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The passages this week surround the theme of faith, especially faith in the midst of uncertainty. As I write this, the fifth largest earthquake ever recorded has struck Japan, launching tsunami waves across the Pacific. Thousands have been evacuated away from nuclear power plants. The damage done by the natural disaster is horrific; it is unknown, however, at this time whether or not there will be further disaster due to leaks of pollution or radiation. It could turn much, much worse.
This is the situation of our world as we read the lectionary passages for this week. We are unable to comprehend at times the chaos in the world. We know that God created the world, we know that God called creation good, but still there is chaos, unexplained events, unspeakable tragedies that occur through natural and unnatural means. But we also believe, we have faith, that goodness prevails, that love wins, that grace and mercy triumph over evil and chaos.
Nicodemus understood that Jesus was sent from God in John 3:1-17; however, he did not understand who Jesus was, nor did he understand the message that Jesus brought. Often in our reading we stop at 3:16, the “football” verse as it is sometimes called for its prominence in being displayed on fan posters trying to reach the unsaved. I remember the first time I heard it called the “football” verse I thought to myself, “3rd down, 16 to go–yeah, I’d be praying, too.” The point is that we often jump the gun and think this verse is the be-all and end-all of the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” That verse is used to show that there is one way to heaven, that you have to believe in Christ who was given as a sacrifice by God so you won’t die. But there is so much, much more to the Christian faith than that. If people would just read beyond to verse 17, they’d understand a lot more: “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.” Jesus came to SAVE the world, not condemn it! It’s pretty clear in that passage. But we as human beings like to pick and choose what verses we prefer over others. God so loved the world that he sent Jesus because God didn’t want to condemn the world but to save the world! Hallelujah!
Nicodemus has not understood. Jesus starts talking about being born from above and Nicodemus takes it way too literally: “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb to be born?” (vs 4). Yet Nicodemus says he understands that the presence of God is present in Jesus. The presence of God is also present in us, and it is made known to us when we believe. It is about having faith in the midst of uncertainty. Even when we do not understand, even when we do not feel it, God is present with us.
Right now, I imagine for thousands of people in Japan and around the world, they are confused and bewildered, maybe even questioning how a loving God could allow this to happen. How could God who created the world allow an earthquake of such magnitude to wreak havoc on such a populated area?
I’m not one that believes every little part of the earth’s history has already been planned out. I do not believe God caused the earthquake to happen nor do I believe God is using it as punishment or to teach anyone a lesson. I don’t buy that for one minute. I do, however, believe that God is active immediately in the aftermath–in the second the buildings stop shaking, in the moment the waves begin to draw back and settle; in the smoothing of the coastline after the dramatic damage. God is active in our hearts, causing us to give aid, to volunteer, to seek out to help. God is active in the healing and the compassion shown, the caring and the helping. God is active by hope, hope alive in us.
I believe God sent Jesus to us to save the world, not condemn it. When we share the love of Christ with others, we are sharing active hope. God is present in our presence with others (“Wherever two are three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”–Matthew 18:20). Jesus calls us to a new way of life, a way that makes known God’s presence to others in the name of Jesus, in the act of love. We are called to be born anew, born from above–it is a new life of sharing God’s love with others through hope.
The Genesis story in 12:1-4a recalls the call of Abram, and Abram is told by God that he will not only be made into a great nation, but that “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing… and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Again, we are called to make God’s presence known to others. God is already present in our lives, but at times we don’t feel it, at times we don’t acknowledge it, at times we ignore it–and at times we simply have never had the opportunity to experience it. Christ calls us forth to share God’s presence through love and in acts of hope. Just as Abram was called to be a blessing to the world, so now, as children of God born anew, we are called to be that blessing. Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 is Paul’s understanding of the blessing of Abraham. Paul leans heavily on the argument of faith, faith in God that calls us to righteousness; Abraham was blessed by God because of his faith in God. Abraham became a blessing to the world because of his faith in God, and that it is Abraham’s example that we must follow, not his lineage. However, when we accept this new life found in Christ, the gift of God’s known presence with us, we cannot help but respond by acts of hope–sharing what we have with those in need, lifting up the poor, praying for the sick. We are reminded in James chapter 5 of what we ought to do as acts of hope in this world. But we do those acts of hope because of our faith in Jesus and the love of God found in Christ Jesus. Indeed, as always, it comes down to faith, hope, and love–and while Paul states the greatest of these is love in 1 Corinthians 13:13, you can’t go far without hope.
