Update: We will offer Morning Prayer led by Mrs. Jane Barnett at 10am this Sunday, March 18 2018. There will not be a Lenten class this Sunday; class will resume Palm Sunday at 9am, March 25. Father Riley reminds us that Good Friday (March 30) is a day of fasting.
LENT IV - B - 18 JOHN 3. 14-21
Today’s gospel contains a verse that is likely the most advertised verse in the entire Bible, one that is viewed by believers and non-believers alike. It is usually seen displayed on a banner hanging in an end zone of a football stadium. It is John 3.16.
Sadly, I doubt that all of the many millions that have viewed it over the past several decades have ever read it. Yet it contains a very important truth - God’s Love sent his only Son into the world to save it. Those of us who know what it says see it as a reminder of God’s saving action.
It is held up, no doubt by some believing Christian, for all the world to see in the hope that all will accept God’s love as manifested in and through his Son, Jesus Christ. Sadly we know that is not the case. There are some who prefer to remain in darkness, as St. John would say.
A major theme in John’s gospel is the contrast of darkness verses light. In the prologue to his gospel is the verse: “In him,” referring to Jesus, “was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Why then, is there so much darkness (evil) in the world? Jesus gives us the answer in today’s gospel. “And 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 may not be any banners being displayed before our eyes that declare the presence of evil, but evil exists and manifests its ugly head in numerous ways that are reported to us on a daily basis and held up for all the world to see: senseless school shootings of children, in some cases by children themselves, acts of terrorism that do not discriminate among their victims but are only meant to maim and kill.
As well as other acts of inhumanity to man that so grab our attention that they cause us to question our faith and belief in the goodness and love of God who so loved the world that He sent His only Son to save it.
Darkness often times appears to overcome the light even in our own lives.
We complain about how bad things are instead of seeking the good. We grumble and curse and rebel as did the Israelites in the wilderness when all seems dark and gloomy, and all the while God is present meeting our basic needs. The people God had chosen to be His needed a reminder that He was with them, but first He had to get their attention.
Serpents came into their midst whose bite was deadly. God gave Moses the fix. A bronze serpent was raised up as a standard; an artificial symbol of what it was that had afflicted them. It became the effective agent of their healing, the sign (light), if you will, that injected hope and a renewed will to keep going toward the Promised Land.
Jesus said it is like that for Him and for us if we chose to follow him. He must be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have the hope of eternal life that renews our faith and enables us to keep going in our journey to God. Because of the cross we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The Lord is the source of our hope and energy in a world that prefers to sit in darkness. Jesus is our standard that needs to be lifted up, reminding us and telling the world “the true light that enlightens every man” has come into our world. John 3.16 is a reflection of the very heart of God.
The light that enlightens our faith is the conviction in God’s unfailing love; for generations of recurring cynicism, indifference, and despair have never had the last word or given the definitive comment on our human situation. The love of God is persistent, and the Word of God always finds a new voice in the most hopeless of circumstances.
I was reminded of this truth recently as I visited an old friend who was stricken with polio as a child but did not let that stop him from becoming a doctor and a surgeon. He practiced well into his 70s walking and standing with the aid of crutches. He just turned 96.
He has been confined to a wheelchair for over twenty years and in recent months has been crippled with arthritis to point he can no longer open his hands. He has to be lifted in and out of his wheelchair and feed by another. Yet his mind is still sharp and his faith in the love and goodness of God remains unwavering.
He told me that his circumstances have brought him closer to God. His nearness to God has kept him going when he could have easily allowed the darkness to overtake him. He has always been, and always will be, an inspiration to me and to others who know him.
Sometimes it feels like we are being hemmed in on all sides by circumstances beyond our control, that we are surrounded by darkness. That the cross God has given us to bear threatens to crush us, which easily brings discouragement and despair. Despair causes us to fail to see any light at the end of the tunnel. It is then we need to look up.
For the One whom God has sent, the One whom God raised up commands our attention. In Him lies our hope. He is the Light that shines in the darkness, and has not, and will not be overcome by it. Looking up at the cross, with the dying Jesus hanging on it, we see what God’s love looks like.
The cross is the full and dramatic display of God’s own love. What was an instrument of affliction has become the symbol of our hope. Because Jesus has died did not automatically heal the evil in the world, precisely because evil lurks deep within side of each of us. For healing to take place we must ourselves be involved in the process.
This doesn’t mean that we just try a lot harder to be good. All we can do, just as it was all the Israelites could do, is to look and trust; to look at Jesus, to see in him the full display of God’s saving love, and to trust in him. Belief in Jesus means coming to the light, the light of God’s new creation- eternal life.
The point of the whole story is that we do not have to sit in the dark. God’s saving action in the crucifixion of Jesus has brought light into the darkness. It is a sign planted in the middle of history that says: look up, believe, and live. AMEN+