Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sermon - 4th Sunday in Lent

John 3:14-21  

                                                                     Love the Darkness 

There is a section of C.S. Lewis’ popular book Mere Christianity in which he argues against folks who want to make of Jesus a good, moral teacher.  Lewis points out that Jesus does not qualify for such a designation.  You either have to be a follower of Jesus, or be honest enough to admit that he was at best a liar or at worst a flaming lunatic.

Jesus said he was the Son of God.  And every one of his so-called moral teachings emerges from this identity.  While it is possible that lunatics or liars can say some truthful or helpful things – you would not want to name them as an example of what we all ought to be.

So, stage one in this morning’s homily is establishing a baseline for whether we will identify Jesus as Messiah/Son of God – or if we are more inclined to put him in those uncharitable categories named by Mr. Lewis.  Tilt your head one way or the other – so I can get a feel for how the rest of this is going to go.  Jesus is who he says he is - - - Jesus maybe ought to be relegated to the margins.

Claiming to be God’s Son isn’t the only outrageous thing that Jesus says.  Look at this morning’s reading from the 3rd chapter of John.  Verse references are omitted, so let’s look by lines.  Go to line 4, the very last word, and read that phrase:  “and people loved darkness rather than light.”

Which way did you tilt your head?  Does this statement by Jesus sound rational/reasonable?  WHO? would love darkness over light?  Is Jesus a liar?  A lunatic?

Perhaps you didn’t stop reading where I did.  Maybe you remember the rest of the verse or sentence.  Jesus says they preferred darkness because their deeds were evil.  And we might naturally assume that “evil people” would shun the light and remain in the shadows.  Jesus doesn’t seem so prone to exaggeration or lunacy when we heard his words as a call to discipleship.

Or does he?

Let’s remember what Jesus’ call to discipleship is about.  Let’s not forget the liturgical season in which we find ourselves and that Good Friday and Golgotha are the destinations upon which Jesus has set his sights.

This great and respected moral teacher said that his disciples are those who abandon mother and father and follow.  This highly regarded motivational speaker once said that if you have two coats you are to keep one and give the other one away.  This lunatic said that the only way to save one’s life is to sacrifice it.

The only time Jesus’ words don’t sound like a lie or the rantings of a severely disturbed mental patient are when we strip his words of their bite and refashion them into pretty little phrases suitable for posters we can tape to the wall.

I do regret, every time I sense that a sermon is turning angry or accusative.  Usually, I write such sermons Saturday and then wimp out on Sunday morning when I look at the faces of the lost and lonely little lambs who have come in hopes of a ray of good news.  I want to say nice things, I really do.  And I will.

Look again at our Gospel reading.  John 3:16 is perhaps the most popular of all biblical verses.  And John 3:16 is the ultimate ray of hope and good news.  God does so love the world, that he gave his only Son.  So that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

It is very unfortunate – extremely unfortunate – that the second half of that sentence is too often interpreted as a condition.  This good news comes our way IF we meet whatever definition the interpreter gives to what it means to believe.

But keep on reading.  Jesus says that the Son does not come into the world to condemn, but to save.  These verses to do speak of a God cruel enough to dangle something before our eyes and then point out why we can’t have it.  It is a statement of a reversal of what humans have eventually done with every religious tradition.  It is a statement which destroys the attempts to recast God as a vengeful hater of the very ones whom he has created.  “For God so loved the world….”

Then comes this tricky part, where we find that reference to people loving darkness rather than light.  This tricky part is confusing, and it goes contrary to so much of what we are accustomed to hearing that we forget this part or dismiss it or overlook it.

I prefer translations of the bible which are literal – meaning they don’t clean up the language for us.  But a paraphrase of these verses might be helpful.  Isn’t Jesus saying that condemnation comes to those would rather trust in their own world-view than embrace the way of the Son?  Are not these verses almost a tearful acknowledgement that the way to salvation and eternal life and happy life is right before us – but we still tend to choose a different path.

Which way did you tilt your head?  Are you inclined to think of Jesus as who he says he is?  Or would you rather relegate him to the margins?

Jesus did say – If you have two coats give one away.  There weren’t IRA’s or Pension Plans or 501(k)’s in his day, but if they had existed I think we all know what Jesus might have said.

Which way did you tilt your head?  Jesus speaks roughly to the Gentile woman who asked for her daughter to be healed, but then goes on to admire her faith.  He tells an adulteress things he won’t say plainly to the religious leaders in the Temple.

We don’t need to ask what Jesus would do - we know what he would do -when faced with protecting himself or potentially harming another. 

The judgement does not come from on high to descend upon us.  “This is the judgement, 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.”


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