So, John 3:16

Rachel Bauer Eskite
Sermon Text: 

11 March 2018
Lent 4 Year B
Numbers 21: 4-9; Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2: 1-10; John 3: 14-21

So, John 3:16.

I feel like this is one of the most well-known Bible passages of all time. I have seen it on bumper stickers, on Facebook posts, on billboards, on the bottom of plastic grocery bags… During the summer between 5th and 6th grade, I went to Vacation Bible School. While there we played a trivia game,  and on my turn, I picked a card that read: “Recite John 3:16, move ahead one space.” At the time I was like “What’s John 3:16????” And the small group in the room with me was like “What? I thought everybody knew John 3:16?!”

Apparently not.

But they were cool about it. They changed the rules of the game and allowed me to repeat it after someone in the group, and they decided that since the card didn’t specify how the person recited it, that I could still move ahead one space.

“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.”

Hey, cool! I said it. I moved ahead one space. I don’t remember who won. It didn’t matter though because we all had a good time. And at the end of that week together, I felt accepted by them because instead of John 3:16 being a way to ostracize me, it became a way to invite me in.

In that group I felt like I could admit an imperfection, and be given what I needed to succeed, instead of being left out or cast aside. I would say, even though I didn’t know it at the time, I learned a lot about love through that experience at VBS. And what it means to be drawn together in a community of Christ.

This week, we meet Jesus in the middle of a discussion with Nicodemus (a Pharisee) who has come to question Jesus. Nicodemus, whose world would have been turned upside own by Jesus’ claims, has come to get a few things straightened out. Because, you see, when Jesus came into the world, things changed.

Jesus draws Nicodemus into conversation, into community, even though it seems Nicodemus misses the mark.

When Jesus gets to the part about God’s love for the world, it is as if there is nothing else. It feels to me like a veil parts and there is this moment of exquisite clarity and presence. Then he continues. He goes on to talk about the Son of God being here not to condemn the world, but to save it. That light came into the world, and instead of greeting it, people fled from it.

So it seems there is more than one thing going on here: 1) God’s love for us, and 2) the human reaction to receiving that love.

I want to spend some time on the second part. On what it means to receive God’s self-pouring out love because I can really relate to the urge to run in the opposite direction when I begin to experience God’s enormous love for me.

It is one thing to accept God’s love when I feel I am worthy of receiving love. It is an entirely different thing to receive God’s love into the parts of myself that I feel are un-loveable. And I’ll tell you, there is plenty that I can come up with as un-loveable. Like the part of me that is not perfect or worries excessively or is filled with doubt and fear. The part of me that feels shame or self-loathing or is overly critical. The part of me that feels fragile or needy or wants to avoid the hard things. In short, the shadow part of me.

On the flip side of this, darkness can feel safe. Like a womb, like a warm blanket.

The thing is, though, God embraces the dark part of me, too.

The part of me that I would rather pretend doesn’t exist? God loves that part of me, too. God loves me for who I am. God loves me as I am. God loves all of me.

And that love means that the darker part of me has an equal standing in all that I do. It means that the shadow part of me can come to the table and be fed with the rest of me. It means that that “un-loveable” part of me deserves to be knit back into the wholeness of who I am, because it is those darker parts of me that often teach me the greatest compassion, that connect me mostly deeply to others.

So all the while I am reading God the litany of why I am not able to accept love, some part of me is trying to receive it. Some part of me is being fed by that love, being healed by it.

This is God, perpetually pouring out love to us.

Then part of me wants to ask: “but how God?” how do we not flee from your love, your light?”

I think the answer is in Jesus. I think it is in the way he lived his life on earth, and in the way he keeps living on through us. I think it is in small acts, and in big acts too. I think it is in the bread that we receive every Sunday.

Love, once received, has this crazy way of drawing us to give of it… Love also has this crazy way of asking us to confront what stands in the way of us receiving and living into that love.

There is something incredibly healing about bringing light to the parts of me I would rather stay in darkness. Something really liberating. When I am in darkness with myself, I realize that the light of Christ already dwells within me. When I let myself be loved, my own doubt and fear no longer get in the way.

And when we can’t look on ourselves with love, God can, and God will.

God’s love and the struggle to receive and live into that love, is what makes us who we are. It is what makes us God’s own.

So today when we come to the table, let’s bring that part of ourselves we would rather keep hidden, and let Jesus shed light on it. Let’s invite the shadow part (and the other parts, too!) of ourselves to be fed by God’s out-pouring love.

And then when we go out into the world, we can let that love draw us to someone else.

We can let that love feed and heal and shed light on the world.

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