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The Love that Saves   (sermon)        

March 14, 2015

 John 3:14-21                        Ephesians 2:1-10Cardy Billboard

Elena has become a Christian today…

 

A week ago I talked to the youth group about baptism as the point of entry into a new life as a point of death to a past life and a new beginning as a follower of Jesus. My question to them was ‘Why would anyone choose this?’

 

Why would anyone love God, so much that they would treat their former life as dead and embark on a new life? (I’ve already half answered my own question – they must really love God… not just believe in God’s existence).

 

Today Elena didn’t make a choice to embark on the Christian life, her parents have simply included her in it. Rather than give her the choice they are giving her the default settings. They are raising her to love God.

 

But there is a deeper question… Why love God? It’s not obvious. God is very clever creating and holding the universe in existence and, if you believe this, God is much to be admired… but loved?

 

This is the secret power of John’s gospel… in particular John 3:16

 

God loves the world … not just individuals but ‘the world’… the creation (to be sure)… but also the problematic human world with all its violence and greed. Unbelievably, God loves it.

 

God loves the world-gone-amok so much that he ‘gave his only Son’… (‘begotten’) life from God’s own life … that’s what Jesus is for us ‘life from God’s own life’.

 

God loves the “perishing” world so much. So much that God was prepared to do whatever it took that there might be new life (eternal life, life of the age to come) as opposed to perishing of life.

 

The point of this act of love is to salvage the life of the world from its perishing and to bring new life to birth in the world (that the world might be saved through him). God carried the weight, carried the cost of that work… because God is love through and through.

So says John 3:16

 

This week Glynn Cardy, a Presbyterian minister in Auckland, in order to provoke some discussion at Easter time, put the sign on his Church billboard. “Jesus did NOT die for our sins”.

Sure enough it didn’t take long for his opponents to be outraged and paint over the ‘did NOT’ bit. Glyn was prepared for opposition. His response to the question as to why Jesus died is ‘he died for his own sin’. And what was that? Sedition! As Cardy put it. He was guilty as charged. Undermining the empire. And Cardy is right. I have said as much many times in sermons. But is that the whole story? It is fine to point out one of the causes of Jesus death, a very important cause of Jesus death… but does that mean you have ruled out the impact of Jesus death on ‘our sin’. In explaining it that way, (that Jesus died because he was seditious) does that mean you have explained the whole event? Does it mean that you have explained why we are sitting here two thousand or so years later worshipping the man? Does that explain why people regularly get baptised – die to an old life and commit themselves to a new life following this man? Is Jesus death nothing more than the death of an inspired rebel. That’s the problem with the ‘did NOT’ on Glynn Cardy’s noticeboard.

 

The first preaching of the church took for granted that he died at our hands and at the hands of empire (read Acts) ‘this Jesus whom you crucified’… but what was at least as important for them was that God was involved. Whatever reasons the empire might have had for killing this dangerous man from Nazareth, and they certain had reason, God also had reasons for taking the path towards death. God raised Jesus. God affirmed the man who, although crucified by us, nevertheless chose to face this death and gave himself to it in hope for us.

 

Today we are not reading Glyn Cardy’s noticeboard, we are reading John’s gospel. And for John’s gospel Jesus is not just a political rebel – he comes from the heart of God (Son of God) and the Empire is not just an empire – it comes from the heart of a perishing humanity and epitomises the human problem, our sin. What we see in John’s gospel is more than an encounter between a dreamer and an empire. We have an encounter between the love of God and the sin of the world.

 

And with the resurrection of Jesus comes the victory of God over all that holds humanity in bondage. There is much more at stake with the death of Jesus than the fact that empire is wrong. What is finally at stake is that God is love – love in action.

 

And that action, according to John’s gospel, addresses the problem of sin.

God, says John’s gospel, did not do this to ‘condemn the world’…. But God did do it to ‘judge’ the world. And what is this judgment?

vs 20 “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world.”

The judgment that God brings is compared to light… moral light, divine light. God judges us by shedding divine light on human action and the human condition. And light judges us because we want to protect ourselves from light… John says people love darkness rather than light

 

To put it another way… we don’t want to admit our neediness. We don’t want to know. And God loves us enough to confront us anyway.

 

Before I finish I want to mention a couple of things about this sin that Jesus’ death addresses. The first is the phrase in the letter to the Ephesians – today’s other text. The writer sees their life prior to conversion as being ‘children of wrath’. It’s a kind of parallel to the phrase ‘Son of God’. One gets his life from the life of God (begotten there, so to speak) and the other gets its life from the cycles of violence that form us as human being – out of the problem of sin.

To put it in the words of W H Auden

            I and the public know

            what all school children learn

            those to whom evil is done

            do evil in return

             

The other thing that struck me this week was Peter Matheson’s Opinion piece in Wednesday’s ODT

“The Cold War, with its threat of nuclear catastrophe, has been replaced by simmering fires of discontent right across the globe.

These factories of hate are not going to go away.”

 

“What realistic alternatives to the present unjust world order could we be offering them?”

 

To which I would only respond… it depends on whether you think communities formed by the love of God are in fact ‘realistic alternatives’. The response to factories of hate has got to be factories of love. God loves the world enough not just to send the Son, not just to raise the Son for us again, but also enough to raise up communities of new life in the world. This is the Christian gospel.

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Murray Shallard permalink
    March 14, 2015 5:11 am

    As to be expected, another very good sermon Bruce.
    Reminded me of the old, creation, de-creation, re-creation adage. I grow tired of sin as the only emphasis, especially when redemption & new creation are ignored as the future we have.

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