Community Christian Church of Springfield

4806 E. Cherry
Springfield, MO 65809
(417) 877-7821 


Coming to the Light

Lent  4    March 15, 2015
Community Christian Church
Roger Ray, pastor

John 3:14-21
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 "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.
17 "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.
18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their  deeds were evil.
20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.
21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."

I had a free day between lectures during my recent tour of Great Britain and my hosts in Glasgow Scotland very generously took me on a tour of their art museum, the university and the historical collection housed there.

Later we drove a few minutes south of the city to visit the remains of Antonine's Wall, the farthest north border of the Roman Empire.  The Romans wanted to rule the world and they did a pretty good job of accomplishing that.  They moved their boundaries from Caspian Sea all of the way through Europe and England right up to Scotland where Emperor Hadrian just decided that the Scots were too tough to beat and he built a wall there to keep the barbarians out.

Antonine', a successor in the second century, wanted to best Hadrian by pushing the Scots back another hundred miles.  He was only marginally successful for a very short time.  The Scots simply refused to be occupied and the Romans were, in a few years, beaten back to Hadrian's Wall. 

Much of what they left behind is on display in the history museum on the campus of the University of Glasgow.

Less than a century ago, people in our area heated their homes by burning firewood in a fireplace, they carried water into their houses from a well or stream, and they had an outhouse in their backyard that stood over a hole in the ground.

Nearly two thousand years ago, the Romans had paved roads, sewers, aqueducts and they heated their homes against the cruel Scottish winters with under the floor radiant heat from hot air.

Samples of their household items along with their art, architectural facades and armament are awe-inspiring.  I have a feeling that if the Romans had managed to harness electricity and to develop the internal combustion engine that they no only would have conquered Scotland but we might all be speaking Latin right now....  Veni, vidi, vici

The culture that produced our New Testament was primitive in many areas of what is, to us, commonly understood science.... But in many aspects of philosophy and art, we may still be far behind.  They were giving birth to western civilization, battling the violent, ignorant, and dark aspects of humanity.

Of course, during my rather occasional access to the news while I was watching from across the pond, I realize that our civilization was struggling at a few rather similar points..... 47 American Senators sent a letter to the government of Iran to scuttle treaty negotiations aimed as preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

The Prime Minister from Israel spoke to our Congress, basically encouraging us to start a war with Iran because that would stabilize the middle east.... This is the same Israeli politician to who told our congress in 2002 that if only we would take Sadaam Hussein out of Iraq, that would stabilize the Middle East.... And yet this guy got the longest standing ovation in congress given to anyone in modern history as if he were a reliable source of information.

All the while, our politicians and media keep up the drum beat to make Isis the rock stars of terrorism because of their horrifying practice of public beheadings, still, both our government and most of our media is silent about the fact that Isis couldn't hold a candle to our long time allies, Saudi Arabia, where the government publicly beheads between 50 and 100 people a year, every year, and have been doing so for decades while taking huge amounts of support from American tax payers.

Mean while, our elite Secret Service, charged with protecting our first family, was found to be driving drunk on the White House lawn in the wake of their having allowed intruders into the White House, an armed racist nut job onto an elevator with the President and who have lately been found drunk in the hallways of foreign hotels after the prostitutes they had hired had locked them out of their rooms.

Just across the state line, young white college students raised in privilege yet still afraid of their dark skinned neighbors who have not yet tasted opportunity, sing racist songs to bolster their courage to defend a segregated social life against all decency and reason.

And, of course, here at home, we have been racing back towards the dark ages, limiting the long standing rights of women to manage their own reproductive lives, maintaining enforced poverty in low wages, restricting access to health care, and in nine days we'll go to the polls to see if our neighbors will take away civil rights protections from gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the trans community.

We have advanced technology but our civilization has not kept pace with the progress made in medicine, physics, and engineering. In many ways, it seems that our advanced communication techniques and our superior college and university systems have made us less informed and more morally indifferent.

So, when we read the New Testament, even though I have often reminded you of the clearly true fact that it was written by people who didn't know where the sun goes at night, an objective review of the current news could easily lead us to the conclusion that our culture doesn't know how to tell its left hand from its right.... So there is some attentive humility needed here.

The passage before us today is mostly very familiar to us.... Even if you only watch wrestling or baseball, you know John 3:16.... For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that those who believe in him might have eternal life.

