This is perhaps the #1 best known bible verse,
and it would be easy to hear this in the gospel reading and say,
”Oh, yeah, that again. I know all about that.”
But I wonder if we really do know about it.
For that matter, I wonder if John really knows all about it.
It’s almost as if he comes out with this really wow, prophetic statement:
For God so loved the world that God 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 then he backs away from it.
John goes on to say that, actually, some of the world will be condemned
through whether or not they believe in God’s Son.
John makes this amazing statement about the depth of God’s love and will for the world’s salvation –
and then he sets conditions.
Belief in Jesus = salvation; unbelief = condemnation.
But then comes the verse that I think is really the zinger:
This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
There, I think, is the real condition.
Not a condition of belief or unbelief,
resulting in eternal salvation or condemnation,
but the condition of brokenness in which we find ourselves
unable to choose the light, even when it is right in front of us.
It is a choice we face every day – between darkness and light.
Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favorite authors, wrote:
“Like it or not, we either add to the darkness of hate and fear and indifference which surrounds us, or we light a candle to see by. “
Some very few people seem to be almost wholly of the darkness or of the light – to be what we have sometimes called saints, or to be irrevocably evil.
But in the gray in-between of our daily lives,
aren’t people really a complex mix of the two?
Don’t we live every day in the struggle between these poles?
Paul perhaps described it best when he said,
the good which I would do I do not, and the evil I would not do, I do.
Haven’t we all experienced that that place –
striving to walk in the light of Christ, but falling short.
And this is where salvation finds us.
Because God offers us forgiveness,
and each day another change to walk further into the light.
God knows when we stray, and does not shut the door on us –
but rather, as the Father who welcomes home the prodigal son,
comes running down the road to meet us and draw us home.
God loved the world – loved us – so much that God sent Jesus,
who came to be a living incarnation of that love.
Jesus came to show us love, not only for those who are like us,
but for those whose race and tradition and ideas
are very different from ours.
Jesus came to teach us forgiveness by constantly offering forgiveness to all - both those who were despised and outcast,
and those whose rank and privilege made them think
they did not need forgiveness at all.
Can you think of a time when you were very aware of God’s love for you and God’s forgiveness of your sins and shortcomings?
I remember one night rocking my new baby boy in the rocking chair in his room. I was basking in the love and tenderness I felt for my long-awaited child. Suddenly, it hit me, that if I say God loves me as God’s beloved child,
that means God feels for me just the way I feel now –
the tenderness, the hope, the acceptance and joy. Wow.
I also know that it isn’t easy for everyone to experience
or accept such love from God.
I remember a discussion I had with my roommate in college.
She was intense and single-minded in her studying
and pursuit of grades and accolades, and she told me,
“I have to get good grades and constantly prove myself to my father. I’m never sure if he loves me. That’s why I don’t really understand you when you talk about God’s love. I just don’t know what it means to be loved unconditionally.”
That may have been the first time I realized the power we have
to bear God’s love to one another –
or to be a stumbling block which keeps another from knowing God’s love.
Again, we find that we have the ability to bear light into the life of another person – or to hold them more firmly in a darkness of loneliness and fear.
There is a bit of Lutheran teaching that addresses this idea,
which I want to share with you briefly.
Luther was all too aware that the message of God’s love and forgiveness could be hard to hear. He had spent most of his life in utter terror of God’s judgment, certain he would be condemned for all the petty sins he discovered in his hours of self-examination.
His realization that God’s love and forgiveness is a gift,
not earned, but given freely through the love of Christ,
changed everything for him.
He knew that when we speak words of grace and forgiveness,
it is easy for them to be missed
by just the people who most need to hear them.
But there is more to our practice of faith than words.
One gift we have in worship is the meal that we share –
the sacrament of Holy Communion in which Jesus comes to us.
When Lutherans serve communion, we say,
“The body of Christ, given for you,” and “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”
These words are significant, because here is where everyone encounters
the personal message of God’s grace.
Not just general statements like, “God so loved the world” or
“the blood of the covenant shed for all people” –
but this bread, this sip of wine, carrying Jesus’ presence and promise to you,
here and now.
There are many ways we may experience God’s love -
through beautiful worship and music,
through the Word and sacrament shared in church,
through the wonder and beauty of nature,
through the love of a family member, friend, or teacher,
or the care of a community.
One reason to practice prayer is to be open to receive God’s grace,
to see God’s love when it is offered to us.
And once we have received the gift of grace,
we can go out into the world God loves to share that love.
When we live in the light of God’s love, it is easier –
not easy, but easier –
to choose, day by day, to light a candle in the darkness.
Thanks be to God.