a Sermon for Lent 4B
Text: John 3:14-21
this is loving the world?
There are three reactions people have to this part of Scripture: [from least likely to most likely]
- 3) Not this one again!
- 2) Oh! That’s what John 3:16 says!
- 1) Huh?
The third chapter of John begins this way:
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ (vv. 1-2)
This man, let’s call him Nick, comes to Jesus and asks a pretty solid question. Jesus calls Nick a “teacher of Israel” (v. 10), implying that this man has a very important stature. But Nick doesn’t seem to understand what Jesus is teaching him, and worse, doesn’t show up when his buddies or students can see him. He comes to Jesus at night. So, for clarity, let’s call him Nick @ Night.
So Nick @ Night asks these questions and Jesus gets frustrated because this guy is being so literal and so clearly misses the point of Scripture and of Jesus’s teaching. So Jesus starts telling him about the Son of Man, the Human One, who is a light in the darkness. He also teaches that the people “loved darkness rather than light”. Darkness is a place for hiding and evil deeds. He calls the people’s deeds evil because they are done in the darkness and done so they “may not be exposed.”
This pericope describes a pretty dim view of humanity and seems to reinforce that evangelical obsession with sin. Jesus seems to say people start out full of sin and start out as fundamentally evil.
that we believe babies are evil?
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time with that. A blogger friend posted a picture for Ash Wednesday of a sleeping baby with a cross of ashes on his forehead. He pasted a thought bubble on the picture that read:
I really don’t know what I’ve supposed to have done wrong. I’m only a baby.
What was effective about the picture is that it demands compassion for the baby and exposes the cruelty, not of God, but of our own systems of condemnation, from the heretical sin of the flesh argument to the trap of our own logic.
When we post simply “John 3:16” or its text on signs, we believe we are simply stating a summation of faith:
‘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.
But we turn around and use it as a weapon of division and of adherence. We say that this is what faith is all about
belief in God,
grace from God, and
going to heaven.
and we reject all other parts of faith, particularly mission and our work to heal the brokenness around us. We reject our part in bringing the Kingdom of GOD closer.
Jesus exposes Nick @ Night to the light. Because Nick is working in darkness. He is supporting oppression. He is stuck in the literal and legal mindset of the Pharisees. And he comes to represent that oppression, that evil, the darkness in himself.
it’s about good, not evil
Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t stop at 3:16:
‘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. (v. 17)
Jesus isn’t about condemnation. He then describes the lay of the land as being in darkness; that people, ostensibly all people, are condemned. But Jesus isn’t about condemning. Jesus is the light, not the dark. Jesus is not condemning. We can’t hit that point enough.
This pericope isn’t about condemning humanity or obsessing over sin. It is about Jesus being the light in the darkness. It is also about Jesus attracting us to the light, that we might be exposed to it and that our actions might be done in goodness.
Jesus isn’t just the light in metaphor, but our focus. He is the very eyes that influence our actions. It is in focusing on the light that we know what is right.
Jesus exposes Nick @ Night’s problem with the light/dark teaching. Nick doesn’t just come to Jesus in the physical darkness, but he stays there emotionally. He willfully directs his attention from Jesus’s teaching and to his received teaching. He is devoted to his own systems. Jesus then teaches that good comes from the light. Nick’s own action is to turn from the light to obsess about the darkness; to turn his eyes from the light to the dark. We can’t see the light and the dark at the same time. His own actions condemn him to the darkness by being of the darkness and not directing himself toward the light.
so that we might see The Way
The obvious impact for us is this: focus on Jesus. Not the systems of the world or even the church. His way is the way of the light. It is transparency and direct conversation, not gossip and hidden chit-chat. It is love. It is compassion. It is feasting. And joy. It is living among these things.
It is also about not obsessing about the dark. It is attractive to post 3:16 without 17 and easy enough to see our faith as simply a belief system of good behavior and of professing specific beliefs. I assure you it is not. Without actual focus on Jesus, it is action done in darkness.
For us, as individuals and as St. Paul’s we are being called by Jesus to come to the light, continuously and forever called: come here. Because we aren’t of the light, but travelers to the light. We move to the light. We uproot ourselves from out there—in the wilderness—and we go to Jesus.
This is the crux of our eternal life, a vibrant, present, moving, inspired life in the vision of Jesus. It is now.
We receive this message in Lent, this time of self-examination, that we might see what Jesus is doing; that we might turn to Him; and that we might follow.
Follow the light into this beautiful world.