theolog cabin

Hosted by semfem, this is a warm, cozy place to curl up and ponder theological matters.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

March 28, 2003 (Lent 4B)

[preached in my preaching class at the Vancouver School of Theology]
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21 (primary text)

I wrote this at the last minute...I wasn't especially proud of it then, nor am I now, but you can click the time link below to read it.

I’m sure you all know John 3:16, from signs at football games and street corners. So let’s repeat it all together, just to make sure we all have it down cold.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Okay, now on to John 3:17! Let’s hear it!

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world in order to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Hello, what’s wrong, don’t you know this one?

It’s a sad fact that in our culture, people often know John 3:16 (or at least its beginning), but never know John 3:17. Maybe it’s that looming C-word-- “condemn.” We like the picture of the bearded Father in heaven with the whole world in his hands, dandling the earth like a child on his knee, cradling it tenderly and loving it dearly. We like the image of the loving Father, it either reminds us of our own fathers or what we hoped for in a father. Unfortunately, the love of John 3:16 is not a mooshy love, not the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams. It is a love of pain, of seeing your beloved enter a realm of rejection and embarassment, a love that dares to go beyond our wildest dreams and radically change what it means to be the world.

The world for John is not the blue and white sphere of fragility and beauty that we think of post-space race. It is not the creation. It is not God’s body. It is a place of disbelief, a place where lightness and darkness are not clearly distinguished, a place of rejection, a place of struggle and challenge. It is a place where Jesus is destined to find only rejection and bitterness and death.

But it is a place that God loves. How does God love it? God loved the world like this. That God came and dwelt among the world, and loved it to the end, and by dwelling in it sought to save it from itself. God loved it not to condemnation or judgment, but took the unwalked path and loved it through to eternal life, overturning what it thought was truth. The world’s false truth was its condemnation, but the condemnation came not through another but through itself.

The judgment came through the darkness of the world; those who did evil sought the darkness. But evil seems to have no regard for darkness today. Evil can flaunt itself, disguised as truth, on the city streets, in the public squares, in the corporate headquarters, in the words of our CEOs and Presidents and Prime Ministers, in the actions of our neighbors and enemies and friends, in the gestures of our pocketbooks and vehicles, in the advertisements of our magazines, in the mouths of our parishioners and colleagues. Evil is not always exposed. Evil does not always seek darkness. Evil whitewashes itself to deceive a black and white world. Evil knows that we--the world--will mistake it for truth.

Evil does not know that even the polarized language of John is about to be overturned in the person of Christ. Evil does not know that even a small glimmer of light that cannot be overcome is enough to cross the boundaries and see the truth struggling to take shape. Even those who are of the world, those who reject and seek to destroy, do not yet know that their rejection only strengthens the glimmer of light. Jesus’ choice of Judas appears to destroy him. Like the snake in the wilderness, he is lifted up on the cross to be broken and left for dead.

But the world does not yet know that what was meant to snuff out the light only turns up the intensity, putting a spotlight on the cross, putting a spotlight at the tomb on Easter, putting a spotlight on the one who seemed to be overcome. Suddenly the identity of Christ could be no clearer. Lifting up a man on a cross has been twisted into lifting a beloved Son into his Father’s embrace.

And as love has been twisted into sacrifice, death will be twisted into life, darkness will be twisted into light, and the world, the world too will be twisted into life, not by mere belief but by being illuminated. For this is how God loved the world, that life was sought and achieved for all. Amen.