Lent 4B, 2012
John 3: 14-21
A Liturgy is also available
SOME STUFF I HAVE PICKED UP ALONG THE WAY ABOUT JESUS AND GOD AND THE WORLD...
The gospel storyteller called John is a fine storyteller.
He tells his stories with passion and vivid imagery.
And he tells his stories many, many years
after the time when the events are supposed to have happened.
Yet on other occasions his writing can be dense and difficult to understand.
The gospel story we heard this morning is, I reckon, one of those occasions,
despite it containing a familiar text.
Especially if you can remember it in the King James language...
(So I might quote it correctly I have had to get out my late parents’ Bible...)
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish,
but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16, KJV).
Now when we hear this particular story from John
we need to note that the traditional interpretation is on Jesus
as the way, the only way, to God.
But when we go beyond the literal,
the emphasis is on the nature of God
as seen through Jesus of Nazareth.
So, what can we make of this ‘shift’?
Well, the traditional emphasis is based on a belief that Jesus is speaking these words in this story.
But many scholars now claim this is not the case.
These words are the words of the storyteller John, not Jesus.
And, such a traditional emphasis has also resulted in a form of Jesus idolatry,
where, in fundamentalist Christianity, for example,
Jesus is portrayed as God and worshipped
as though he were God.
As a result, the traditional emphasis has led some to state
that agreement with this claim is a primary test of one’s orthodoxy.
And as if to make everything OK and acceptable,
such groups usually argue this really means you have to
‘accept the Nicene Creed’... whatever ‘accept’ may mean!
For others, it has led to a powerful religious exclusiveness.
And an exclusiveness that has been quite destructive
in the relationships between Christians
and between Christians and followers of other faith traditions,
not to mention destructive of the lives of countless human beings
who were 'put to the sword'!
Well, with some very broad strokes let me offer a few brief comments
about Jesus and God I have picked up along the way.
(i) Although God is not a supernatural being or quasi-person,
what God is remains a genuine mystery.
But if we think of God as ‘creativity’, creativity as ‘God’
- the coming into being of the new, the novel -
then God is always and everywhere active:
from the Big Bang through the cosmic expansion into galaxies;
through the appearance of life on planet Earth
and its evolution into countless forms;
and including human cultural activity and self-conscious deliberations.
(ii) Jesus is truly human, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh,
living a human life under the same conditions any one of us faces.
He is not a visitor from elsewhere, sent to the world by a god ‘out there’.
(iii) Jesus is that one in whom the early Jesus Movement saw
God’s creativity present with a decisive intensity.
And this presentness brought about newness of life for humanity.
To expand life. Not escape life.
(iv) The distinctive voice of Jesus can be found in the fragments
known as sayings, parables and aphorisms.
Especially in the stories called parables, as they offer
a glimpsed alternative...
a hint of new possibility...
a stretch of the imagination.
And (v) by the time of John, near the end of the 1st century,
some 65 -70 years or so after the death of Jesus of Nazareth,
there had been a significant change in thinking by the Jesus Movement.
Away from the wisdom teachings of a human, secular sage,
to the person, and indeed the worship of, Jesus as ‘Divine Son of God’.
And that is a momentous conclusion!
With similar broad strokes, let me also offer a few very brief comments
about the world, I have also picked up along the way.
The term ‘global village’ is one which is often used nowadays
to describe the kind of world in which we live.
Indeed it is now not unexpected that we could:
purchase a German car made in Mexico,
or own a Japanese-named microwave built in Korea,
by an aircraft manufacturer.
Never before has so many people with so many different
belief systems, values, and styles of life
become aware of one another.
But for many this new awareness has also brought with it
a realisation of all that divides:
different cultural systems,
different religious traditions
different attitudes towards promoting a sustainable universe
and our interconnectedness.
A couple of years back, in the middle of the previous GFC,
I picked up this story from the Catholic e-zine publication called Eureka Street:
“On Smith Street, an archetypal inner suburban street,
rain fell on the corrugated supermarket veranda.
“It was about a month after the sub-prime market collapsed.
Underneath the verandah the regulars,
and others in need of a meal,
sipped hot soup or munched on sausages.
“From behind the BBQ I asked one of the regulars if he had
collected any aluminium cans in the past week.
'No, not this week.' He glanced up.
'The rain?' I suggested.
'Nup,' interjected another bloke, 'no point anymore.'
'Yeah,' continued the first, 'scrap dealer says China doesn't want aluminium now.'
“We were at a St Vinnies' soup van on a street that brings together
an eclectic mix of bohemians, disadvantaged and homeless.
It is a hub for drug users, residents of surrounding
housing commission flats, as well as a large Aboriginal community.
“A number of the van's regular clients collect aluminium cans.
They then sell them on to a scrap dealer who has them melted for recycling.
“This is by no means the easiest way to make a buck...
[But] the financial crisis meant that the demand
for raw materials dried up.
So the dealer halved the price he offered for the cans.
“In so much of the debate surrounding the recent market collapses
and economic stagnation, 'Wall Street' and 'Main Street'
have been cast at polarities.
“This belies the more complex reality of the connection
between the financial centres of the world
and my mates on Smith Street” (Butler. Eureka Street/2.09).
The old King James words: God so loved the world does seem
to imply that if it is to be an age of life and light, we will all need to:
• acknowledge an interconnectedness with people of all races,
ethnicity’s and cultures; and
• rejoice in those diversities as gifts to humanity
and the wider web of life, without discrimination.
Now I guess all this sounds pretty heavy... Even too theological.
Ideal material for yawns and reading the weekly Notices during sermons!
So my apologies to those who think
attending ‘church’ should mean you don’t have to think!
But my own theological honesty requires me to claim:
• It is in Jesus-as-human that humans can see
Creativity God dancing within and among us,
not as the Holy Stranger,
but as the Familiar Sacred.
• It is in Creativity God in the world around us
that we can live in harmony
with others and with the earth,
even as we love our human selves.
May we yet be blessed in that claim.
Even as we continue to grow in knowledge and connectedness,
so the planet that is our home in the universe
will also continue to grow and flourish.
I still reckon Don Cupitt’s comment is helpful:
“the task of religion is to give us the courage and strength to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to life” (Cupitt 2008).
Cupitt, D. 2008. Above Us Only Sky. The Religion of Ordinary Life. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
Funk, R. W. 2002. A Credible Jesus. Fragments of a vision. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
Peters, K. E. 2002. Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg. Trinity International Press.
Scott, B. B. (ed) 2007. Jesus Reconsidered. Scholarship in the Public Eye. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
Butler, J. 2009. ‘The crash of the can market’ in Eureka Street 19, 3. 3 February 2009.