You are a lifeline for my mental and spiritual and emotional wellness- this spiritual community and I am guessing churches and synagogues and mosques and faith communities everywhere of all kinds are lifelines right now for people all across the world- for those of us who refuse to give up hope on love, on civil conversation, on giving energy to the world we want.
Lately I have been thinking how much easier is to critique than to create. It is so much easier to destroy than to dare to dream beyond what is. It is easier to raise concerns than to take a personal risk and be the first in line. It requires much less of our true selves, much less of letting go of ego. The truth is, it is easier to condemn than to love.
Maybe that is why so much of Jesus teachings were made to be about condemnation and God’s wrath and judgment. That is easier for us to get our minds around as human beings. We know anger. We know disapproving of those people. Foundational to all this in part, might be this verse in the sacred text of the Christian tradition that is so widely known as this one: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
In American Christianity at least this verse has been used for a variety of things: a litmus test, a weapon, a measuring stick for how much judgment and wrath would come your way- whether your beliefs match up enough to pave a way to the “pearly gates” in the ever after. But today we are going to hold up different parts of this text so we can see the healing power of love, which is our theme for this season of Lent.
It is no accident that it begins like this: “For God so loved the world.” Let us pause right there.
Would that have inspired fewer witch-hunts and conquests if we had stopped there? For God so loved the world…
Jesus teachings begin with the commitment that whatever name we give that Greater Force, It loves us. We are literally expressions of that love in human form.
For God so loved the world.
We human beings have emphasized judgment over love, but the story of our history as spiritual seekers; the stories we read in our sacred text are about how God so loved the world. As one writer put it, “It was after all, love that stirred God’s heart at the pleading of the slaves in Egypt, and love that offered them both the guidance of the law and the security of the promised land…whenever inequality or injustice threatened the welfare of the poor and the powerless…God’s love raised up prophets who declared God’s desire for compassion- shown not just to insiders, but also to sojourners and foreigners…it was love that stirred the first-century church to open the doors of communion not only to Jews and Gentiles, but to the halt, the lame, the blind, the enuchs…”
For God so loved the world…
So many of Jesus teachings are about healing and love. Here in the Gospel of John we have this poetic unfolding with serpents and the metaphors of light connecting love and incarnation and where Divine love is present in human history. We are presented with questions: Who is drawn to the light and who isn’t? What is salvation? Who gets it and how? Why? What healing can be found here and what is in another realm?
It turns out that in the Gospel of John, the writer or writers understood it differently than we hear it in our context. As W. Hulit Gloer writes, belief for the writer of John, isn’t about philosophical or theological concepts, “the opposite of belief is not unbelief but disobedience. To believe is to obey.” So we can understand this verse to be saying something like, whoever obeys the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, whoever dares to live the Great Commandment, will have a particular kind of life…For God so loved the world, that the Universe gave all It had, to offer all creation what is needed for a heaven kind of life, so that everyone who obeys these teachings won’t die to greed, war and selfishness, in order to live a heaven kind of life.
It is easier to condemn than to love.
In the epic film Gandhi starring Ben Kingsley we are invited into a journey of liberation where we see the worst and best of human beings during India’s struggle for Independence. Throughout the process, Gandhi engages in fasts as part of his leadership for the movement. British soldiers took the lives of innocents at sacred spaces, Indians in the countryside starved as British viceroys thrived. Toward the end of the film, divisions between Hindus and Muslims where brought to the streets with swords and people of all ages were killed. The scene we enter now is after some of the most intense violence where many people died and a group of fighters comes to Gandhi as his health declines from fasting to plead with him to eat again.
Maybe the verse we need for this time is the one that comes after the famous part. “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” It is easier to condemn than to love and yet Jesus teachings begin with the commitment that whatever name we give that Greater Force, It loves us.
For God so loved the world, the Universe wishes healing for all creation- it both is Love unfolding between us and among us, and also I believe our tradition offers love as a path for a particular kind of life, obeying the teachings of love leads somewhere good, it’s a path to healing and joy and wholeness for all.
As Jesus and Gandhi say in different ways. I know a way out of hell and it is love. For God so loved the world.
 Paul Shupe, Feasting on the Word: Fourth Sunday in Lent Kon 3:14-21
 W. Hulit Gloer