These days we are constantly being forced to choose sides. The casualties of lost friends and divided family is a heavy heartache. The desire might be to find a happy middle ground because what is happening is painful. Yet, the times are a “winner take all” situation. You are either good or bad. You are either light or darkness. So how do we know the category into which we find ourselves? It all depends on whose ideology you agree with. If you agree, then you are light. If you don’t, you are darkness. The gospel reading has Jesus teaching that God loves the world (cosmos). Surely we can find middle ground here, right?
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.John 3:16-17
John 3:16 has been called the Gospel reduced down to a single sentence. The emphasis is on love, God’s love. Without it, there would be no hope. God’s love extends to more than just us or this planet but to the entire cosmos. God’s love is for all creation. Jesus lifted up on the cross is for us all to recognize the enormity of that love and the extreme depth of our darkness.
A couple points to highlight. Eternal life is more than an endless number of mornings to get up and do what we want for the day. Eternal life is a quality and way of life that conforms to the ways of God which is endless. Belief is far more than agreeing with a few talking points. Belief is abiding in Christ Jesus which is doing the things he did and following the ways he taught.
In God’s amazing love for the cosmos, he gave us Jesus so that we would have the light that brings life to endlessly flourish. We nailed Jesus to a cross. This is our darkness. The light of God’s love would not be covered up in a tomb. Jesus was raised.
Jesus talked about loving light or darkness. His perspective isn’t about political power, winning and losing, or oppressing others for our benefit. Loving the light is to live in a way that conforms to him because his is a life that is eternal. How will we live in that light today?
Memorial Day weekend has arrived but this doesn’t feel like much of a vacation. The death toll from Covid will be 100,000 in the next couple days. Stores are starting to reopen while others still remain closed because it isn’t worth the risk. Most people are wearing masks while a few defiantly refuse. Churches have become a major point of contention as some pastors go to court in order to have in-person worship while others are still being cautious. The summer begins with us a divided people. The times are unsettled and with this being an election year, politics will likely make the dynamics worse. So regarding the church in the midst of all of this we might ask, “What Now?” For the answer, we look to the prayer of Jesus out of the Gospel of John.
Jesus was about to be arrested as he prayed for himself and the disciples (for us). He had come to give eternal life. Eternal life was to know God and Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent. So this was his prayer for himself,
And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” John 17:5
Jesus then prayed for us. His prayer was interesting because of what was missing. He didn’t pray for us to be powerful. He didn’t pray for us to be politically connected or to adopt the world’s ways. What he did pray for is that we know his joy that comes through our relationship with him. Jesus also prayed that we be protected because we are to be in the world but we are not of the world. The world has different meanings but one point to be stressed is that it is loved by God. Jesus was going to return to the Father but his followers were to continue in the work of letting the world know that it is loved by God. Jesus’ love won’t be known by political games or by separating into our private enclaves but only by an engagement with the world, thus the need for prayerful protection. If the world is to know eternal life, the world needs to know Jesus Christ and the One who sent him. The knowledge of Christ comes through how we reflect him in the world.
This Memorial Day weekend the world is divided and in disarray. It needs to know that it is loved. It needs to know a life that is eternal. It needs to know Jesus Christ and the Father who sent him. This is the work for the church that might be wondering, “What Now?” Remember, always remember, Jesus has prayed for you. He has prayed for you to know his joy. He prayed that you be protected in this truth.
Exposure is the topic for this week. I’m not writing about being exposed to Covid-19 and precautions. I am writing about how it has exposed our humanity and fear. Covid-19 has reminded us once again of our mortality and our lack of invincibility. High school sports are cancelled. College sports are cancelled. Professional sports are cancelled. Church services are cancelled. Store shelves are empty. Scammers are selling their secret cure. Sales of Corona beer are down as people fear getting the virus from drinking it. Covid-19 has more than exposed us to a virus. It has also exposed our humanity and fear.
Today’s reading has Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman at the community well and much was exposed about humanity in that day. Namely, biases and fear and insecurity. A God fearing Jew would avoid Samaritan land or find the fastest way through it. They would not have held a conversation with a Samaritan nor drank water from the same cup. A man would not have had a conversation with a woman in public. What Jesus was doing would have raised the anxiety levels of the righteous in those days. What he was doing also exposed our bias and fear.
There is more. Jesus asked her to get her husband but she had no husband. Then Jesus exposed her as having had five husbands. She wasn’t unlucky in love. Jesus exposed the insecurity of a woman in a society where wives were easily divorced (discarded) but needed men for protection.
While much was exposed, Jesus offered water but not water that came from the community well. He offered water that bubbled up like a fountain rising up to eternal life. He was the source of that water. Eternal life is a quality and way of life lived out under Christ as Lord in the reign of God. Jesus brought eternal life to a woman society had built walls around and raised up her dignity in a cast aside culture. She went off to town to tell others and the Samaritan town believed and welcomed Jesus to stay. They saw in him the Savior of the world.
