March 12, 2018
“For God So Loved the World” ~ sermon for March 11, 2018
Our New Testament reading this morning continues in John’s gospel.
In this passage Jesus is in conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus.
Nicodemus has come to Jesus in the night to question him and to try and understand who Jesus is.
He affirms that Jesus has been sent by God, because who else could do the things they have witnessed, however he can’t seem to grasp the spiritual ideas that Jesus presents.
Nicodemus is a concrete thinker, who interprets everything Jesus says literally.
We are invited to share in the spiritual imagery Jesus employs.
Hear now a reading from the gospel of John 3:14-21.
Here ends the reading of God’s holy word. May God add to our hearing and understanding, God’s blessing. Amen.
Please pray with me.
Steadfast God, you reach out to us in mercy even when we rebel against your holy call and prefer to walk in disobedience rather than in the way of your divine truth.
Soften our hearts with the warmth of your love, that we may know your Son alive within us, redeeming us and raising us up into your eternal presence.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
What is the most generous thing you’ve ever done out of love for someone?
Have you forgiven a debt or helped someone buy a house?
Maybe you’ve donated to charity or travelled to be with someone who needed you.
Perhaps you’ve sat up all night at the bedside of someone who is sick.
Maybe you’ve helped someone find their way to wholeness and healing with your love.
When we truly love someone there is almost nothing that we wouldn’t do for them.
Children, family, friends, neighbors – our generosity is extravagant when love is the motivator.
Most often, we feel good about these gifts because we know we are helping someone for whom we want the very best.
Perhaps you can remember a time that someone did something generous for you, out of love.
Sometimes these gifts are recognized, sometimes overlooked.
When God sent the snakes to bite the people who were complaining and then the bronze snake to heal them it was one of those mixed blessings.
On the borders of the Promised Land a generation who had never lived in Egypt (or, at least were too young to remember living there if they had) complained about the hardship of the wilderness and longed to “return” to Egypt.
Rather than looking to God for help and support, they yearned for something outside of God.
Hundreds of years later, Jesus uses the story of the plague of snakes that attacked these rebellious Israelites, and the bronze snake that God instructed Moses to erect for their healing, to describe the healing work he had come to do.
To find healing the Israelites had to “look up” to the bronze snake.
This was an act of repentance, turning their eyes from the fiery snakes, to the God who had cared for them for decades and now offered them healing.
Those who love darkness, says Jesus, will not look up to him when he is lifted up, because to do so would take repentance and an admission of their need.
Those who are unashamed and willing to come to the light will look up and find life.
A key to both stories is the willingness to admit those things that keep up from God and to trust that God will help us repent and restore us to wholeness.
Few people would admit to choosing to stay in the darkness.
Most, if questioned would profess to be a child of the light.
The reality, however is not so easy.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the Cherokee story of the two wolves:
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a
battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two “wolves” inside us all.
One is Evil.
It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is Good.
It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Which wolf do you feed?
Resisting evil or simply keeping your ego in check can seem daunting
until you realize that the answers are at hand.
God, who has loved us since the dawn of creation gave us the gift of his only begotten son, Jesus Christ.
God loves us so much that God was willing to send Jesus to help us reconcile our relationship with God.
It is only a few chapters earlier in John’s gospel that we are told that “the light came into the world and the darkness could not overcome it. “
There is darkness in the world…there will always be darkness….but there is also light.
We have been given the gift of light.
We know that a life of faith, dependence on a forgiving, merciful God is a key to wholeness.
The people who choose darkness over light are evident throughout our world.
Those who choose violence to gain power; those who choose to harm the environment for their own gain; those who disrespect their neighbors…these are the people of our time who live in darkness.
We gather in community to bask in the light.
Jack once asked me what I thought the most important part of our service is and I replied ‘the prayer of confession.’
My reason being that unless we are able to admit our need for God’s mercy, forgiveness and grace we will remain in the dark.
One commentator painted this dark picture for our fourth week of Lent:
“Denying our need for God is a destructive thing.
When we fail to acknowledge our brokenness and apologize for hurting others, relationships break down.
When we refuse to take responsibility for our own health, our own habits of eating and exercise, our bodies break down.
When we refuse to look at our finances honestly, and admit our tendency to spend what we don’t have, our peace of mind and our economic wellbeing breaks down.
When we refuse to look at our beliefs and recognize when they fall into self-righteousness, exclusivity, legalism, and judgmentalism our witness to Christ breaks down.
In every family and community the pain of denial can be easily recognized.
But, so can the healing and freedom that comes from honest repentance, true taking of responsibility, and committed work to change and do “good works”.
Every follower of Christ has a daily choice to live in the darkness of denial or the light of repentance.
We can choose to know the salvation of God’s healing and restoration, or stay in the poisoned wilderness of our own fear, pride, and selfishness.
This may sound harsh, but, it is only those who acknowledge their sickness who can find healing – as Jesus taught.
The call to repentance is not a “hellfire and damnation” message, but is an invitation to grace, to discover that there is nothing that can keep us from God’s restoring mercy, or from God’s liberating forgiveness.”
If we will just open ourselves to this truth, we will find the abundant life we seek by turning from our darkness, and moving into the light of truth and of God’s love.
Let our Lenten journey be one of repentance, reorientation and restoration.
Let us walk together, out of darkness, into the light that is meant to be our salvation.
Let us pray.
Gracious and holy God, we know that you are always present in our lives.
Help us to move beyond our own egos into communion with you and our neighbors.
Remind us, O God, that you created us out of love and that our purpose on this earth is to share that love with others.
When we are tempted to turn away from you, call us back into your light.
Help us to guide one another on this journey, providing care and comfort as we travel the path you have laid out for us.
Grant us the grace, we pray, to recognize the blessings in our lives and to use them wisely for the wellbeing of the world.
Hear our prayers this morning for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For our families and friends who have lost their way in the wilderness, we pray that your Holy Spirit will guide them out of darkness.
We pray for our leaders, that they might choose to feed the wolf of compassion and goodness rather than evil.
Hear now our silent prayers as we turn our hearts to you…