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Mar 11, 2018

God SO Loves The World

God SO Loves The World

Passage: John 3:14-21

Speaker: Father Will Lowry

Series: All

Category: All

Keywords: lent

It was God’s love that sent Jesus to be incarnate - it was the love that taught that tax-collectors, prostitutes, and sinners were God’s beloved too; not just those that thought and acted like us. It is God’s love that tells us to have compassion and affection for our enemies and those who persecute us.

For God so loved the world…. Back by popular demand. Of course the story told in today’s Good News from John is one of, if not the most well known fragments of scripture in the world. It has been ingrained into our culture again and again, over and over - from signs on TV to bumper stickers and t-shirts, to computer screensavers and billboards. But, it is important to remember it is just a fragment.

For God so loved the world… it has been used to build us up and tear others down. The emphasis put on “everyone who believes,” while comforting and self-satisfying for those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, is damning and harmful to anyone who dares to question the legitimacy of the remainder of this section of holy word-smithing.

We when take a deeper dive into this story from John we would do well to make sure we understand the context of what is happening here.

If we can collectively remember, this is a part of Nicodemus’ late night secret meeting with Jesus. Now, Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and a prominent one at that. He was a member of a group that was directly opposed to Jesus and most - if not everything - of what Jesus was doing and who Jesus claimed to be. To further connect ourselves to the moment, perhaps it would be helpful to imagine this meeting as something like Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi covertly meeting in the dead of night somewhere in a dark room in the depths of our nation’s capital. To be clear, I am NOT comparing either of them to Jesus (or Nicodemus for that matter). Just that they are diametrically opposed to each other.

So, Jesus is trying to help Nicodemus understand who He is. And to explain Jesus uses the example of what we call Numbers 21- where God uses a symbol of the very problem to be solved as the solution to the problem. Snakebite victims had to stare at the image of a snake in order to be healed (like some sort of immersion therapy I guess). So, in the New Testament we look to the very thing that frightens us the most - death - and somehow find there a path to an eternal life that means death no longer has the final word for any of us. Our “rebirth” is understanding that because of Jesus, we no longer have to fear death or the constructs of the world we use to instill fear and power.

What then follows in the next five verses is an explanation of what it means to do God’s will; for John, believing always = obedience. Therefore, we are condemned for not doing God’s will, not necessarily for erratic or shaky belief or for unbelief.  

It amounts to fear of the light rather than fear of darkness. Are we afraid of the light because it exposes us for who we really are? Light illumines our wrinkles, it makes shadows go away, it gives a clear picture of who we are.

But, thankfully who we are is created beings of God - we are perfect, sanctified, holy, corrupt, loving, inconsistent, and redeemable.…

God so loved the world…. It IS possible to read the whole of Scripture (not just fragments and phrases) and connect it all together. It is possible that God’s holy word - from creation to the eschaton - is a love story for the world. It was, after all, love that stirred God’s heart and mind to rescue the pleading captives in Egypt, and it was love that gave them guidance through the law and promised to not leave them, and it was and is love that was embodied in the Word made flesh that came and walked among us, and it was love that hung on the cross and Easters us each day and at our own deaths.

From each of these perspectives (creation, freedom from slavery, death, resurrection, salvation, and the final act of love) whenever inequality or injustice threatens the basic physical and material well-being of the poor, disenfranchised, and the powerless (by the way, that means all of us in some way or another) God’s love has raised up those who reveal again and again God’s desire for compassion for ALL people.

God so loved the world…. It was divine love, not well-deserved discipline that judged. It was God’s love that carried Israel during the time of exile, and the love of God that was celebrated with the psalms of adoration in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. It was God’s love that sent Jesus to be incarnate - it was the love that taught that tax-collectors, prostitutes, and sinners were God’s beloved too; not just those that thought and acted like us. It is God’s love that tells us to have compassion and affection for our enemies and those who persecute us. And it was love that stirred the first apostles and disciples to open the arms of the church to us, the gentiles - who had been deemed unworthy of God’s love and salvation.  

Today it is love that breaks down the barriers which seek to limit God’s divine love by exclusion of others - those not like us. It is love that still calls us to show transcendent compassion and care for the oppressed and the poor. It is God’s love that invites us to seek justice for the abused, for those who are discriminated against, and the oppressed.

The culmination of the whole of scripture - the story of God’s love for the whole world - says that the experience of salvation leads us to believe that God so loved the world….

And for me, that is enough to suggest that I should try to, too.

God so loved the world…. I am by no means God - but I am called to walk in the light. I am called to not limit God’s love. I am called to extend the radical grace, mercy, compassion and love of God to everyone - interpretations of John’s words be damned. Because if Christ is the light of the world then we are all in darkness and afraid of being exposed.

Darkness cannot hold back the light of Christ - God’s love is not in short supply. Rather, it is poured out abundantly - made to shine on the whole of creation - pushing back even the shadows that lurk in inconspicuous corners. Light always overcomes darkness - now and in the end because….

God so LOVES the world….