I was having Fish n Chips at Elysian Cafe this week (excellent choice by the way). Sitting at the counter, a woman seated close to me said “you have an accent. Where is it from?” “SC” Oh she said, where rich people kill their family members. I said, “no, we usually just marry them.”
In case you missed it, her reference was to the tragic killing of a wife and son by the husband and father. There have been lots of jokes, memes, stories, gawking, food trucks and fascination with the Murdaugh murders. On one hand it is pretty awful for such a horrific tragedy that has ruined many lives to be the subject of entertainment.
On the other hand-this is how humans deal with mortality. We try to make sense out of what could cause a father to murder his family. We want to know the details because this death does not make sense. Perhaps, gallows humor is a necessary part of dealing with death. Such occasions as Halloween are where we actually enjoy embracing our own mortality. We are all headed in the same direction. You are born, you live, you die. You only live once, YOLO, the saying goes. Being born then is a once in a lifetime experience.
No wonder Nicodemus was confused. Well that would mean being born a second time, or born again. And since once was enough for most, or rather all, human beings, what was Jesus talking about?
Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (much like we will feel we are doing next week as daylight savings time begins-plug for setting your clock back.)
Night-A time cloaked in secrecy- maybe as not to rise the ire of his fellow religious officials. But also a symbolic time- a time of not seeing - of not understanding. Well Nicodemus did not understand. He was literally in the dark. But Jesus pushed Nicodemus’s limits.
He challenged him to view things differently. He invited him to see the work of the Spirit blowing through creation. He challenged him to consider new possibilities and new horizons. Things are not always as the appear Nicodemus. Nicodemus stuck in the physical, literal world while Jesus was proclaiming a reign of God that comes in often subtle and always surprising ways. Old things giving birth to the new. Death leading to life. Hope where there is only hopelessness. And change always being possible for anyone no matter what the age or situation.
How can this be? Nicodemus asks on the heals of this conversation. And Jesus answers with this certitude of John’s gospel- For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him shall have life eternal.
You might have heard this. It is a favorite.
But let’s break it down. So often we hear this kind of talk and think that this is about going to heaven. That view is only good if you think that eternal life begins when you die. If it begins at some time in the future then it is not eternal.
Eternal life includes the now and the future.
John defines believing as living with God.
Remember in the beginning when he says “the word became flesh and literally set up a tent with us.” For John believing in Jesus comes down to this: God has moved in with us, get used to it. God lives with you so you might as well live with God.
Believing Nicodemus is to open your eyes and simply be. Be who you were created to be. Your authentic self. Not somebody else.
So the life that we receive in this passage is life with Jesus. Christians are invited to have, enjoy and thrive in life now. Not as a reward in the future for having the strongest faith, the most correct faith or even the only faith.. No, it is about the now, about experiencing change now.. Quite frankly Jesus was calling a lot of people who existed but who did not live. Who had lives of fear hiding in the dark like Nicodemus.
Beaten people, oppressed people, discouraged people, hopeless people and make no mistake about it that is not life... to them, Jesus brings a different way of seeing, a different way being. In Jesus, we see just how God loves the world.
Paraphrasing Karoline Lewis now... God loves the world is not a theory for salvation. It is specific, particular. As particular as the incarnation itself. God loves a Samaritan woman. God loves a man paralyzed his entire life. God loves a man blind from birth. God loves Lazarus dead in the tomb for four days. God loves Peter who will deny his discipleship.
...this is the time to preach John 3:16 for all it’s worth. For those who are alive but are not living. For those fearful of deportation. It’s time to preach. For our transgender sisters and brothers singled out as criminals. It’s time to preach. For the victims of systemic racism-it's time to preach. It's time to preach for our Jewish brothers and sisters hated once again for their loyalty to the God of Israel, our God. Preach. It's time to preach for our Muslim brothers and sisters vilified for devotion and obedience. For the world, the cosmos, that wonders who will protect it.
Karoline is right... And it's time to preach it here, today, for you. For God so loved you that he gave his only begotten son. And are you of less value?
For God so loved me that he gave his only begotten son. For God so loved me.. For God so loved me.
I want to close by bringing to your attention, that the beauty John’s poetry and the marvels of John’s theology has been so misused throughout history to demonize Jews and those who are not Christians. IT is really sad because JOhn’s is the most inclusive of all. It is a very complicated read so people resort to laziness and prejudice by picking out lines to backup their ignorance.
With Anti-semitism on the rise-It is important that we be informed that this Gospel is not about non believers going to hell. It is about believers living in hell now. For God so loved the entire world… Amen
Here is a quote by Martin Niemoller, the Lutheran pastor jailed by the Nazi’s who said famously At first they came for the socialist and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist, then they came for the trade unionist… And so forth, its a famous saying. Here is another great saying of his that speaks very well to JOhn’s Gospel: 'It took me a long time to realize that not only did God not hate my enemies, he didn't even hate God’s enemies.'"