Light at the Crossroad
This passage is probably the most famous passage of all Scripture. It is emblazoned on T-shirts. Bumper stickers. It is the first Bible Verse many of us memorized as kids. In fact we are reminded of by a silly guy in a rainbow wig every time there is a touchdown at a football game. John 3:16 is everywhere. Even those who have never stepped foot in a church probably know it.
It has become the litmus test for many of God’s faithful. It has become a de-facto creed for many of us who are non-creedal people. It is the statement of faith many use to proclaim their devotion to God.
John 3:16 has become the “way” to declare that you have been saved. I know it, I believed it, I am saved. But what I think has happened over the course of time is that this passage has become about a conditional God – a God that demands certain words. A God that demands that a sacrifice be paid, and only after that sacrifice are we considered worthy. That whosoever believes in Him. We make that phrase a condition of faith. It has been read as a passage about how much God loves us, and that is we only love him back then we get our reward. But I want us to consider, this morning, that this is not a passage so much about how much God loves us, but rather it is a story of what God’s love looks like. It is a story that takes the conditionality out of God, and shows us that God’s love is extravagant and life altering.
Translated more literally this familiar text says:
This is the way God loved the world: with the result that he gave his only son, in order that whoever believes in the son should not suffer eternal death, but have eternal life now.
And it goes on:
God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the word, but to save the world.
This is what God’s love look like.
It is Light at the crossroad.
Old Nicodemus’ world was falling apart around him. The Roman occupation of Jerusalem was starting to weave itself into every aspect of his life – against his will. He was a man who trul loved the Lord, sought to serve God in any way possible. He came to the Temple to be always in the presence of God. He studied the Ancient texts of the tradition. He sat on the steps and taught about Moses and the Prophets. He was there daily praying the Psalms to God.
He was in the Temple to worship, but the occupation of Rome had dug its talons into the Temple leadership. He saw how they put their relationship with Rome above their relationship with God. He saw the short cuts and the cuts off the top of temple taxes. He watched as his beloved temple began to resemble more and more the place of worship Amos warned about. His world was falling apart.
Then, yesterday, this madman comes to the temple and begins knocking over the tables and releasing the animals meant for sacrifice. This man came to the temple yelling something about how it would would be torn down and in three days would rise again. Even though, the temple was not what it could be, it was Nicodemus’ places and now it has been threatened by this Galilean.
But something happened as he watched this. He heard the words of this madman. He heard about how there was something fundamentally new in his words – that there the walls they had built to protect God were unnecessary. That God is for all people and that the rules and dogmas they had enforced had become idols and walls to keep people from God. There was power in the madman’s words.
Old Nicodemus wanted to know more. He followed the man from the temple. He watched as the man and his friends walked through the city. But as night drew its shade around the city, the excitement of the day began to make itself known in his weary bones. His arthritic knees were not accustomed to all of this walking. His twitching hand kept him from steading himself, and outside the city walls he stat on a rock. In the darkness. On the road. He sat.
And as he sat, the tears began to well in his old wrinkled eyes, following the course of the crows feet they began to fall on his hands. The tear began to pour. He followed this stranger thinking it would be something new, “I am a foolish old man,” he wept. His mind reeling he, longed for the warmth of his mat in the temple. He regretted his foolishness following the madman. He enveloped himself in the darkness.
Fearful, he felt alone. Abandoned. His anger at Rome burning. His rancor at the leadership rising. His self-loathing engulfing. The dark wrapped its leathery wings around him like a chrysalis that from which a butterfly would never escape. The darkness surrounded him. It threatened to swallow him whole, and he wanted – he longed for a way out of the darkness.
He sat down on a bench like rock along the crossroad. And through his tears he heard a voice. A voice that said to him something that cracked the chrysalis of darkness, that pierced the shell of pain. That caused him to stop his weeping and look out. Look up.
This winter has been one of the darkest I can remember. I don’t necessarily mean dark as in the amount of sunlight, but rather in the news that we hear. I suppose I am not the only one here who has noticed that. In fact, I have had several people tell me they have stopped watching the news or reading the paper. When a story comes on NPR they turn off the radio – the news out there has gotten so bad – so dark – that it seems safer just to ignore it.
But we can’t ignore it. We can just try to sweep it under the rug – because it is happening to us. To those we know. To those we love.
You watch helplessly as someone you love is nearing the end of her life. That though she has lived a long life, you know the end is near. You watch knowing that there is nothing we can do – death is the inevitability we all face – but why does if have to be so hard? With our broken and breaking hearts we helplessly watch as the dark tries to overtake the light.
