Sermon from 3/15

The Rev. Randy Knutson
Sunday, March 15, 2015
The Fourth Sunday in Lent
Listen to this…Sermon 2015 03 15 RK

Light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light.
As I considered today’s texts I found so many things to think about, especially in our Gospel reading. Where or when did you first encounter that John 3:16 text? For me it was a small bookmark, that I either was given or earned for good attendance at First Baptist Church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where I grew up. It was embroidered, so you could actually feel the text. I used it faithfully in my Red Lettered edition of the Bible. I had a great respect for that text, still do; I believe someone told me to memorize it and hold it close. Then I found out later that Martin Luther called it “The Gospel in miniature”; another reason to hold it in high esteem. But I find it more enriching to not focus just on this one verse or it and John 3:17, but to notice the kind of central place it plays in this whole chapter of scripture. We will encounter John 3:16 and the earlier part of this third chapter of John later this year.
Even more, I noticed that all three texts each pointed to something else: to God lifting up; lifting us up. But this lifting up can mean a number of things. Two or three times in this third chapter of John’s Gospel, there are key words that have two meanings: spirit or breath, born again or born from above and this reference to being lifted up. It means it physically, to be lifted high, but also exalted, placed high and of great esteem. So when Jesus says that the Son of Man will be lifted up, he means BOTH literally lifted up on a cross and also his exaltation; a lifting of great esteem. Because of this, it is important to hold both meaning together at the same time and not forget them. However, if you are like me it is hard to stay focused on this lifting up.

When I read this Gospel passage from John, I can get entangled in all the things that God has rescued me from; bad things and terrible things. But the point we should not miss is that God has worked to lift us up through Jesus Christ. Even more importantly, found in that single verse is the reason why: God’s Love for us and for the whole world. For that is the other key ingredient in these three texts. It is more obvious in the New Testament readings, but this is the perhaps the most important part of John 3:16 to remember: that however we view Jesus life, his death, his rising, he was lifted up, exalted, so that we too might be lifted up and drawn to the light of God and of Christ.

Light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light.
In our first lesson, from Numbers, we hear again of the trials of Moses as he leads the people through the Wilderness. We give Moses so much credit for bringing the people out of bondage, defying Pharaoh, leading people through the Red Sea. But nothing can prepare us for the even more impossible job he had leading this band of people when they didn’t want to be lead. They lost heart, despite all they had seen: plagues, miracles, Revelation near Mt. Sinai. Yet, over time, they doubted Moses and they doubted God. So this time, poisonous serpents came and then the people repent. Rather than take these poisonous creatures away, God gives Moses a sign, a way to rescue them again. A bronze version of this same serpent is put on a pole and lifted up. And in that lifting there is wholeness and cure. God chose this way to solve the problem, giving Moses this solution. But only in seeing the thing that was lifted up did they escape death. This lifting up is another strange way that this idea of raising up was both a sign of death and cure and that is why Jesus would talk about it with Nicodemus. As a devout Pharisee, it would have been a story he knew and understood, but the problem was he knew the history of it and could not imagine how the lifting up of the Son of Man, of Jesus, could be a sign of everlasting life for all. That was something to come later.

Light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light.
There so many things in this passage from Ephesians. We have a description of our disobedience and going toward the ways of darkness, away from light. But we also have two themes struck upon earlier in the Gospel of John. God’s great love for us and being “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places”. Here it is shared again about why God does so much for us. “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” Here there is an emphasis that I treasure from John 3:16 and hear an echo of again: God’s Love. That is what drives us, surprises us and continually allows us to love others: God’s love. Life does give us challenges, ups and downs; sometimes things we know we should not have done. But it is through God’s Love and his lifting us up as well, that we can know this love and spread that love; not only in this place, but beyond it, to others. That is our part in this love, the response. As this section from Ephesians says so well as it ends, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

Light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light.
But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

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