Sunday, March 11, 2018

That our deeds may be clearly seen John 3:14-21

John 3:16 Nice neat little saying…Out of curiosity I googled it then hit the shopping button on the first page there 16 different items for sale…from a key chain that just said John 3:16 to scroll like plaques and banners that have the full long passage.  There are 21 google pages full of john 3:16 merchandise
This quote is probably the most well known in the new testament.  Some may know John 3:16 and not know the words exactly,  others may know the words for God so loved the world …and may not know the verse.
“If we are able to move beyond the historical “romanticizing” of this particular verse in this pericope we might find some new fertile and revolutionary ideas laden within it. The romanticizing I am referring to is the somewhat simplistic view that God gave Jesus to come to earth to save it with love and literally by sacrificing his body without attempting to rid the world of evil, but by magically saving people who “believed” in him.
Most likely John did not intend to promote such a simplistic view of the salvific trajectory. It is therefore necessary to ask some pertinent questions of him and/or this gospel lesson: What does believing in him (Jesus) mean? Why did Jesus need to come into the world? Was it because of sin? If indeed Jesus came to the world to save it from sin, what kind of sin? For John, sin seems to be concrete and structural (that is injustice, hate, lack of mercy, etc.) rather than individualistic.”[1]
It’s the perfect verse to plaster on a bumper, or brandish on a sign at a football game. John 3:16 has become a kind of trademark for evangelical Christians -- a way to reduce and simplify one version of the Christian gospel to a quick sound bite.
In one sense, this use is justified. Following the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3:1-10), verse 16 does fall within a discourse (3:11-21) in which Jesus offers a kind of summation of God’s good purposes for the world. Jesus speech almost seem to be a reflection on his own life.  It is written in such a way it appears Jesus is addressing us directly while he reflects upon just what it means for Jesus to be in the world.
“But if it is true that these verses zoom out to address the big picture of God’s work in Christ, it is not true that the message is simple, nor can verse 16 be understood well as an abstract slogan, apart from its immediate context within John. In the first place, the context suggests that the truth about God’s purposes in Christ is confusing and troubling, not obvious and cross-stitch-worthy. Nicodemus finds this Good News confusing (John 3:10) because it demands that he let go of all that he has accomplished and understood -- let go and become like a newborn, ready to receive the world on completely new terms. There is an ethical dimension to understanding. Some things are hard to grasp not because they are conceptually subtle, but because they ask so much of us. We don’t want to understand, because if we understand, we are implicated.”[2]
John has this way of writing that to one who is not listening or paying attention may seem like an us vs them. But, John’s writing is having Jesus use language of below for what is above.
Raymond E Brown Professor of biblical studies at Union theological reminds us that
“The Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Mathew and Luke) describe a failure to understand Jesus' parables of the Kingdom of God; in John this motif becomes more pervasive as a universal misunderstanding of an alien Jesus who employs both signs and polyvalent vocabulary to reveal the world from which he comes.”[3]
What he is saying is John’s Jesus has come to this earth as God incarnate, alien Jesus, who uses not just signs but Vocabulary that has double and perhaps triple meaning.  The people Jesus speaks to do not understand what he is saying fully and often neither do we. We get glimpses, revelations, something hits us this time when we read John and next time it may hit us in a completely different way.
In this Gospel reading we are in the middle of a conversation and dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus. The conversation is long and confusing using double meanings and a very poetic language as well.
So Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the son of man be lifted up….In the desert people we being bitten by snakes and dying so Moses created a bronze serpent placed it upon a pole so that when a person was bitten they could look at the bronze snake and be healed.
In the same way Jesus will be lifted onto the cross….so that we might believe in him
Well what does it mean to believe in Jesus.  What does it mean to have faith in the Christ? What does it mean that God loved the world?
For oyu see the tricky thing about the John 3:16 is that the word for So as in God so loved the world is often mis seen or not heard clearly “The Greek houtos means "so" in the sense of "just so," or "in this way," or the more archaic, "thusly." We could translate the verse as "This is the way God loved the world, with the result that he gave his only Son, in order that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16 is not about how much God loved the world. It is about in what way God loved the world.”[4]
The way God showed that Love is by giving Jesus who conquers death so that we may have eternal life. That is Jesus’ message I am here because God loves you, God always has , now I am here to tell you and to show oyu and to teach you how to share in this Kingdom of God which is here and now.
One commentator askes these questions;
“What does it mean to “believe” this Good News that in Jesus “lifted up” God seeks the world’s salvation, and not condemnation (John 3:17)? Simplistically, we might say that it requires us to offer our intellectual assent to the proposition that all of this happened in just the way the story describes, and to accept that it means precisely what John claims that it means. To “believe that” Jesus died and was raised to save us is easy to understand in the sense that it requires almost nothing of us. But such simplicity does not honor the larger story John is telling. This is a story about an encounter with Jesus that left an intelligent and accomplished man scratching his head in bewilderment as he went back out into the darkness. This is a story about how any one of us might reject the light offered to us because of the way it exposes what is dark in us (John 3:19–20). To “believe” this Good News in a way that brings salvation requires more than “believing that;” it requires “trusting in.” To “trust in” Jesus is not simply to believe something about what happened long ago, but also to let our own lives be transformed by the Jesus we encounter in this story:
