Lectionary Passage: John 3: 14-21
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “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. “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. Those 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. 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. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But 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.”
It’s the “elephant in the room”, so to speak, this third verse of the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel According to the writer we know as John. It’s on street corners and marquis, T-Shirts, football helmets, and sometimes painted on faces at sporting events. It is often taken as the quintessential “insider” verse, the badge of honor for the believing Christian. It is often interpreted as “God came; God came to save me and the rest of you are on your own.” But keep in mind that this Gospel was written later than the others. To be a follower of Christ, a person of The Way, was just downright hard. You were NOT an insider. You were NOT the Christian majority that we so comfortably enjoy. You were part of a fledgling and sometimes persecuted minority that was just trying to hold it together. So, these words would have been words of encouragement, words of strength, a way of defining who they were as a Jewish minority. It was a way of reminding them why they were walking this difficult (and sometimes dangerous) path—because of the great Love of God.
But in the hands of the 21st century Christian majority in our society, these words sometimes become weapons. They turn into words of exclusion, designating who is “in” and who is “out”, who is acceptable in “honest society” and who is not. Well, first of all, nowhere in the Gospel are we the ones called to make that determination. And secondly, look at the whole context of this Gospel by the writer known as John. It starts out with Creation. It talks about this great Love that is God, a love that was there from the very beginning. And it proclaims that God came into the world to save the world. So how did we interpret this that God had quit loving some of us, that some part of humanity was more worthy of God’s love than another?
The Truth (that’s with a capital T) reminds us that God offers us Life, that God, in effect, DID come into the world to save us—mostly, I would offer, from ourselves, from our misdirected greed, our disproportionately selfish ambition, and from our basic desires to be something other than the one who God has called us to be. God desires this for everyone. God really does want to save the world from the world. And so the Kingdom of God seems to us to sometimes be inching in far too slowly rather than pervading our world. I think that the world DOES need to somehow be moved to believe, DOES need to somehow begin to see itself anew. After all, we need to overcome ourselves, overcome all of those misdirected desires. But that will never happen if the cross is raised as a weapon. SURELY, we get that it’s something other than that! Remember, God redeemed it. God took something so loathsome, so foreboding, so, for want of a better word, evil and turned it into Life. God is doing the same for the world. God loves the world so incredibly much that God would never leave us to our own devices (or even, thankfully, to those of who count ourselves as well-meaning believers!). Instead, God comes into the world and offers us life; indeed, loves us so much that God offers us recreation, redemption, and renewal. Don’t you think THAT’S the story? It’s not about who’s in or who’s out. It’s about Love. It’s a promise that there’s always more to the story than what we can see or fathom or paint on a sign. To say that we believe does not qualify us for membership; it leads us to The Way of Life.
My, my…this sanctuary is going to get crowded if we open the doors to everyone! How about that? Perhaps it’s time we deal with the elephant taking up all this space so there will be room for all!
Wow! Do you believe that this Season is half over? We have spent a lot of time in these twenty days exploring our own spirituality. What if in the next twenty days, we explore what that spirituality means, what it means to reach out to others, to BE who God calls us to be. Let us start on this twenty-first day of Lenten observance by thinking about what that means to open our doors to all. What comforts and expectations would we have to drop from our understandings?
Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,