3/15/2015 Fourth Sunday in Lent The text for today is John 3:14-21.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I think all of us have a little stubborn Swede in us. I know I do. If I happen to get up in the middle of the night (which I do quite often these days), I know I should turn on the light in order to see where I am going. But of course, in spite of stubbed toes and a couple of near falls, I refuse to turn on the bedside lamp. Instead, I stubbornly stumble around in the darkness in hope of making it safely to my destination.
There always seems to be enough light peaking in through the windows for me to do this. Very seldom is there absolute darkness, the type of darkness experienced by those in the desert of the Persian Gulf. One soldier said, “The darkness on nights with no moon or star light was so total you could have been standing right next to someone and not known it.” It is this type of darkness in the human heart which prevents us from seeing God standing beside us, and from reaching out to our neighbors in need and spreading the good news of the light which guides our path, Jesus Christ.
The text from John’s gospel is about darkness and light: “And this is the judgment,” John says, “that the light has come in to the world and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” We humans are people of darkness. People who complain, rebel, work against the Kingdom of God. We have stubbornly held on to our ways and have stumbled in the darkness throughout all ages and will continue to do so in the time to come.
When we look at the Ancient World of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Rome, Persia, India, and East Asia we find a world filled with ignorance of hundreds of thousands of gods, magic, rituals, superstitions and human sacrifice. There were conquests and the slaying of entire populations of people. And the list doesn’t end here for there was ethnic bigotry, civil wars, persecutions, despots, tyrants, class rule, and the systematic murders of tens of thousands.
The Middle Ages of Persia, Constantinople, Islam, Britain, China, India, Genghis Khan and the Mongols, the Turks, Europe, African Empires and the Americas were no better. All of them were covered in the darkness of man’s inhumanity to man: revolutions, expansionism, Mohammad’s Conquest and Christianity’s Crusades, warlords, heretics, and witchcraft. Increased trade brought death and plagues to millions, and the crowding in the cities spread the misery all the more. And on top of this there were wars fought for every ridiculous reason known to man.
The enlightenment and the Modern world have fared no better. We too have loved the darkness instead of the light. Europe, Africa, the Mid-East, India and the Americas have all dipped their finger into the cesspool of sin: guns, germ warfare, slavery, massacres, socialism, Fascism, Communism, the Holocaust, the Ku Klux Klan, world wars, “The Bomb”, and lest we forget, 9/11. The world has suffered as it has been plagued by greed, the market crash, the Great Depression, and millions of women and children have suffered throughout the ages at the hands of ruthless men. There is no way to write that history because much of it is hidden from the pages of history.
Yes! People have loved darkness rather than light. There is a morbid destructive tendency in all of us. We dabble in the diabolical. We revel in revenge. And we hate in our hearts. This is as true today as it was when John penned the word of God some 2000 years ago: Light has come in to the world, but men loved darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil.
We humans are people of darkness – people who complain, rebel, and work against the Kingdom of God. Death is all we know as our lives are filled with the patterns of sin. But God in his grace did not leave us in the cesspool of our sins. God did not throw up his arms and give up on us. Instead, God did an astonishing thing. He brought the light into a world which could not find its way out of darkness. For a world that is already condemned can find no help in a condemned world.
But God so loved the world that he took responsibility for what we have done to it and in it. Our holy and righteous God has taken us over, bad debts and all, and we are the beneficiaries of all of God’s righteousness. For God loved the world and did not condemn it. In his great compassion for us, God sent his son into the world to pay the price for our sin and shatter the darkness with the light of his grace. God erected a cross of death that we might live. For God does not wish to condemn us. God wants us to live in his grace, owning up to our mistakes and bringing them into the light.
Why does God do this in spite of our history as a people? An old Dennis the Menace cartoon might help us understand. In it, Dennis and his little friend Joey are leaving Mrs. Wilson’s house, their hands full of cookies. Joey says, “I wonder what we did to deserve this.” Dennis answers, “Look, Joey. Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we’re nice, but because she’s nice.”
And so it is with God. God sent the son into the world not because we’re nice and deserve his sacrifice for us. God sent the son into the world because he’s nice and loves us in spite of what we have done. God knows we can’t make it on our own. God knows we need him. So God offers himself to us in Jesus Christ.
Let the light of his amazing grace shatter the darkness in your lives. Live under the shadow of the cross of the living Lord. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your minds and your hearts in Christ Jesus. Amen.