Sermon: 4th Week in Lent:: Used 3.18.12
Text: John 3:14-21
I struggle with the words “judgment” and “justice.” Even saying that feels weird—I’m not exactly ashamed to say it, but somewhere inside my Lutheran brain, I feel as if I should love these words and what they represent. Some part of me feels like I should stand on these words and build my theology around them. They are, if nothing else—very strong and sturdy words. They would make good cornerstones, and would hold fast should the winds and waves come…
Now, by all means, I am not against these words…necessarily. For the victims of abuse, for women who have been sold as property, for men who have been denied jobs because of the color of their skin or the accent with which they speak—I do, indeed, long for things to be made right, but I do not think I myself can be just.
As much as I like to think of myself as laid back and go with the flow… I love planning and organizing so much more. I love to-do lists and am apparently extremely “Type A.” I like to get up at the same time almost every day; I prefer breakfast to be consumed before 8AM, and my mind is constantly categorizing and organizing my life as I go.
But my personality is also one that revels in creativity and beauty. I find myself looking at the world differently than other people, and I enjoy bringing a different perspective to conversations. In fact, this is one of my favorite things about myself; to help people see the same familiar things with new eyes. To see the beauty hidden within the ordinary day-to-day of life’s ups and downs. I prefer to think of this as my own style of ordered chaos, or a categorized whirlwind.
And I do not mind this paradox of my personality one bit… in fact, I prefer it this way.
However, I am so good at organizing things and putting pieces together, making lists, charting out my days that I sometimes leak this lifestyle onto those around me. If I sense someone is in distress, or is swamped or struggling to find the top, I instantly go into my list mode. How can we organize the chaos in which you are swimming? Can we break it down piece by piece, can we figure it out, put it in its place, and take one thing at a time…
In this mode, I become a people pleaser. Wanting to make sure everyone else is organized, on time, ready to go, packed for the trip, no detail left unfinished. I cannot be just. I want people to be “OK.” But it is not in my nature to be just.
The British dictionary defines justice as ‘fairness in the way people are dealt with.’ When I try to use my lists and organizing to help people, it is not fair. I try to impose my coping mechanisms on their stress. I try to give them my lists to deal with their problems. And, because 90% of the world is NOT Type “A,” I usually end up overwhelming people… and this is not fair. No, I am not just. Tell me what justice is—and I will do my best to organize a way to get it done. But please, do not rely on me to define justice. I will fail. Every time.
Now, you might be thinking, ok, you don’t like the word justice because you feel you’re not up to par, so what about judgment?
If I dislike the word justice because I lack something, I equally dislike the word judgment because I am in an overabundance.
Again, judgment can be good—Mom always told me to use my ‘best judgment’ so there has to be something good from it… But I can judge too quickly and too often, and mine are not always with the best intent.
The texts for today really, really stressed me out. I get the most famous Bible verse—ever… John 3:16. There’s a good chance if I were you, I’d tune out. You’ve heard all this before, love, love, love, don’t believe then you perish, blah blah blah, eternal life.
Combine this text from John in which “condemned” is used an awful lot, with the Numbers text—where grumbling-induced snake bites have set the people searching for a snake on a stick Moses put together because God said so… there seems to be a whole lot of judgment going around, and I don’t really know where justice fits in…
Going back to my Lutheran-steeped theology, I figured there had to be a reason for all this drab judgment talk… it is after all, the fourth Sunday in Lent. Traditionally, I defined Lent as a time when my mom would give up coffee and suffer caffeine headaches for a few weeks, I would give up a couple hours of TV, and then I’d go to a lot of church services that were supposed to make me feel bad about being such a crummy sinner.
However, as we began this Lenten journey we planted seeds—and even though we added to the dirt, the plants are still growing. Even if I am such a crummy sinner, that can’t ruin God’s grace in this world. So I went searching.
The Gospel according to John is pretty…harsh. Our American ears don’t really get the full swing of the punch that he’s throwing, but John is pretty feisty. And angry, and really, REALLY trying to get a point across to his readers.
To be completely honest with you, I do not always recognize the Jesus I read about in John. This Jesus opens up his public ministry by knocking over tables and cracking whips. This Jesus criticizes a lot of people, and is kind of snarky. (Ok, that part, I do enjoy, even if I don’t always get the Nazarene humor…)
In John’s gospel, there are a lot of finger shakes—criticisms from Jesus… and some of the sharpest, most mind-blowing—are directed towards those who have insight about Jesus, or believe in him, but keep it secret.
In one of my favorite childhood books, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe I see this making sense.
Lucy, the youngest of 4 children, finds a magical land in a wardrobe she hides in when the children are playing hide n seek. She tries to tell the others, but they do not believe her. One night, she manages to find the land of Narnia again, and this time Edmond her older brother, makes it in too. But when they come out of the wardrobe, and Lucy runs to tell Susan and Peter the two eldest, Edmond denies the whole thing, saying he was just playing along with her… Lucy is heartbroken.
Eventually, all four children are brought into Narnia, and when it is discovered that Edmond knew the whole time, he is immediately on bad terms with the others. It’s one thing to lie, but to betray the trust of your family is terrible…
John’s gospel is meant for a small group of people in the first century who saw Jesus walking around, doing miracles, preaching in the synagogues, riling up the local religious and political authorities by his messages of love and compassion, and eventually [because of this], dying a criminal’s death. Then, this same man was also raised from the dead and made appearances to his followers.
They called themselves the followers of the Way. It was a lifestyle. There were not many of them. And what small group they had, they were constantly in danger of persecution by the authorities. They were a tight-knit community, a rag-tag bunch, and they needed all the help they could get. Many people were witnesses to these accounts, or heard the stories from their families or friends, but they themselves would not become full members of this community. They kept the stories to themselves, for fear of being kicked out of the synagogue, of being ridiculed in public; of living a different lifestyle… it was too scary, so they didn’t want to risk it.
In our gospel text Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, an educated Pharisee. He comes to Jesus at night—presumably not wanting to be seen by the other Pharisees. He debates with Jesus and Jesus gets annoyed with his lack of understanding, since he is such an educated and religious leader, and begins a monologue.
Jesus tells Nicodemus an aggressive message of love and a passive message of condemnation.
God so loved the world that… God’s primary attitude toward creation, toward humanity, toward the cosmos—is one of love. God loved the world for its own sake, not for any other reason. Jesus speaks of God’s Light coming into the world. Some people will hate the light, like bugs scatter when the light is turned on, some people will turn away from this message of love. It is not a language they understand, or care for. In their life, the light is not worth the risk of being ridiculed, or made fun of, or being kicked out of the community, so they will stay in the darkness.
But some people will understand this light. Some will understand that the world will be saved through beauty, and that this beauty is to be talked about, is to be spread and shared. Some will be willing to risk being pushed aside, being called an outsider in order to see this beauty more clearly. Some will be willing to risk a hard and dangerous way of life to see this beauty in its fullest form.
And Nicodemus isn’t even willing to risk being seen with Jesus in the daylight.
The thing I don’t like about this famous 3:16 verse is thatAdvertisements