by Paul Moody
There was a time in my life when I was proud to know what John 3:16 meant. There was a time when it meant I was in the “know”, that I had the insider information, that I was privileged and that most of all, because I believed in what John 3:16 said, I was guaranteed life eternal. There was also a time in my life when I was embarrassed to associate with this gospel text. When it was raised high in hate and in judgment of those who probably had no idea what such letters and numbers even referred to, I kept my distance. And then, there was a time when I learned about this, the Fourth Evangelist known as John, who, with expansive language and deep theological interpretations of God’s actions writes of abundant life, and of a self-giving God, and I’ve come to realize that what I had previously been elated about, embarrassed of, and then ultimately grateful for, influences us in ways that I had not expected it would.
We also hear this morning of the ancient Israelites on their journey in the desert, crying out to God on their long journey between slavery and the promised land, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” We hear their ancient story of frustration and lament in their years of painful transition, as they are learning to rely on Adonai. In the midst of death and dying, Moses prays for them and fashions for them the very symbol of death and their fears, lifted high that somehow it might be life for them. Likewise Christ, scandalously crucified, dead on a cross, lifted high, the very thing that is death to us: an abhorrent execution of intimidation and embarrassment, yes, the death of our God, is life to us.
Perhaps we find ourselves questioning God sometimes, like the Israelites, “Have you brought us this far for nothing?” And yet, day after day, as we continue on this journey we uncover each day what it means to rely on Christ, on Adonai: to be healed in ways that we can’t do on our own. And John brings us this radical story of a God who loves in this way: that God gives to save the cosmos. God loved the god-hating, burdened, burned-out, sick, dying world. God didn’t just love the Israelites, just the Church, just straight people or people who look just like us. No, God loved the whole world- that-wanted-nothing-to-do-with-God in this way, that God gave of God’s self in order that this grace we proclaim would be more than just a promise of tomorrow, that it would be made real, here, now, among us, among we who feel just as hopeless sometimes as the Israelite desert wanderers, clinging to a promise from a God who is made known if only for moments at a time, yet who changes our lives forever.
John testifies to some profound struggles we experience. John testifies to the paradox of this future-present kingdom of God that we find ourselves in. John testifies to the struggle of new light amidst old darkness, the struggle of evil deeds and deeds done in God. Yet perhaps this is right where we learn to rely on Adonai, on Christ, on this new reality of God’s work overcoming darkness with light despite the impossibility of it all, and even despite continual proof to the contrary. This is where God finds us day after day, scandalously loving a world that doesn’t deserve it in the least.
And this is where we exist, in this in-between time, waiting for a greater realization of what this new kingdom will continue to unfold as, and this is where we affirm that God’s work has already begun. God in Christ welcomes us into this new reality, where what is hidden and buried and painful, is covered over not just by light, but by life abundant.
God through Christ truly is making all things new, both now and forever, thanks be to God.
Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21