1) Placing our trust in this Jesus means withholding our ultimate loyalty and trust from other things that ask us to pledge our allegiance. Remembering that he was publicly executed as an enemy of empire, we must be honest with ourselves about the subtle ways we are complicit in and benefit from imperial coercion. The “lifting up” of Jesus on a Roman cross places ever before us the question of who we will serve.”[5]
Placing our trust in Jesus means standing against empire.  This means looking for and standing against oppression.  Do we have imperial forces at work here in our world today?
 The light has come into the world and people loved darkness because their deeds were evil…this actually may be a commentary on the way in which we come to follow the way of Christ.  Sometimes there is just so much darkness around us I believe it is a true miracle when we choose to seek out the light. Even in Johns Gospel there is a process of coming to faith.  Fore the apostles it wasn’t until the met Jesus in the resurrection and ponder all that happened do they understand.
“First, these verses are embedded in a story where Jesus continues to engage, argue, and persuade people who are slowly transformed into believers. In John 3, Nicodemus is the seeker by night who is left in confusion, only to reappear in 19:39 to help care for Jesus' body. He has emerged from darkness into light over the course of Jesus' ministry.
So also the Samaritan woman of John 4 whose long conversation with Jesus ends in a tentative belief, far from where she first began. Consider the blind man healed in John 9, whose move from darkness to light happens rather quickly in physiological terms, but more slowly in terms of identifying Jesus. The intense contrast between believing and not believing, darkness and light, and evil and truth are descriptions of realities, but not of the process by which human beings come to recognize truth, light, life, and God's own son.
Finally, verses 18-21 follow the first and most important contrast, the contrasting ways to depict God's own goal and longing. God's way of loving the world was to send the Son to save it. Jesus is God's expression of love and longing. The light comes to find us, to illuminate our path for our sake, because God wants us. God reaches out through the Son with the sheer purpose of sharing everlasting life with us.”[6]
But how do we do that?  How do we work towards being the Christian Christ calls us to be?
The Three great loves initiative have some ideas…
Churches across the United Church of Christ will collect items to support the basic needs of people living in need of shelter, food, and/or safety. This call to action is the first of the 3 Great Loves initiatives and invites congregations to show our Love of Neighbor in action.
We do that with the scarf hat and Gloves we collect…do we want to make it bigger?  Partner with an organization in town to do more?  I know some are driving for the hot meals program did oyu know if you can’t drive you can volunteer in the kitchen?
The ucc is suggestion book clubs where we learn and read about justice Any group of people interested in learning together about justice and faith. This can be a group that already exists (book club, small group within the church, etc.) or a group that has never gathered before. You are responsible for forming the group and acquiring the books, and the United Church of Christ National Office will provide the discussion guide.
We have a book group and they are engaging in a new book “tears we cannot stop” here is what is being said about this author and this book…
“In the wake of yet another set of police killings of black men, Michael Eric Dyson wrote a tell-it-straight, no-holds-barred piece for the NYT on Sunday, July 7: "Death in Black and White" (it was updated within a day to acknowledge the killing of police officers in Dallas). The response has been overwhelming. Beyoncé and Isabel Wilkerson tweeted it; JJ Abrams, among many other prominent people, wrote him a long fan letter. The NYT closed the comments section after 2,500 responses, and Dyson has been on NPR, BBC, and CNN nonstop since then.
Fifty years ago Malcolm X told a white woman who asked what she could do for the cause, "Nothing." Dyson believes he was wrong. In Tears We Cannot Stop, he responds to that question. If we are to make real racial progress, we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted. As Dyson writes, "At birth you are given a pair of binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy. Those binoculars are privilege; they are status, regardless of your class. In fact the greatest privilege that exists is for white folk to get stopped by a cop and not end up dead.... The problem is you do not want to know anything different from what you think you know.... You think we have been handed everything because we fought your selfish insistence that the world, all of it - all its resources, all its riches, all its bounty, all its grace - should be yours first and foremost, and if there's anything left, why then we can have some, but only if we ask politely and behave gratefully."
[7]  Bob will be tying in some of the white privilege curriculum with the reflections on this book.
I truly believe that we can also do what we can to make sure immigration reform comes about. We need to stand with our youth and make sure the dreamers have justice.
Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old landscaper and father of two who has lived in the United States for 30 years, said a painful goodbye to his family at the Detroit Metro Airport early he had no criminal record, he was a year too old to qualify as a dreamer
With nothing but the clothes on his back and less than $300 in his pocket, Amer Adi was put on a plane and deported to Jordan, the country he left 39 years ago to pursue his American dream. He lived in America he has an American wife and 4 daughters who are also American citizens and he owned several businesses and payed his taxes he had no criminal record.
These are just a few examples of what is happening everyday around us two weeks ago ICE was here raiding seven elevens taking people out of their work place.
On Sunday March 24 is the March for our Lives
“The students of Douglas Stoneman High School in Florida have announced a national march to draw even more attention to improving our gun control regulations.
Many of our representatives receive money from the NRA yet ironically speak out against gun violence.
Thoughts and prayers are great but we need REAL change. Show our local reps that it’s time to review our legislation and prevent the normalization of these tragedies. If you support this idea (not necessarily banning guns) please come out for this event ✊🏼✊🏽✊🏿[8]
 I will be heading to stand in unity with our youth as they rally at the state capital anyone can join me if you like.
Christ calls us out of our comfort zones Christ calls us into the light we are called not just to believe but believe and act, so that it may be clearly seen that our deeds are being done in God! Amen.


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