I sometimes imagine God’s dream for creation is like a very large piece of marble, and that as stewards of God’s creation, we have been charged with doing the sculpting. As stewards, our job is not to decide what the marble block will become, but to faithfully chip away at the marble so the sculpture, God’s dream, might become fully unveiled. Each generation has slowly chipped away at the marble. As the block takes on different shapes, we sometimes believe we have figured it out. Surely this is God’s dream. Yet as we chip away, the block begins to show a fuller picture, and we find ourselves once again saying surely, this is God’s dream. From generation to generation, when we show up to sculpt, we gain new insights into God’s dream and our faith evolves.
When we have texts like today’s gospel lesson, I think it’s particularly important to remember all that we’ve learned about God’s dream in the nearly two thousand years since this text was written. Our understanding of God and the world has shifted immensely, and yet, we know God is still speaking to us through this text.
Here are some learnings we need to take into our reading of the text, as they inform the context with which we read it:
I realize that is a lot for us to hold as we meet today’s lesson. Yet I walk us through these shifts in understanding as a reminder that we must meet the scriptures and traditions we hold dear with reason. We are called to take and apply all that we have learned about God’s creation and dream every time we meet them. And maybe most importantly, that we must never stop learning. Our posture towards God must remain open and willing to grow as a people of faith.
Alright, now to the text itself (and I promise I’ll try to keep it short).
Today’s gospel lesson takes place early in John’s gospel when Jesus is in Jerusalem for Passover. During a visit to the temple, Jesus was so upset by the busy marketplace that he began flipping tables. Following this stunning display, one of the high ranking Jewish leaders named Nicodemus visited Jesus in the middle of the night.Nicodemus recognized something of God within Jesus, and he was heavily confused by it all. In the verses that lead up to today’s gospel, there is a pattern of Jesus speaking and Nicodemus misunderstanding. Then in today’s portion of the encounter, Jesus shifts into a monologue.
At the core of the speech is Jesus challenging others to see his role as God’s agent to save the world through the way of love:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his Child, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Child into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (3:16-17).[modified Son to Child]
In the eyes of God, we are beautiful, we are beloved, and yet we are also broken. An eye opening and humbling reminder that we are in need of God’s saving love. The passage addresses both who Jesus is and the complexity of who we are. As God’s Child, Jesus is the embodied manifestation of God’s love. Through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, followers of the way of love are invited into an encounter with divine love.* The point of the encounter is not our happiness or solving our problems, it is about a transformational encounter with divine love that will turn this world upside down and right side up again.*
Meanwhile, we are imperfect; and selfish at times. One of my favorite quotes from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is the opposite of love is not hate, but selfishness.
This passage, this Lent, we are invited to examine our own complexities. In the last year, when have we chosen ourselves over God, creation, and our neighbor?
And please note, I’m not talking about self-care. That is not selfish--that is good stewardship of God’s creation.
I am talking about the times we know we were in a position to be a force of love in the world, and instead we chose not to.
These questions are not meant to make us feel horrible, but rather to invite some rigorous self-awareness and honesty about where we need God’s love to keep growing as beloved, beautiful, broken children of God.
As we continue our journey towards Holy Week, I invite us to make time this week for self-reflection and prayer as we examine our own complexities and follow the way of love. Amen.
*Inspired by Rolf Jacobsen in Working Preacher’s weekly podcast.
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