnostic, to a “closet atheist.”  Pam and I both searched this week for the source of this next statement but couldn’t find it — but we both remember reading it, so my apologies if I get this wrong.  After Borg arrived near the pinnacle of religious academia and “closet atheism,” a member of his family suffered a severe medical crisis.  Borg came to the stark realization that all the religious knowledge in the world didn’t offer any help to his family member, and he ended up in prayer to the God he had convinced himself didn’t exist, asking for mercy for his loved one.  I don’t remember how the crisis turned out, but the experience became for Borg a spiritual rebirth that changed the remainder of his career.  I don’t always agree with his theology or his interpretation of scripture, but his relating of that experience had the ring of authenticity that makes him worth reading.
 
We are living in a time and place in which many, many people operate, as Nicodemus was, on a Christianity of information, knowing things about God while never genuinely knowing the Lord in a living, interactive relationship.   The temptation to mimic that in this Information Age is immense.  Actually knowing God is far harder than pushing some buttons to gather information about him.  It requires time, submission, perseverance, and willingness to live with mysteries and unanswered questions.  The history of the Church is filled with followers of Jesus who insist that it’s worth it because it helps us and satisfies the soul’s longings in ways data never will.  Let’s be his friends, born of the Spirit.  Let’s be Friends.
 
–Ron Ferguson, 31 July 2022
 
 Queries for Worship-Sharing and Reflection
 
1)  Which of the spiritual awakenings in this essay are most similar to your own?  Is such awakening essential?

2)  How can we best help others to experience Christ’s real, transforming presence, beyond mere information?

3)  What are the “razor wire” barriers the enemy uses nowadays to try to block the Spirit from moving freely in us?

4)  What are the best ways we all in 2022 can maintain and sustain real and growing friendship with the Lord?
 

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Winchester Friends Church           765-584-8276
124 E. Washington St.      Winchester, IN  47394
www.winchesterfriendschurch.org
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