Psalm 121 is a perfect psalm for this Sunday. As we recover in this world from the aftermath of the earthquake, we are reminded that we don’t look to the mountains for our hope, but we look to God, the maker of the mountains. Creator of heaven and earth, God is our comfort and our shelter, our keeper, our warmth, the one who marks our beginnings and our endings. As we continue to pray for the people of Japan and around the world affected by this tragedy, so we lift our eyes up beyond the hills; we lift our eyes to the Creator. We remember that we are called to be the body of Christ on this earth, and we are guided by the Holy Spirit in the ways we continue to be Christ’s body in this world.
In Lent, we journey through the cross to Easter. We stare death in the face and remember death, however terrible it may enter into our lives, does not have the last word. Death does not have power over us. We cling to active hope, and we share in acts of hope in our lives, so that others may know the presence of God and the power of God’s love in Christ Jesus.
Call to Worship:
Leader: The world has literally come crashing down,
People: but neither death or life will separate us.
Leader: Violence and hate turn revolution into rebellion,
People: but neither angels or rulers will keep us from love.
Leader: Tragedy after tragedy, our hearts will sink,
People: but nothing present, nor things to come will hold us back from hope.
Leader: Peace seems to be a dream; reconciliation an impossibility,
People: Nothing in all of creation will separate us from the love of God found in Christ Jesus.
Leader: We hear the good news of Jesus! Let us share it!
ALL: Let us worship and live into the good news of hope, faith, and love together!
Prayer of Confession:
Loving God, we confess that at times we turn a blind eye to the world. We close our hearts and minds off to the cries of others and focus on our daily tasks, our chores at hand, our busy schedules. We find the crying out of the poor too overwhelming for our ears, the pleas of the hungry too much for our stomachs to take, the images of children dying from disease too piercing for our eyes. Forgive us for our selfish ways. Forgive us for wanting to make peace for ourselves without making peace for the world. Grant us a renewed faith, O God, through Your Son Jesus the Christ, to walk in Christ’s ways of love and reconciliation, justice and mercy, hope and peace. May we truly understand what it means to be Your children, born from You, and may we live as children created in Your image in this world. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. There is no one that condemns us, but Christ forgives us. Indeed, Christ did not come into the world in order to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Let us live as forgiven people. Let us live as renewed people. Let us live as people of the new life in Christ. Amen.
Faithful God, You have partnered with us in this world to share the Good News of Your Son’s love. You have called us to be Your ministers, each with our own gifts and strengths. At times we are afraid to use them. At times we feel we are not good enough. We are afraid no one will hear us, no one will listen. We are afraid we will be judged. Loving God, renew in us a sense of purpose in You to be Your ministers in this world. You have given us all the gifts of love and compassion, healing and forgiveness. Help us to do our part to mend the brokenness, to restore and renew relationships with others, and to care for those who are sick and hungry. Guide us in how we might bring Good News to the world, through our relationships with others, through being part of this body of Christ in the world. In the name of Jesus, the Great Reconciler, Restorer and Redeemer, we pray all things. Amen.
One of my favorite hymns is “Let Your Heart Be Broken.” The hymn begins with “Let your heart be broken, for a world in need. Feed the mouths that hunger, soothe the wounds that bleed. Give a cup of water and a loaf of bread, Be the hands of Jesus, serving in his stead.” And one of my absolute all-time favorite lines in a hymn is “Follow in his footsteps, go where he has trod; in the world’s great struggle, risk yourself for God.” That’s what it is all about.
Release Date: October 8th, 2019