The disciples showed up and were aghast that Jesus was talking to a Samaritan woman. Jesus had come to do the work of bringing eternal life to this world and many others were needed both Jew and Samaritan to be a part of this work. The eternal life that Jesus brings is a life where biases and fears of others are removed and those cast aside are raised up to dignity as children of God. For this to happen, a lot of workers are needed. The disciples needed to understand this.
Covid-19 is a reality that has brought much of the world to a stop. It needs to be taken seriously. The prayer is for all infected to quickly recover and know again the goodness of health. At the same time, our humanity has been exposed with all its fears and insecurities. This needs healing as well. The invitation is to join in as one of the workers bringing the water that bubbles over to eternal life. Jesus is that water.
John 3:16 is one of those verses from the Bible that transcends many barriers. The verse has been called the Gospel in miniature. It is one of those verses that little children learn in their Sunday school classes. At an arena or sporting event, you can see the verse on a t-shirt or poster held by a spectator. The verse does the amazing task of describing God’s endless love for his creation/universe/world that he would send his Son to redeem it back from its darkness and death.
The verse is preceded by a ruler of the Jewish council, Nicodemus, coming to Jesus in the darkness of night most likely to avoid being discovered by others. Nicodemus had seen and heard in Jesus a quality of life that set him apart as being from God. Jesus responded that to see the kingdom of God a person needed to be born again which can get really confusing.
Nicodemus was obviously right in that we can’t once again undergo the physical birth process as adults. So what does being born again mean? Does it mean an altar call or confession? Not really, but a confession of faith is the result of this rebirth. So what is born again?
Jesus went on to describe how this world already stands judged and comes up wanting. The reality of this is shown in our love of darkness and our effects to hide what we do because deep down we know it is evil. Simply look at the false information, manipulation of the truth and direct lies being told these days to put our love of darkness on display.
So what are we saying by being born again? It means we stop our allegiance to the darkness and grab hold of the light which exposes the truth. The hold that darkness has over us we can’t break; this is the Holy Spirit’s work. Only the Spirit can make us able to see the truth. Only the Spirit can allow us to see the reign of God and give us a rebirth from this world into God’s kingdom.
Jesus spoke of his being lifted up (crucifixion). It was also his exultation. There the darkness of the world challenged the reign of God. Jesus’ resurrection (exultation) showed that the light and truth of God’s grace and love are what reign and give life. John 3:16 tells us that to believe in Jesus is to have eternal life. Eternal life is more than an endless number of days to live. Eternal life is a quality of life…a way of life…a life in relationship with the resurrected Lord that is now and continues on forever. Believing in Jesus is to trust that in him God was saving the world, so deeply loved, from darkness into light.
So we return to John 3:16 and its message. “For God so loved the world (you) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The Gospel in one sentence.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is well known even by those who haven’t read from the Bible in a long time. There are “Good Samaritan” laws written for people to stop and help others in need. This parable has had a major impact upon us and our understanding of our neighbor. However, the point isn’t about being a good person. The Samaritan isn’t even called ‘good’ in the parable. The parable begins with a question about inheriting eternal life.
We think that eternal life is about getting up into heaven. This was not what eternal life meant in the lawyers question. Eternal life was about living ones life in God and this was defined by the law. Inheriting eternal life was about living ones life in the new age that is coming in Jesus. So Jesus asked the lawyer about the law and he knew the answer: love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. Jesus told him to do this and he would live. Then the lawyer wanted clarity on who is the neighbor. Jesus’ answer was given with the parable.
A man was robbed, beaten and left for dead on the roadside. A priest and Levite crossed the road to avoid the man. We aren’t told why. Touching a dead body would have left them unclean and unable to do their duties. Maybe this concern was the reason, we aren’t told. A Samaritan (Samaritans were despised by the Jew and this would intensify the feelings) went over to help the injured man and even provide for his extended care. The Samaritan was willing to cross over and show mercy. He was the neighbor. This is how one lives out life in God; inherit eternal life.
We don’t do a lot of crossing over to show mercy these days and the anger that seems so much a part of society illustrates it. We don’t cross over and show mercy to our opponent because that would show weakness. We don’t cross over with mercy toward those on the other side of the political spectrum because that would be betrayal. We don’t cross over and show mercy to others we look down on otherwise we would see them as equals. Crossing over to show mercy isn’t easy. Eternal life is elusive these days.
How do we live life that is eternal in its quality? How do we live a life that is found in God? Like the lawyer we do know the answer: love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. The difficulty is doing it. Life in God is to cross over to the other person and when you get there, show mercy.
As Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”