For some followers of Jesus today, this passage from the Good News of John is familiar. It is comforting. All we need to do is say “John 3:16,” and many can quote the verse: “For God so loved the world…”
For God so loved the world. For others of us, this text from John is unsettling. These are words that have been used to establish an exclusive, Christian, path to God. In my own faith journey, I have had to pause and prayerfully reflect on what is revealed of God for me in this passage. Scripture is one lens to the Holy for me, but not the only place of revelation. My personal relationship with God, the still speaking voices, and the world around me inform my faith as well. And there… at that intersection of the Divine, Word, and Life… what resonates as Truth, deep in my gut, my soul, my heart, guides my understanding of God today. As I hold these words from John on my heart, Diana Eck and Marjorie Suchocki are two contemporary scholars and theologians that open new understandings for me.
Raised in the Methodist tradition in Idaho, and exploring her Christian faith through her experiences living in India and encountering Hinduism in the 1960’s, Eck discovered that other faith traditions expanded her understanding of God, Jesus, Spirit, and the Church. Eck writes that, “Some Christians speak not only of the ‘uniqueness’ of Christ but of the ‘exclusiveness’ of Christ. It cannot be said too plainly, however, that exclusivity is utterly contrary to the Jesus we meet in the synoptic Gospels.” In my personal passion for interreligious engagement, this truth resonates strongly. We live in a pluralistic community. In our families, many of us love and care for people who are not only of another Christian traditions—Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Evangelical—but also other faith traditions: Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu; or people who identify with no faith tradition at all. Using a wide brush, this describes my immediate family. Most do not identify as Christian. When I ask, I hear words and phrases such as “spiritual but not religious,” “human secular,” agnostic, and atheist. These are the people I love and care for. Good people who love and care for me as well.
This is our pluralistic, global reality. Eck points out that, “In fact, many who are exemplars of faith and recipients of loving mercy in the Gospel narratives are those we might call ‘people of other faiths’: the Roman centurion, the Syrophoenician woman, the Greek Cornelius, the good Samaritan. Jesus did not see ‘Christianity’ and ‘Judaism,’ or other ‘isms’ we use to categorize people of faith today. He saw faith.”
Taking the words from John this morning and setting them into the narrative context: Jesus has recently arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, and the first thing Jesus does (according to John) is to flip over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. Turning things over, out in the open. Before witnesses.
And now today, we find ourselves in a more intimate setting with Jesus and “Nicodemus, a (Pharisee and) leader of the Jews. (Who) came to Jesus by night…” (John 3:1b-2a, NRSV). Undercover of darkness, Nicodemus hoped for secrecy as he sought to connect with Jesus in the city. Educated in his Jewish faith, among the questions that Nicodemus asked Jesus that night is this one:
“How can these things be?” (John 3:9)
How can these revelations of God on earth be?
THIS is something new.
For God so loved the world…
Eck highlights the understanding that, “…the point of this verse is surely the plenitude of God’s love. For God so loved the world that this greatest gift was given. Love is the great word of the Gospels and the one (straight) line of Christian life.” I agree with Eck’s assertion when she says, “I do not believe that our faith in Christ can lead us any longer along the road of intolerance and exclusivism. The road runs contrary to the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. Faith in Christ means that I live my life, and will surely die my death, in terms of my commitment to Christ. It does not mean that no other experience of God’s presence and mercy could possibly be true and serve to anchor someone else’ life and transfigure someone else’s death.”
For God so loved the world…
Theologian Marjorie Suchocki suggests that “… God acts with the world as it is, leading it toward what it can be…” As God With Us, embodied, in the flesh, “… Jesus is living in love; Jesus is openness to the other; Jesus is the judgment calling us to our true mode of being. Jesus, extending a call to a new order… (Jesus) breaks down all partitions that divide humans from each other; he embodies a love that is just, and a love that therefore variously exhibits judgement, affirmation, service, or sharing, depending upon the context of love… Jesus reveals the nature of God as love, and the nature of God’s love.”
For God so loved the world…
Through Memorial UCC’s Mission Statement we affirm that we are called “to act out God’s grace and mercy in deeds of teaching, healing, reconciling, nurturing, and feeding those who are hungry in body or in spirit.”
How can these things be?
In 2018, in our church, in our homes, our schools, our jobs, our global community… How can these new revelations of God on earth “be”?
What is our response to this God With Us? What is our response to that grace, that love, that mercy? Action. Movement. Verbs. To teach, to heal, to reconcile, nurture, and to feed. Great chunks of God’s Love, torn, broken and shared with those who are hungry in body and/or spirit.
For God so loved the world…
In worship over the past 3 weeks, I have given you an opportunity to listen to God’s love in the world and to respond with your own thoughts on what this means for us, for our church, Memorial UCC, as we live into our ministries together over the next five years. Where is Jesus the judgment calling us to our true mode of being? How is Jesus extending a call to a new order?
The first week you responded to this question:
- In term of social justice ministries, both inside and outside the walls of this building, what is your vision for this church in 5 years?
On your way into the sanctuary today, you might have noticed the tri-fold board with bright pink post-it notes. Those are YOUR responses to that question. If you have not yet written down your answer, feel free to do so today after worship. There are post-it notes available in the gathering space.
Then last week we expanded on that initial query, asking:
- What are the assets—resources—people, etc, that will help you/us (get to that 5 year vision)?
- And… What do you see as hindrances—people—experiences—or other issues—how can you/we address these?
Again you have a chance to answer those questions if you wish after worship.
Today, I have two final questions upon which I would like you to prayerfully reflect. I am going to lift up one of the questions now, and the second during our time of prayer. After I ask today’s question, I will provide a couple minutes of silence during which you can pray, ponder, and respond as you are moved by the Spirit. If you are so moved, write your response on the yellow (gold) post-it note. Then, after the service, you are invited to place your answer on the tri-fold board that is in the narthex.
- If you need more time to process the upcoming question that is OK.
- And know that whether you are a covenanted partner (or a “member”) of this church, a friend, or a visitor, you are welcome to participate.
- If something doesn’t come to you now, but does later this week, feel free to email me your thoughts (email@example.com).
- At the end of our time of pausing, I will say, “People of God, ‘God is not done in this community of faith called together to act out God’s grace and mercy in deeds of teaching, healing, reconciling, nurturing, and feeding those who are hungry in body or in spirit. Amen.”
Thinking about your vision for Memorial UCC in 5 years, on the yellow (or gold) note, I would like you to prayerfully hold this question in your heart and mind—and respond:
- What are the first few steps you/we should take next?
After a moment of prayerful silence Pastor Kris conclude the mediation:
People of God, “God is not done in this community of faith called together to act out God’s grace and mercy in deeds of teaching, healing, reconciling, nurturing, and feeding those who are hungry in body or in spirit. Amen.”
A second question was shared with the congregation during prayer time:
- What can we hold together in prayer over the next few months/upcoming year?
(reflection on Ephesians 2:1-10 and John 3:14-21)
 Suchocki, Marjorie. God, Christ, Church: a practical guide to process theology. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1995. 93.
 Ibid., 93.
 Ibid., 96.
 Eck, Diana L. Encountering God: a spiritual journey from Bozeman to Banaras. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003. 94.
 Ibid., 101-102.