Grace and peace from the Mystery in whom we live and move and have our being.
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: 14-21
It’s always the next line. The one, after the one you know, that is often the key.
You know, like… “The wages of sin is death,” You’ve all heard that one or read it on a billboard. But do you know what the next line is? “But the FREE gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Or this, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.” But do you know what the next one is? “On this hangs all the laws of the scribes and prophets.” You see, we don’t just get to follow two laws and make up the rest as we go to rig the system in our favor. No, all the
laws have to be tied into these first two about love of God and neighbor.
Now, John 3:16 is a very famous verse. Perhaps the most famous. And it follows on the heels of Jesus telling Nicodemus that life in the kingdom is like being born from above or like the wind. Two things, by the way, that you have no control over. I mean, how many of you decided to be born? Yeah, I didn’t think
so. So how can you decide to be born again? Either Jesus is very bad with analogies or we’ve messed up the interpretation. I’ll go with the latter rather than the former.
Anyway, the kingdom seems to be out of our control. Like our birth or the wind. And so, when John 3:16 comes along, we jump on it.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”
Now there is something we can sink our teeth into. BELIEF. I can do that. And so, we focus on that and we begin to use it as a dividing line. Who believes and who doesn’t? Who is saved and who isn’t? Who is condemned and who isn’t?
But then the next line. It’s always the next line.
“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.”
Jesus cannot be a point of condemnation. Let me repeat that. Jesus is not the dividing line between condemnation and non-condemnation. You can’t use Jesus to condemn people. Not even their belief and disbelief in him. He cannot be used for that.
Now I know what some people are going to say. “Jim, read the next line”, and I will. The following verses speak to those who have condemned themselves because they did not believe. And the world condemns itself because it loves the darkness. So, people and the world have condemned themselves. I will grant you that.
But here’s my question. Which is greater? The world’s self-condemning behavior, or God’s non-condemnation of the world through
the Christ. Which is greater?
Which is greater? Your sin or God’s grace. It really is that simple.
Which is greater? Your “No” or God’s “Yes”.
Now if you say, your “No” then you can’t celebrate Easter Sunday. Your liturgical year has to end on Good Friday, which you should probably rename “Good Riddance Friday” … because your “No” has the final word. And we humans finally got rid of that bleeding heart Jesus. If your “No” is greater than God’s “Yes”, then Easter is irrelevant. Insignificant. WORTHLESS!
You see, Easter is God’s “yes” to our “no”. We beat him, torture him, hang him on a cross, and he simply comes back three days later and says, “Nice try. What are you going to do now?” I’m sure God gives us an “A” for effort in trying to stop God’s grace and forgiveness. But seriously, once you’ve killed someone
you’ve pretty much used up all your ammunition to stop them. And when they come back to life and still forgive you, well, you’re pretty much out of luck in trying to stop them, now.
Gerhard Forde put it rather bluntly when he said, “If we have free will, God is dead. And if God has free will, we are dead.” No wonder we have to kill the Christ.
I mean, at least AA people believe in a HIGHER Power. Most of American Christianity does not. God isn’t a HIGHER Power, but a USABLE Power. We believe in a CO-pilot. A booster rocket to my hopes and dreams. A steroid shot to make what I want possible. God is a secret weapon whom we use for ourselves and against others. God performs a function in our lives.
But a Higher Power, bigger than us? Greater than us? No, we want God at our disposal, whom we can use and have the final say over. Which is exactly the self-condemning behavior John is referring to. It is the darkness we prefer over the light.
So, I’ll ask you again…
WHICH IS GREATER!?
Your self-condemning behavior, your “No” … or God’s non-condemnation and God’s “Yes”? And I’m not asking as a question of theology. I’m asking in terms of your life. What is your experience? Which answer is the truth that has set you free? Which answer is ‘good news’? In your faith? In your life? Don’t tell me what the book says, tell me what your life, your relationship with God says. You see, the day you start worshipping and following a book is the day you stop worshipping and following God.
So, WHICH IS GREATER!?
Now, before you answer that, let me remind you of this meal we participate in every week. In the night Judas betrays Jesus, I think we could call that a self-condemning behavior on Judas’ part. And the night in which Peter denies Jesus, another self-condemnation. I mean, I think it’s safe to say denial and betrayal are self-condemning actions, don’t you?
In that night, Jesus takes bread and drink and says, “This is me for you. You are membered to me. REmembered to me. I forgive you.”
So, which wins out? Which is greater? It really is that simple.
But ok, let’s say you still think our self-condemning actions are greater. You still want to hold out for the illusion of free will and that you are greater than God. And you can separate yourself from God if you so choose.
Let’s keep reading… you know…the next lines.
You see, the next day, after this meal, Jesus becomes the CONDEMNED. He becomes the condemnation of the world. He is condemned by the religious leaders. He is condemned by the political leaders. He is condemned by a democratic vote of the common people. “Crucify Him. We have no king but Caesar.”
But even worse, he is condemned by His Father. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Forsakenness is the condition of condemnation isn’t it? Forsakenness is not a state of love and acceptance. Forsakenness is condemnation!
So now, even in your condemnation, you are not separated from God. God has become one with you even in condemnation. God has become the condemned.
God has participated in self-condemning behavior. This is what we mean when we say in the creed, “He descended into Hell.” This is what Paul means when
he says, “He became sin for us.”
This is AT-ONE-ment. Even in our own self-condemnation, God is at one with us.
This is what the word “atonement” means. It is not a term referring to some celestial, spiritual bookkeeping done in the accounting office in heaven. Atonement means AT-ONE-ment. The Mystery at one with us. Even in our
condemnation. Actual, here and now, AT-ONE-ment. In real life.
And in that AT-ONE-ment, transformation happens. Resurrection happens. New life happens. That’s the next line after the crucifixion story. RESURRECTION! Or as my dear friend Henry Rojas likes to say, “Healing begins when broken meets broken.”
That’s what happens in this meal. That’s what happened on the cross. We are not alone in our brokenness or condemnation. God is AT-ONE with us.
And in that AT-ONE-ment, transformation happens. Resurrection happens. New life and healing happens.
And that just isn’t the next line.
THAT’S THE FINAL LINE.
Wednesday Respite is a 30-min contemplative service of scripture, prayer, music and a Spirited Touchpoint by Spirit in the Desert faith mentor, Rev. “Bro. Jim” Hanson.
Touchpoint is a reflection on where God’s story touches our life story. It is a short homily based on a biblical story of people in the Old and New Testaments and their relationship with God. Our spiritual ancestors’ experience of God’s grace connects with our lives in the present and our relationship with the Divine. Previous Touchpoints are available as PDFs or on SoundCloud.