Sermon Transcript 4.24.22 "Resurrection: Living in the Light of Easter"
John 3:16 is probably the best-known bible verse in the world: “for God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” John's whole gospel is incorporated in that. The message of John's gospel is wholeness, completeness, and sacrificial love. John's gospel doesn't begin with a birth narrative, it begins with a creation story. “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God the Word was God through him all things were made. Later it says he is the light coming into the world, light that darkness cannot overcome. That Word; that light, that son, IS the Christ! Is the Logos of God - the reason - the will - the love… For God so loved the world!
I based our Lenten series on a book by my late friend Reverend Dr Junius Dotson, called Soul Reset and his final chapter is about living in the light. It's about being intentional about being an Easter people and to do that, he says we have to be vulnerable.
Our world teaches us to be tough and distant, but if we're following Christ, we have to be vulnerable and one of the things he says that really strikes me is that when we read that verse “for God so loved the world” we need to first pair it with John 3:17 - that he comes not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him and we need to read it with vulnerability.
So often even a verse like this a verse describing the depth of God's love becomes a weapon that we beat each other over the heads with. If you don't believe it exactly the way i believe that you're wrong and you're going to hell
“For God so loved the world the world” that he becomes flesh, that he dwells with us not to condemn us but that we might be saved through him. Rev. Dotson suggests that when we read that “for God so loved the world” it's not God loved the world thiiiiiiisssssssssss much - which IS
True! There's nothing wrong with that. God's love is overwhelming, even to the cross!
To transform a symbol of hatred and domination into a symbol of hope and life - “for God so loved… “ but we might ALSO read it for God loved the world in this way
THIS is what God did to demonstrate God's love - the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, the Word took on all of our suffering and brokenness, the shortfall that we all have, the sin of Adam and Eve and every human since. God loved the world in this way - and when we're reading John 3:16 and 17, we need to be reading the context as well.
The story immediately preceding this powerful passage is of Nicodemus, who thinks he believes but he's an elder and there's a lot of risk in believing and he can't let other people know that he's one of these Jesus freaks so he comes to him at night in darkness… and he asks some questions. Jesus tells him “you must be born again” and Nicodemus takes it literally… how can one go back into the mother's womb?! Jesus, of course, means you must be born from above, you must be born of the Spirit. We must be transformed… but this conversation happens at night in darkness hiding. The light is not shining here even as Nicodemus is making progress in his walk of faith.
The story immediately after John 3:16 and is another story of John the Baptist - who is proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah in broad daylight. John is powerful - he has attention and has gathered disciples. He has proclaimed hope people are coming to him and he says “It’s not about me. I am not the Messiah; I point to the one who is! I must decrease, He must increase
John is vulnerable. John is working in the light, pointing people to Christ. One of the things that strikes me is John has some expectations. John preaches a certain amount of vengeance. “The axe is laying at the root of the tree!” according to Luke. I personally don't think John even fully understands who Jesus is - but he knows who Jesus is and he knows the most important thing is not his own understanding but to point others to Christ. That Christ's mind might shape all of us.
John does this in the daylight - even as he doesn't fully understand. Scripture is full of passages that make us wonder and question sometimes the scriptures push against each other. Jesus uses scripture dynamically. “You've heard it said or you have seen it written ‘if you kill a brother or sister you are guilty of sin but i say to you if you are angry with a brother or sister you have sinned.’” It's an impossible standard - one that can only be met by the grace of God.
How we use scripture matters and if we use scripture to demean others to exclude others to judge others, to prop ourselves up, then we're misusing Scripture - even as we are called to challenge one another - even as it is true that iron sharpens iron. We can't ever be too full of our own understanding because that gets in the way of Christ's understanding.
So how do we tell the story? Last week we celebrated easter and i used this “Resurrection” image from Linda Massen. It's dynamic and it's filled with light even as the darkness of the tomb is still centered. There is an energy to it.
