“For God so loved the world!” What a beautiful image. Imagine, the Creator delighting in us, like a mother holding her new child. God loves us- sinners, prodigals, and misfits.
“For God so loved the world that God gave..” What does Love do? Love gives. The Creator gives love, life, breath, thought, sunsets, trees, and bird-songs. James 1:17 says “Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above.” Love gives us this moment and our fabulous minds, that we can dwell in this moment, or wander off to a sandy beach. God’s nature is Love. Love’s nature is to give.
For God so loved the world, that God gave his one and only child. What does God’s Love give? God gives us presence, coming near to us-Emmanuel. God gives us Jesus: the very image of God dwelling in human flesh. God vulnerable in the manger. The Holy Child carried as a refugee to Egypt. The Word-Made-Flesh teaching the Sermon on the Mount. The Very-Nature-of-God incarnating life so that we might see how to live. The Righteous Judge embracing the unworthy, unwelcomed and unclean. The Eternal Judge calling out our sinful judging. The Great Physician healing. The Resurrection and the Life weeping beside a friends’ grave. Perfect Justice protesting unfair exchange rates. Perfect Love washing dirty feet. The King of Kings crowned with thorns. The Creator mocked by the mob, preachers and police. God crucified, dead, buried, descending to the depths of hell, and rising to everlasting life.
For God so loved the world that God gave the one and only Child, so that everyone who believes won’t perish but will have eternal life. Is it as simple as that? If we agree with the Easter story is that enough? What does it mean to believe? Martin Luther lead the Reformation of a church awash in indulgences calling for “faith alone” and “Scripture alone.” We come from a protest. At times, a protests goes too far. Some christians today are focussed almost exclusively on belief, forgetting action.
If all that matters is belief in Jesus, then we can ignore Jesus’ call to welcome the stranger, heal the sick, free the captive, feed the hungry, care for the poor, visit the prisons, keep our vows, love our neighbors, work for peace, advocate for justice, stop judging, forgive, give, store treasures in heaven, be generous, make peace, tame our tongues, love the unlovely, take up our cross, follow, and just about everything else Jesus taught and did. Jesus warns us, “Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord”, and don’t do the things I say?” (Luke 4:46) Jesus calls for more than consent to the Apostle’s Creed. Jesus says, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34)
Nicodemus comes to Jesus with genuine questions and deep respect. Jesus cuts deep into our living. Jesus digs well below surface beliefs:“unless you are born anew (from above), it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.” Nicodemus asked, “How is that possible- being born again as an adult?” Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. God’s Spirit ]blows wherever it wishes. You must be born of that Spirit. You must be born from above. You must be born again. ”
Each of us must be born from above! Intellectual consent is not enough. Knowing the theological facts is not the answer. We need a spiritual rebirth. Until we are born from above, Christianity will feel like a never ending failure to live out someone else’s rules. The Wind of God’s Spirit blow mysterious like an autumn the breeze moving the leaves. God longs to blow through our daily pages shuffling our priorities.
This mystic rebirth confounds Nicodemus. Perhaps it confounds us all. Perhaps our theology seeks to control the uncontrollable mystery of God. If the mystical connection of being born again escapes you, John offers another metaphor: light. “The Light has come into the World! Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.” John speaks of doing the truth. Doing! Actions! Belief involves examination of our actions and attitudes!
The Great Gospel writer Thomas Dorsey wrote:
Search me Lord, Search me Lord
Turn the light from heaven, On my soul
If you find anything, That shouldn’t be
Take it out and straighten me
I want to be right, I want to be saved, I want to be whole
You know when I’m right, You know when I’m wrong
You know where I go, You know where I belong
You know what I do, You know my little secrets too
Search me, touch me, cleanse me Through and through
Well you know all my faults, My every word and deed,
You know what I want Lord, And you know just what I need
If there’s something there, That I’m not aware
Well take it, move it, Keep me in your care
I read a story about a man riding on subway train, who noticed someone staring a directly at him. Our friend looked away and then looked back, but stranger was still staring. Our friend piped up “excuse me”. The stranger’s stare held so intently that our friend, cleared his throat, summoning up a challenging tone, blasted “excuse me” at the stranger. Startled, the stranger looked up, fumbled with his glasses and turned red. Our friend felt the comforting smugness of moral superiority . The stranger slowly gathering himself, and spoke apologetically “I’m so deeply sorry, but I’m a dermatologist and there’s a suspicious spot on your neck, you should probably have someone look at that.” Our friend almost said “Buddy, you’re suspicious.” Shaving the next morning, the spot seemed suspicious. After a few uneasy days, our friend called the doctor, who turned a bright examination spotlight toward him, and said, “let’s biopsy that” Our friend went on to recount how the disquieting stare saved his life.
Let us, invite God’s soul searching spotlight to examine us. Personally, I need to get quiet enough to feel God’s Inner Wind stirring through the pages of my day. I am lucky enough to stop in the sanctuary, but I often sit outside, setting my phone for 7 minutes of silence. I need to let God blow away the day’s clutter. When do you connect with things above? When does the light from heaven search out what you want and just what you need? When did you exhale the toxic mix that swirls about us? When do you breathe in the Love of God?
The Great Physician longs to free us from arrogance, bitterness, covetousness, duplicity, envy, fear, greed, hate, idolatry, fear, lacking kindness, lacking love, meanness, neglect, oppression, prejudice, quackery, racism, silence, titillation, unforgiveness, vulgarity, warmongering, x-rating, and zeal for lesser things. Oh let the wind blow that clutter away and sew Love!
We each need this person time with God, but friends, let us remember that the church is not just about nice singing and shared beliefs. Worship should blow through our dead-calm staleness, moving us off dead center, lifting us with a Holy Wind, and pushing us out of complacency. Sermons should make us a bit uneasy, muss our hair, reshuffle our priorities,and blows us around a bit. Preaching should not always come as a soothing gentle breeze. The authentic church is a place rebirth. It shine holy light into all our suspicious spots. So church, let us hear these disquieting words of Doctor King, who always blows me around a bit.
In a Letter from a Birmingham Jail MLK writes: ” I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.… And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, non Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular…. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God?
What kind of church will we be? Will we do the risky work of Jesus? Will we offer the love of God to everyone- trusting that the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin and Jesus is The-Only-Worthy-Judge? Will we welcome everyone, trusting that the love of Christ manifest in the Holy Spirit can whoo us into the light? Will we stand with the stranger? Will we raise our children to read the Scriptures guided by a warm heart and a strong mind? Will we seek to reach the young adults moving just outside our doors? Will each of us engage in the ministries God calls us into? Will we allow the spotlight of God to examine our lives? What kind of people will we be?
Oh Come Holy Wind
Blow through all our staleness
Come renew us, for we long to be born anew from Above
Come Holy Spirit moves us past dead-calm and off dead-center
Come mysterious Holy Force push us out from our easy harbors
Come light of God search us
Shine you light from heaven down on me
If you find anything that is should not be – take out- cleanse and make us free
For we want to be right, we want to whole, we want to be free. Amen.