God Loves the World

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Lent 4, Year B, March 15, 2015

Numbers 21.4-9; Psalm 107.1-3, 17-22; Eph. 2.1-10; John 3.14-21

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson


Grace to you and peace from the One who has been lifted up on the cross, and up from the grave, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

There was a woman by the name of Julian of Norwich (14th Century) who had a vision from God concerning the world.  In this vision God shows her the world the size of a hazelnut (which is a nut about this size) in the palm of her hand.

Julian later reflected: “I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that because of its littleness it would have suddenly have fallen into nothing.  And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God (Sundays and Seasons, pp.132-133).”

In our Gospel reading today we hear words of Jesus, “For God so loved the world…”

To know it’s Jesus who is speaking we need to back up a bit and find out that he is continuing a conversation with a man named, Nicodemus.  Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark and wants proof that he is really from God.  In common Jesus’ fashion, he doesn’t give him a direct answer, but rather speaks about himself in a way that invites Nicodemus deeper into the story and mystery of God.

“The Son of man must be lifted up…God loves the world…believe…eternal life…light.”

These words of Jesus that reveal truth about God are beautiful.  They draw us into the being of God and lets us rest there in comfort and peace.

At the same time, we have words from the lips of Jesus in our Gospel reading today like, condemnation and judgment.  Sometimes our ears don’t even pick up on the beauty of what God offers us—eternal life, love, light—because we tend to narrow in on scary words like, “they are condemned already,” and, “this is the judgment.”

We start to wonder whether or not we’re already condemned and we think of God as an angry judge swooping into the world to punish us for all of the things we have done or left undone.  We tend to focus on me, verses what God has done for me.

Let’s talk frankly about this “condemned” word.  99% of the time people think it means ‘going to hell when you die.’  This could not be further from what John, the Gospel writer, and Jesus mean by condemned.  What condemnation really means in John is that it is not knowing Jesus; it is not being in relationship or communion with God in this life.

Nicodemus did not “know” Jesus.  He was in the dark.  He let his skepticism, his education, his high position in society, his reputation, get in the way of truly knowing the One who would be lifted up on the cross for his sake and the sake of the world.

We too can let things get in the way of really knowing the love of God in Jesus.  “I’ve done too many horrible things.  It can’t be proven so I won’t believe.  There is too much crap that goes on in the world so God could not possibly love it or me.”

Over and over again we condemn ourselves.  We think God condemns us, but hear it again from Jesus, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world (or you), but in order that the world (and you) might be saved through him.”

In all of the world’s pain and suffering, God still loves it.  In all of our sinfulness, God still loves us.

Like condemnation, eternal life is not just something that begins after you and I die; Jesus offers it to you and me again and again.  It begins in this life by knowing him, by being in relationship with him, by letting him love you and transform your life.

This happens by letting the light and love of who Jesus is cast your shadows of darkness away and it has to do with judgment.  Well, what do I mean by that?

Here’s an example.  I have noticed that Gabriel really hates to have the sun shine in his eyes.  He squints, shakes his head back and forth like he’s trying to escape the light, and eventually if I don’t move him out of it, he starts to cry.

It can be the same way when the light of Jesus shines on us revealing our secrets, our deeds, and all those things we want to keep hidden in the dark.  Our natural reaction is to push away the light that reveals the skeletons that we all have in our closets.

Think of it this way…What is the most awful thing you have said or done or thought?   What are some of your secrets you want no one else to know?

Now think about me knowing that about you.  Think about people in this chapel knowing it.  Now think about Jesus already knowing it and unconditionally loving you anyway.

Naturally, we want these things to stay hidden.  We convince ourselves that Jesus or others couldn’t possibly love us if they only knew.  We’d rather stay in the darkness we create rather than let Jesus love us fully into the light.  This is how the light is judgment.  It is a natural consequence of Jesus coming near, coming close to you and to me.  This can cause both comfort and discomfort.

The light is not good news to everyone because many desire to remain in darkness. We are afraid of being exposed, afraid of change, afraid to let ourselves be loved.

Jesus says, “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world…for all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.”  Judgment is our own moment of “krisis” of whether or not we choose to enter into life-giving relationship with God and let the light of Christ dispel our darkness.

Jesus invites Nicodemus and all of us here today to let the light of who he is transform and change us.  To not be afraid of judgment and not condemn ourselves.  To let Jesus in your life is to deal with those secrets, the things you are ashamed of, the hurts you have caused others, the working of the forgiveness of others in your life.

Remember the words of John 1.5 – “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  The darkness is not greater than the love of God for you in Christ Jesus.

God has done no less than die for you and no more than allowing you the freedom to choose whether or not you want to live in the light of Christ, letting him love you and transform your life in ways you can only imagine if you’d only let him.

God is always trying to narrow the gap between you and God and dispel the darkness.  That is what the incarnation, God in the flesh in Jesus, is all about.  And in John, the incarnation is the saving work of God for us and for the world.  God’s motivation is love…love for you and love for the world.

Again in the words of Julian of Norwich, the world “lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being (including you and me) through the love of God.”