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March 14th 2021 – Lent IV                                   Num 21:4-9; John 3:14-21

The Man with the Beard is Dead

All raise their hands, whose favorite Bible verse is John 3:16,

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.

Even though I can’t see your hands through the camera, maybe you have to raise it a bit higher, or, well, I am sure there are quite a number of hands up in the air.

Our Gospel passage is all part of a conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus about the necessity of being born again in the Spirit. Jesus compares the role of the suffering of the Son of God with the story from the Hebrew Bible, when Moses had a bronze snake made and lifted up on a pole, so that everyone bitten by a snake could look at this bronze snake and be healed. The Hebrew Bible’s interpretation for a sudden plague of snakes was that it must have been a punishment for committed sins, namely the constant complaining of the Israelites against God in the desert after they had left Egypt. The solution seemed to be to make this bronze snake as a symbol of their sin, their mistake, and to make it visible for everyone all the time, so that the people would be reminded of their wrongdoings and repent. This, so the story, had a healing power.

I am sure, Jesus did not compare himself with a snake but the cross, after all, was and is the symbol of the ultimate sin of humankind. On the cross, humans murdered their God, their own creator who had come among them as a vulnerable person out of love. The cross is the symbol that humanity is quick to turn from love and capable of killing the light. The light, the presence of the pure divine love among humans, sheds light on their shadows, their dark spots, their actions against love. That is painful, that is scary, that is inconvenient. By making the cross the always visible symbol, we are reminded of that human capacity to destroy the light, to mistreat love.

John 3:16 wants to encourage us to have the strength and courage to step into the light and to face our shadows and dark spots in that light, because this light was sent into the world by God exactly for that reason.

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17).

God has already accepted us as we are with light and shadow and darkness and, eventually, God sends the pure light among us, so that we cannot but look at it and learn to accept ourselves. The miracle that we as Christians proclaim is that our attempt to destroy the light on the cross, to overcome love by hatred, did not work. God raised the light from death and has sent it back among us as the Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit.

If you want to practice stepping into the light, you just need to come to St. Clements in the evening. Joanne has changed the light bulbs recently and they are brighter than bright now. Which was a very biblical thing to do, because they are supposed to keep away all who fear the light. So, the cross is

1.    a reminder of the human capacity to be overcome by darkness, as the snake (in Numbers 21:4-9) is a symbol for humanity’s capacity to turn from God,

2.    it is the symbol of God’s unconditional love for creation with all its light and shadow, because it reminds us that God became human to bring us the light Godself and to heal the broken relationship between creation and creator

3.    and it is the symbol of victory of love over hatred because the darkness surrounding the cross at the death of Jesus did not prevail but was overcome by the sunlight of the dawn on the Easter morning.

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.

We could end here, but I have a problem with John 3:16. Apologies to all whose favorite verse this is. What happens in your head cinema when you hear it?

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.

Personally, I see God Father, man with a beard, pointing a finger down to earth and poor God Son, walks away to his own execution. Sounds familiar? Is that the kind of love we want from God? Is that the kind of God we want to believe in?

And this is the moment when this inconvenient ancient belief comes in, which we call the Trinity. As Christians, we do not belief in three Gods. God Father being stronger than God Son and sending him down to earth as a sacrifice. We also don’t belief in God as a dominant male tyrant. We belief in one God, the pure light, the true love, the one creator, who revealed Godself in three persons, as Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. There was no sending and giving one’s son. God became human in Jesus Christ and it was God whose divinity did not hinder God to take the humility and the pain of being killed by God’s own beloved creatures.

For God so loved the world that God gave Godself, so that everyone who believes in God may not perish but may have eternal life.

It was no cruel sacrificing of God’s child, it was a self-sacrifice of God out of love. It was a self-sacrifice so that everyone would be freed of the fears of their own shadows and be able to turn to the light and walk in light and love, so that they have eternal life.

Raise your hand, if John 3:16 is your favorite Bible verse. It is definitely one my favorites.