And if you read on, the author further illuminates his views which, if I read it in context, I would insist that he is saying this as a corrective to some of the more threatening moralizing of Paul's letters..... he says that Jesus did not come to condemn but to save.

When I was younger we used to study the Bible to try to figure out how every line in it agreed with every other line in it.  It wasn't until much later that I realized that the Bible is not a single unified message from God to humanity it is rather a very public debate between groups of religious communities that very sharply disagreed with one another and they were often earnestly trying to correct one another.

One of Marcus Borg's last book projects before he died was to print the New Testament in the order in which it was written so that you could see how the thinking of the faith community was evolving in the early years....and, admittedly, not always evolving for the better.

But in this beautiful and much loved passage from the last of the canonical gospels, John, the author seems to be throwing reassurances our way.... God is not hostile towards us.  God does not view us, as the American revivalist preacher of the 18th century declared, "Thy God doth despise thee as a man who holds a spider over a flame."

No, John says, God loves you and sent Jesus to us to communicate that love.  But, again, if you keep reading, John still draws a very disturbing line in the sand, saying, Jesus didn't come to condemn those who believed in him, BUT!!! Read verse 18
Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

You think we are progressing towards a religion of love and away from all of the fear, guilt and judgment and then you see he was just building Hadrian's wall so that the decent civilized folks could be on one said and the crazy, barbarian, Scots would have to stay on the other.

I absolutely reject John's exclusivism in suggesting that Jesus was a talisman you hang around your neck to keep God from hating you.  What I have been trying to say to you for years.... And I apologize for how often I have said it indelicately as if you had to be jarred into rethinking this issue.... We do not despise the Christian Bible because it has cultural blinders.... We can love it because it has many great cultural insights to teach us.

But we can also debate with it just as it debates with itself.  John was talking about love in the midst of a violent empire.  He didn't get it all right and he wasn't entirely consistent about it and no one on earth in any period of history should know more about that than we do!

John was trying to set aside a religion of obligation, of piety, fear and exclusion.  He wasn't able to do it all at once.... And I'm right there.... It has not been a straight line for me from rural Kentucky evangelical faith to a more open and loving progressive approach and I still have some demons that need to be sorted out because such things do not go away easily.

John tried to project his insights onto the blank screen of a supernatural theistic God in the heavens above us who was the one who loved us.  I am convinced that all of that talk about the God who is up there is a fundamental failure to acknowledge that what can be known of God is known within the community.

It is not that a heavenly God has decide to forgo judgment and warfare against us and to love us in spite of ourselves.... The harder reality is that we have to forgo judgment and warfare against one another and to love others... and no just the ones who block your path in the grocery store aisles or who take up two parking places in the mall parking lot.

We have to love Muslims.... The peaceful ones and the ones that are acting really crazy right now.  We need to love immigrants.... The ones that came here two hundred years ago and the ones that came last week.  We need even to love the people who are going to vote against civil rights for our gay sisters and brothers, and for fraternity brothers that keep alive racist sentiments that were born in the shadow of the Civil War and have never been rooted out of our psyche.

White college students don't hate black college students.  They are afraid of them and the fear makes them do things that perpetuate the reasons why they are afraid.  Christians don't hate Muslims.... Its just that many Christians have been taught to fear Muslims.... And our one hundred year history of bombing Muslims perpetuates the very real reasons why we should be afraid.  Republicans and Democrats don't hate one another.... They fear being removed from power, from being moved from privilege to disadvantage when, clearly, their partisan bickering is hurting everyone.

John tries to make it sound noble.... God knew that we are crazy, violent, greedy, partisan, racist, homophobic, and dishonest but God loved us anyway and was willing to sacrifice for us to heal us.  What we need to say that we recognize that we have been lied to, disappointed, rejected, victimized, made to be simultaneously afraid and angry, wanting to ignore the world, right after we get revenge.... But we have decided in stead to love and to love in a way that will require some personal sacrifice in order to heal the world.

If you could bomb terrorists, punish criminals, and undermine political adversaries to make the world a prosperous and peaceful place, I would be all for it.... But we have tried that and it has not worked.

John says the way is through deciding not to judge... not to condemn... and to love sacrificially.  I don't think that we have tried that yet.  I think it might work.

Roger L. Ray, D.Min. 

Community Christian Church
4806 E. Cherry Springfield, MO 65809
(417) 877-7821

"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up." (Martin Luther King, Jr. - Nobel Speech)
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