The spiral of pain and hurt you have endured has produced a storm cloud of depression that wants to drown you. Thought of suicide shoot though your brain like lightening bolts. Shocking your nervous system into doing things that are against your best interest. The clouds of darkness overshadow any hope, any joy, any chance at happiness. The dark clouds cover any light that may try to come through.
Your home life is in shambles. You are doing the best you can to make ends meet, but there is never enough. You wake up in cold sweats wondering how the mortgage is going to get paid this month.
You struggle to get out of bed in the morning. The pain in your aching joints makes slumber the most appealing of choices.
You have lost the love of your life. The one who you knew better than anyone else and who knew you – words are not enough to name the grief you feel. The tears have dried up one day only to flow like a water over a dam the next.
Anger burns at a sister being beating by addiction. Rage rises as government seems to prefer an amoral status quo that rewards those with means while neglecting the least among us. Fury boils your blood as yet another innocent life is taken because of our nations idolatry to guns.
It goes on and on and on – the darkness overtakes the light of day. And as that darkness grows – it swallows us. It engulfs us and we become beholden to it. We become agents of darkness. We, trying to protect ourselves from it become self-centered. We become arrogant. We start worrying about what is best for us. How we can best get ahead. It all becomes about us and as it does – the darkness spirals around and around – turning us on ourselves – on each other. We begin to act out. We begin to do the things that are defeating us. We become agents of our own darkness…
And we sit on a rock. Tears welling up in our eyes. Hopeless. Alone. We sit on the crossroad. Between light and darkness. Hoping. Longing. Desiring for something better.
And through his tears he heard a voice. The voice of the madman. The voice that said to him something that cracked the chrysalis of darkness, that pierced the shell of pain. That caused him to stop his weeping and look out. Look up.
The voice came from Jesus. “This is how God loves the world: that God gave his only son in order that whoever believes in the son should not suffer eternal death, but have eternal life now.
God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the word, but to save the world.”
The voice comes in the middle of the night. Piercing the chrysalis of Nicodemus’ darkness. The voice of Jesus comes and says that the love of God is made known in the power of the cross. That like the bronze serpent that was lifted up and all the wandering Israelites need to do was look at it and they would be healed, so, too, Son of Humanity would be lifted up on the cross for the saving of the world. That lifted on the cross, when would be lifted from the dead and lifted to the right hand of the Father. That through the cross, the darkness would be forever banished.
God sent the Son into the world to save the world. To pierce the shell of darkness that is swallowing up the world. God sent the Son into the world that we might be saved.
That when that friend is nearing the end, you go – yes sad – but with the hope of the promise that she is a child of God. That you are a child of God. That the darkness of that night is no match for the light of the Cross. That on the cross was nailed your sorrow and grief, it was lifted up and transformed by the light of God’s love.
When the storm clouds of depression hit your, and the lightening shoots through your body. When the dark thoughts of suicide cover everything else – there is the cross. The sign of death transformed into the promise of new life. That there is hope even when it seems there is nothing else. There is the promise that in the cross there is life. There is the promise of a new life. Not with out pain. Not without sadness. But a new life that is with the One who knows suffering and pain. The one who knows humiliation and scorn. That you are not alone.
The cross is the place of anxiety and dread. It is the place of worry and doubt. The cross is where those are lifted up. Where those feelings are given a place. Given a name and allowed to be said. On the cross is where they are changed into perseverance and calm – resourcefulness and hope. Lifted up on the cross they are given new meaning.
When the grief is to much, look to the cross. Look to the crucified Son of God – God’s beloved – and see the promise that is in the once crucified and now risen Son. Know that in your grief the grief of the Heavenly Parent, too, wept.
This is the world of a God who loves the world. Who shows the world how much he loves it by giving his Son to us. Not to judge. Not to condemn. Not to cause bitterness and division. Not to bring infighting and hated. But to save us. To Save you. To save me!
That is the the work of God. That is the power of God. That is they light at the crossroad. That when we are engulfed in darkness – God’s very own came to bring light. Came to bring hope. Came to bring transformation and reconciliation. That in our darkness there a light that will not be overcome that will always be shining. That is covering us with outstretched hands. Without condition – God has done this – there is nothing we can do to earn it. It is our gift. It is our light.
Look to the cross. High and lifted up. Look to the light.
Thanks be to God!!!!!