Scriptures: RCL – Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:14-21
Let us pray:
Spirit of God, speak to our hearts and summon out what you would have us be. With these words and all our meditations, guide us into the Way Everlasting, Amen.
How many of you have memorized, heard a hundred times, or seen homemade placard signs that say “John 3:16?” It is probably one of the best known Bible thumping quotes of all time. It has almost become a badge for some people to prove they are members of the Kingdom of God. But what is it really saying? I will try not to bore you with yet another sermon on this passage, but it does bear looking at. Commentator Paul Shupe wrote,
“In a time when world leaders routinely invoke the language of good versus evil, truth versus falsehood, and light versus darkness, justifying acts of war and terrorism because “we” are good, true dwellers in the light of revelation, while “they” are evil, deceitful dwellers in the dank caverns of ignorance, we cannot read these verses with anything like simple, straightforward comfort…
For God so loved the world [Greek “Cosmos”]… It is possible to read the whole of Scripture, from the creation to the eschaton, as God’s love story for the world. It was, after all, love that stirred God’s heart at the pleading of the slaves in Egypt, and love that offered them both the guidance of the law and the security of the promised land. Thereafter, whenever inequality or injustice threatened the welfare of the poor and the powerless (and therefore the whole people), God’s love raised up prophets who declared God’s desire for compassion—shown not just to insiders, but also to sojourners and foreigners within Israel.
It was divine love, stronger than well-deserved judgment, 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, God’s Son, to be incarnate in the world, where he taught that love is not merely for those who look and think and believe like us, but even for our enemies and those who persecute us. It was love that stirred the first-century church to open the doors of communion not only to Jews but also to Gentiles, not only to those deemed worthy but also those whose very existence was troubling: the halt, the lame, the blind, the eunuchs.
Even in our own day, when established powers have sought to limit God’s love by the exclusion of others from full participation in the community, divine compassion for the oppressed and divine passion for justice have called forth prophets to declare that God’s love includes all, regardless of age or race, nationality or creed, gender or sexual orientation. The cumulative weight of the biblical record and the multifaceted experience of salvation within the contemporary church seem clear: God so loves the world …”
But we must move on from this well-known verse. We need to jump to the lesser-known parts of this passage, verses 19-21 and the Greek word for judgment (19). The Greek word is krisis, from which we get our English word “crisis.” Therefore, says Commentator W. Hulitt Glower, when Jesus, the light of the world comes, so too does the world come to a crisis-that is, a time of definitive decision-making. Neutrality is not a possibility. Gloer writes, “In love, God sent Jesus to save the world, but each person must decide whether to believe/obey and live in the light.”
So, where do you stand on this? Do you love the light? When the light comes, and it comes, what does it illumine in your life? What does it illumine in the life of this congregation? As the light shines in, on, around, within and among us, how then do we respond?
First, let’s take a look at the passage again: “For God so loved the cosmos” this includes the solar system, the Earth, its continents, the mineral kingdom, plant kingdom, animal kingdom, human species, and angelic realm of beings that live in, on, and around, the earth, and everyone here in Trout Lake no matter what religious or non religious persuasion they may hold as their personal way of life or belief system.
“For God so loved the [cosmos] that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Now here is the tricky part. How can God love the whole world and want eternal life for everybody on it if they won’t believe in God’s son? Following that, we have this part: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Now what do we do with that? Turn around and say God’s universal love for the world is now taken away from folks who don’t follow Jesus and is reserved only for those who do? It is not hard to see why ideological and theological understandings differ on this by personal and denominational leanings. All I can say is, far be it from me to be a gateway – or a stumbling block – of who or what God chooses to love or not love. That is not up to me, that is completely God’s choice. My place, and arguably every Christian’s place, is to love God, and by extension, love all that God has made, treating the world and others with the utmost of care since they – and we – are all loved by God to begin with. If God so loved the world, then every free-willed human being – of all religions or no religion – all are still loved by God.
“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Remember from earlier the word “judgement” is actually krisis or, crisis; a moment where definitive decision-making must take place. So here is the crisis: Light has come into the world. Do we bathe in its presence or do we hide in the shadows? Do we live and work with this light ever before us so that we never turn our face to the shadows? Or, do we turn away from the light, living and working with the light behind us? I might point out that if we turn our backs, the Light is still there – and we become the ones casting shadows. My prayer is this: may we in our lives of faith and service turn toward the Light that is the saving grace of God, the Light that has come into the world, the Light that is God’s Son Jesus Christ.
Amen? May it be so.
Questions for discussion:
Is there a time in your life when you have pointed the finger-and cast a shadow of darkness?
When do you shine most brightly – when in your life do you guide others into the Light?
Does your faith community welcome others of different perspectives from yours-those who may seem “scary” or “too different” to deal with – but those who are still searching for the Light?
Can you think of a time your faith community turned others away-either because of their differences or maybe inadvertently? How might you repair those potential relationships?
What specific changes in your life as a faith community or in your personal life that you could become more welcoming, and thus turn toward and share the Light of Christ?
Talk with one another and come up with two specific things you will do in the next month that show forth the Lord’s glory in your life, work, and fellowship.
 Shupe, Paul. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.
 Gloer, W. Hulitt. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.