This week's bulletin cover is a traditional orthodox icon. It's called Anastasis. I think i've briefly introduced this before - it's been on my door ever since we put the new signage up. The reason i picked an orthodox icon this day - as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues… As the orthodox church is split - they celebrate Easter this day.
Their calendar is slightly different from the western calendar and easter tends to fall a week later. So this morning, amidst the shelling and the division and the death and the suffering - we proclaim that Christ has risen - that Christ has risen indeed! That Christ has taken on our brokenness and our violence and our hatred of one another and shown us a more excellent way. He has shown us the way of love.
The other reason i tend to use this icon is that we don't have a lot of traditions in the west around Holy Saturday. Some of us gathered for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and we acknowledge the last supper and the suffering and the death and then he's put in the tomb… and on Easter morning he comes out and we don't spend a lot of time in the west thinking about what happens in between.
It's just a blank - but there are some hints in Scripture and in tradition. Last week we sang a wonderful hymn “Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty victory over his foes, He arose a victor from the dark domain…” What is the dark domain? Is that just the sleep of death - does nothing happen or is Christ even then proclaiming grace and life?
The Apostles Creed that we recited earlier one of the earliest creeds and traditions of the church, finalized in the early 200s, we proclaimed that he “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, and descended to the dead.” In some translations it says he
“descended to hell”
He descended to the dead - that's what this Anastasis or resurrection icon depicts. It's also known as the Harrowing of Hell. Christ descends to the dead - to the place of the dead and he takes in his hands representatives of fallen humanity. Adam and Eve - his deed of proclaiming life even to Adam and Eve is observed and celebrated by David and Solomon and the prophets, the hosts of heaven are observing as death's doors are broken down… as the locks and chains are destroyed.
That story is not explicitly in Scripture - which is part of why we in the literal reading west haven't made it a central image like the east has - but it is hinted at.
Paul writes to the Ephesians “when it said he ascended does it not mean that he had also descended to the lower parts of the earth?” And in 1st Peter one of the latest letters written in the New Testament canon “for Christ also suffered for sins once for all the righteous and the unrighteous in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison who in former times did not obey.” A little bit later in 1st Peter “for the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead but though they are judged in the flesh as people they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.” Last week we proclaimed that Jesus, the risen Christ, bearing the wounds of crucifixion, appeared to the disciples and breathed on them and said “receive the holy spirit.” I believe that's what Christ has been doing from the very beginning. “In the beginning was the word,” the word called creation into being, he breathes life into all creation. He sustains creation.
Love has already won. Christ has already won the victory - death and sin have been defeated and still we live in a broken and divided world. Still we give in to hatred and division instead of rooting ourselves in God's love. We are not the first people to struggle with this
In this great letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul is writing to Jewish Christians and Greek Christians and he's trying to find ways to bring them together from these different camps. One of the objections to his theology is that if grace is so powerful it doesn't matter what we do - in fact one could make the logical argument that if we want more grace we should sin even more because then God's Grace will abound even more! There was an early part of the church that this was their argument and Paul says NO! We have been freed from sin that we might do good, that we might build one another up. We don't glorify God by disobeying God and we don't glorify God by being so rigid, as he once was, that we use our beliefs to persecute others.
We seek to do good - we do not sin - we repent for those things we have left undone. We repent for those things we do that we know or discover we ought not. We embrace, as Dr. Dotson said, vulnerability. We embrace the mind of Christ, one who washes feet on the night before he knows he's going to die.
If you knew you had 24 hours left, what would you do?
If you knew you had 24 hours left, what would you do?
Jesus washed feet…
That is the kind of love that Christ is calling us to… that Paul and John the Baptist are pointing to. Last week we read from Hebrews - which proclaims that we have a great high priest who understands what it is to be a broken human and who has shown us the way of love and wholeness. The author of Hebrews says “let us hold fast for he who has promised is faithful - say that with me - for he who has promised is faithful”
“for he who has promised is faithful”
our task, as Christians is, to provoke one another to good deeds
“to provoke one another into good deeds”
that we might be light
that we might be love
that we might be Christ for the world - that's what i believe
thanks be to God amen