The fourth Sunday in Lent can find us feeling bogged down in the middle of an intense time of year in the church. How much longer must we wait — how much more deeply must we go — until the light of Easter morning? This week’s texts of Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:13-22 do little to ease our angst in wanting to get on with things. Both are tough texts. I invite you to read them if you were not in worship this past Sunday. I also invite you to listen to Sunday’s sermon (http://discipleschristian.org/site/sermons).
There is a bright spot of probably the most quoted and most remembered verse in all of New Testament scripture. So well known that we know if by chapter and verse. John 3:16. Did you learn it as a child? Can you recite it still? This passage that shapes our Christian faith has reached far beyond our churches — it’s even made known on football fields!
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (KJV)
Are you confused by the turnaround from John 3:16 that says God has chosen to love and include everyone in the gift of his Son – that so quickly morphs into to judgment against those who do not believe? If so, you are not alone. How can God so love the world and at the same time seem to condemn so many in it?
It’s a huge and unanswerable question. I’m reminded of a professor who advised that when preaching from the gospel of John, we should remember that: It’s John’s style to say things that border on the offensive. John’s writing puts to us a test of what we can confirm as the gospel truth and yet we are wise to be cautious against accepting John’s dichotomies without question. He said that we ought to be puzzled by John. That we should expect to be offended by John. But that we must not silence his Jesus by deciding what he should not have said and what his hearers should not hear.
So, we are left with this, well, which is it? Unconditional love and acceptance in the light or doomed in the darkness?
John’s gospel makes extensive use of the concepts of light and darkness.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people… The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… I am the light of the world… Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.
How wonderful it would be if we simply made our way basking in that tremendous light, but I suppose if we did, I’d be out of a preaching job! We are painfully aware that life is not all light. Life is the interplay interplay between light and dark. And in that interplay, light does not always come out a winner.
John sees light and dark without ambiguity. The gospel writer sees light and darkness as black and white. But in our reality, those lines get blurred. Shades of gray are more likely, and light shining into the shadow parts of our lives is not always welcome.
Jesus as the light of the world reveals who we are. The light exposes the values that shape our lives. The light that is Jesus shines right on the very parts of us we’d like most to be hidden. I suppose whether it is good news or bad news has much to do with what you are doing when the spotlight that is Jesus sweeps across the corner in which you live. Unexpectedly. Before you’ve had a chance to tidy up? The light that brings with it these two questions:
Who are you when no one is looking?
And how is that working out for you?
I think there is a tendency with this text to draw lines – just as John the gospel writer has drawn lines. If those who live in the light are saved – well, then, we’re supposed to be on that side. And those other people – those people we don’t know, those people who don’t know, those people in any form – they’re the ones who will be left in the dark. I pray you will resist that temptation because this is squarely about our own need for Christ.
Each of us has some shadow work to do. Each of us has some dark corners that would not bear well the light of day, let alone the light of Christ. As Jesus put it, if the lamp within you is, in fact, darkness, then great darkness there will be. (Matthew 6:23)
May it be good news that even the darkness cannot escape the light that is Jesus Christ. We can argue about whether it’s ever too late to welcome that light. We won’t get that figured out in one sermon or one Monday afternoon blog post! But this I know – there’s no time like the present. There’s no next moment that is more perfect than this moment.
With the Light of Christ, the darkness will not win.