Andrew Thompson (Fairborn, OH)

Warm-up Questions

  • Do you have any go-to Bible verses or catchphrases that ground you?
    • If so, what are they and what difference do they make in your day-to-day life?
    • If not, what are some meaningful phrases you have encountered in popular culture that seem important to people? Why do you think those phrases touch their hearts?

Pieces of the Puzzle

One of my favorite activities to do with my family is putting a puzzle together. We have so much fun working on a common goal. We have conversations inspired by puzzle’s sought-after image or other things that are going on in our lives while laughing, and sitting, and being together.

In our ever-accelerating world where we are regularly bombarded by various news updates, social media posts, and snippets of so many stories happening across the globe, I find it refreshing to focus on one puzzle. Together, with those I love, looking at each piece with interest and seeing how it all comes together towards a broader picture is comforting.

On social media, I often find myself feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content out there. Posts simultaneously open my eyes to perspectives across the globe and yet seem to keep such happenings to surface level engagement. Through social media, I similarly feel tempted to reduce the complex stories of real, living breathing human beings to 240ish-character-max posts.

I like to think that such reduction is done not out of a lack of interest or care but because the size of the puzzle being presented. The whole interconnected world is presented on our news feeds! It seems there are too many pieces to really value each story on the level that they deserve. I have felt the need to compartmentalize what was being presented simply to try to make sense of the huge amount of data I was inputing into my brain, seeing how the stories I received connected with my own story and with God’s unfolding story of life.

Discussion Questions

  • In what ways are you staying connected to this vast, interwoven world?
  • Have you found ways to zoom in on a particular piece of this digital “puzzle?” If so, what are those practices and what difference have they made in your journey?
  • Do you ever step away to take a break from such digital “puzzling?” Why or why not?

Third Sunday in Lent

Numbers 21:4-9

Ephesians 2:1-10

John 3:14-21

Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

This Gospel lesson wraps up Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, who was one of the religious leaders of the day. Nicodemus had come to Jesus under the cover of night, likely because Jesus had already created quite the reputation with the religious establishment—driving merchants from the temple with a whip and saying that he will raise the temple back up in three days after its destruction will do that. In this late-night life chat, Nicodemus affirms that Jesus is “a teacher who has come from God,” and continues to ask him questions.

This interaction leads to one of the most quoted and memorized scriptures of all time, John 3:16. Whether on signs created by sports fans, stenciled onto a quarterback’s face paint, amplified in online bios, or is one verse that is drilled repeatedly in Sunday School, this verse is widely appreciated as a distillation of Christian faith. Indeed, “God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

I wonder what would have happened if this was the only verse that we ever received. For instance, the verbs that describe God’s activity in this verse are all in the past tense. God loved and God gave. Important, life-changing actions for sure. Yet, if we only find refuge in this one verse alone, we may walk away with a picture of God as One who acted once upon a time and then went on God’s merry way. Fortunately, the faith we have been given testifies to a more active story to dwell in and live out of than that. Jesus reveals God’s ongoing love for this world!

Like the puzzles with my family, we can look at other pieces to get a broader picture. As we zoom out and dive deeper into this passage, God’s good news comes alive even more. Adding just the next verse to the mix reveals that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” This verse calls into question the more judgmental expressions of our faith. That reminds me of a post I read years ago on a newsfeed that said “if God did not send Jesus to condemn the world, I am sure that God did not send [us] to do so either.” Can I get an amen?

Looking further beyond these two verses offers us insight upon insight as well. For instance, verses 14-15 provide an important link between Jesus’ ministry and the Jewish tradition that was his spiritual home. Verses 18-21 remind us that, even amidst injustice, God is still moving and still loving and still sustaining this world. These puzzle pieces can inspire us to faithful action, like ongoing interfaith relationships with our Jewish siblings and works of service for our neighbors.

There will always be moments, verses, stories, and snapshots that ground us and motivate us. When we take a chance to zoom out, we can notice even more of what God is up to in these well-worn verses. Just like John 3:16, reading more of the story helps us to appreciate those verses even more because we can see the pieces connect to the bigger picture. As we continue through this Lenten season, I invite you to reflect on the pieces of the puzzle of scripture that especially captivate, comfort, and motivate you in your day-to-day life.

Discussion Questions

  • Are there any stories, verses, or testimonies that inspire you to live out the faith you have been given? What difference do they make in your life?
  • How do you think God is continuing to show love and generosity in the world today?
  • What are some specific ways God is continuing to show love and generosity through your actions in the here and now?

Activity Suggestions

  • This activity can be done as a group or individual journaling practice.
    • First, read one of your favorite Bible stories.
    • Next, write down any questions or curiosities that linger for you as you read the passage. What do you wish you knew more about this story? Pray and reflect on what God is stirring up in you.
    • Then, read one chapter before and one chapter after the story to get a zoomed-out view of the passage. What questions and curiosities do you have now?
    • Finally, continue to explore your questions and curiosities by discussing them with friends or mentors.

Closing Prayer

God who loved us and loves us still, through Christ you displayed that your deep compassion for this whole world never ends. We thank you for offering us testimonies through the Word and through our siblings in Christ that reveal your ongoing work for the sake of creation. Give us the courage to dive deeper into the stories we hear, discovering your presence and love that accompanies each of us every step of the way. We pray in the name of your Son, who gives us light and love: Amen.