Christ the Light!

Christ the Light!

Readings:

Numbers 21:4-9

Psalm 107:1-3,17-22 

Ephesians 2:1-10

John 3:14-21 

Sentence:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3: 16

Collect: 

God of Light and Love, you come into the world not to condemn but to redeem; enter our lives, again, with your love, bringing new life, eternal and abundant, so that we, your servants, may show light and love to others. For you are alive and reign with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

 Tena koutou katoa e te whanau o Te Wairua Tapu.

John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”

This verse is probably one of the most well know verses in the bible. You hear it recited at almost every funeral. This verse is essentially the picture that Jesus offers of God. For the “giving of the Son” isn’t simply God sending Jesus to deliver a message, it’s giving Jesus over to die, to die on a cross and to die on that cross for us.  This verse is truly the heart of all the gospels!

However, if you listen carefully, you will notice that God doesn’t ask for our opinion about all of this first. God doesn’t ask our permission. God doesn’t even consult us. In fact, God, just goes ahead and gives the Son over to die…for us.

And that’s where it starts to get tricky! That’s when the red flags go up for me! You see, part of me is incredibly grateful but part of me is also a bit angry. I mean, seriously, how dare God! How dare God sacrifice so much for us and by doing so have such a claim on us! It’s not just scandalous but, if you think about it, it’s even offensive, as it leaves absolutely no room for our hopes, our plans and all our wants or desires. It leaves us completely out of control.

Clever alright God. God gives freely and unconditionally with no conditions on us because if God does, then we, suddenly, have tremendous power. We can negotiate with God. We can threaten to reject God’s love. We can even tell God to go take a jump if we don’t care for God’s terms and conditions. 

But when God just loves us–completely and unconditionally–and when God just goes and dies for us, well then the scam is up; there’s just nothing we can do to influence God. And that’s just what happens in this verse. Listen to it once more: “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.”

And there it is, in a nutshell: God in Jesus has made God’s decision…and it’s for us. Yep, you can all bolt now. But you and I can’t change the fact that God loves us, that God in fact loves the whole world more than we can imagine. No wonder this is the world’s most popular Bible verse, because it is, indeed, good news, even the greatest news. 

But at first it’s hard. Hard because we’re not in control. Hard because it’s not up to us. Hard because every time we hear how much God loves us we also know that we had nothing to do with it, cannot influence it, and therefore out of our control. And, sometimes, that can make us afraid. Scared.

Perhaps trained by our bitter experience of life to believe that no one can be trusted, or that life itself is such a gamble and so chaotic that we’d better stay in control no matter what. God’s unconditional, uncontrollable love can frighten us. John says as much in today’s reading: “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.” Desiring to maintain some semblance of control at any cost, we sometimes run from the light, fleeing God’s loving embrace, only to find ourselves trapped in the darkness of our own devices.

But then along comes the light, the life, God, or destiny, or tragedy, or whatever you want to call it, something that shakes us up, presents something utterly beyond our ability to cope, and drives us to our knees in despair–you know, like the end of an important relationship, or the death of a loved one, or the return of illness, or the loss of a job– and you realise in a flash that you were never in control. Not of your life, not of your circumstances or fate, and certainly not of God. 

And all of a sudden this difficult, disturbing, even offensive message about God’s grace becomes the best news you can imagine. Because we aren’t  in control of God and therefore not in control of our relationship with God, we realise that it’s the one relationship we can’t blow, the one relationship that we can’t screw up. God has taken responsibility for this one. And God has promised to bring it to a good end. Think about it.

This is why I find John 3:16 so difficult, so offensive…and at the same time so desperately hopeful and life-giving. It promises that God will never let us go, that God will not take “no” for an answer, that God will pursue no matter what, until we are God’s own.

Does that mean that we have nothing to do, nothing to contribute to this most important relationship? Absolutely not! Once we have been loved this fully, this completely, we can respond in love, honouring God and sharing the news of God’s love for the world with all we meet. Furthermore, we can love each other, throwing ourselves into struggles and celebrations all around us, always working for the good of our neighbours and the world, propelled forward by the knowledge that God loves us and this world so very much. So, there’s plenty to do. But we do it all knowing that we are messengers, witnesses to what God has done for us, not managers.

So hear both the judgment and promise of this passage once again. You are not in control–of this world or even your life, not really. But the God who created the vast cosmos will hold onto you amid the chaos, love you even when you feel most unlovable, and bring you to eternal life. As St. John writes and as Jesus’ cross and resurrection guarantees, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Like it or not.

Let us pray: God of all loving compassion, love us, keep us, hold onto us in all things, even and especially when we are tempted to flee your love and light, and then release us again that we might in turn love one another. Amen.

Archdeacon Kaio Karipa 

Photo: 14th March 21

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *