Lent 4-B Num 21:4-9; Eph 2:1-10; Jn 3:14-21
St Martin’s, Kalamazoo Fr. Joseph Clayton Neiman
“For God so loved the world….” (Jn 3:16)
John 3:16. Have you ever seen that on a sign? Occasionally during an athletic event on television, the camera will pick up in the bleachers a person carrying a sign that reads: John 3:16. It refers of course to what we just heard: “"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” (Jn 3:16).
Perhaps if you could talk to that person, he or she would lead you to the next verse that is so popular: John 3:3: “Unless a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” as the older translations put it. That would lead to an invitation to be baptized correctly by immersion in the person’s particular church, and then taught how to avoid the things of the world and live a faithful life as a disciple of Jesus.
I am giving a simplified version of what one could expect based on my experiences with some of our brothers and sisters in Christ who belong to more conservative or fundamentalist evangelical congregations. They in effect place a great deal of emphasis on the second half of John 3:16: i.e. believing in Jesus so as not to perish but have eternal life. Let’s put our emphasis this morning on the first half of that verse: “God so loved the world….”
Look at the very next verse: “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” (Jn 3:17). God intends to save the world, and that includes everything God created from the environment to the whole human community all across the globe, and even the stars and planets in outer space: all that God created, and as we hear in the first book of the Bible: “God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen 1:31)!!
Living faithful as disciples of the risen Lord means we are called to take our place in Christ’s mission and ministry in the world which is to “save” all that God has created. That’s our call. Save the world!
Each week, Mother Mary prays before preaching asking for wisdom to preach in a way that is not for the growth of this church but for the growth of Christ’s kingdom or mission. The growth of the church is important, but only as it relates to the primary call to save the world, which is Christ’s mission.
All too frequently Christians are seen as people who withdraw from the world, and we sometimes even believe it. Yes, there is evil in the world which we, humanity, have created in our failure to live up to God’s call to save the world. We have to move from greed to generosity, from violence to reconciliation, from anger to compassion, from arrogance to humility, and so forth. That does mean some discipline is necessary in our lives as disciples, discipline to prepare us for faithfulness in our role in Christ’s mission and ministry in the world.
Let’s leave aside the environmental aspects of this call for today, and concentrate on humanity: we are called to save people, to rescue them from the evil things which humanity has injected into the world. Our fundamentalist brothers and sisters in Christ speak of saving “the lost,” terms not generally used in the Episcopal tradition, but true nonetheless.