Monday, March 16, 2015

Sermon for March 15, 2015: Inviting Disbelief.

This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran church on March 8, 2015.

Gospel: John 3:14–21
14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
             16For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
             17Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
This morning, I have an invitation for you, it’s not from me, but from God. Here it is, it goes,

Dear person, because I love you, I’ve sent my Son, …his name is Jesus…to bring you to my eternal life party. If you believe this, check yes in the RSVP box, and I’ll see you at some point over the next century.

That’s what the invitation says anyway…oh, and there’s some fine print…if you do not believe, you’re condemned.

So, speaking as your Pastor, I’d recommend checking the yes box, and do it soon, because there aint no party like an eternal life party and an eternal life party, by its very nature, certainly doesn’t stop.

But… I need to stop, and confess that the invitation I’m talking about is really the Bible verse, John 3:16, and more importantly, I must confess that I really, really struggle with this type of reading of John 3:16 and the verses that follow it.

An Invitation from God!
I struggle with the way I’ve commonly heard this verse used because I just don’t find a lot of Good News in a God whose salvation is both dependent and limited to the condition of my belief. I don’t find a lot of Gospel in a God who cannot save anyone, unless they choose to be saved. I don’t find a lot of hope in a God who would create us and claim to love us, yet leave us to eternal condemnation if we make the wrong choice. Actually, I don’t struggle with these things, I just don’t believe them to be true.

Yet, with all that being said, John 3:16 is an invitation, a wonderful, grand, invitation that is full of Good News and hope, and at the same time troubling, and challenging. It is true, that in these words of Jesus, we are being invited into God’s eternal life. But this life isn’t just some great, eternal party that extends our lives into forever once we die. The life that we are being invited to is the eternal life that is here with us, in this place, in this world today. This is the eternal life of a God who is so abundant that he comes to us in a person named Jesus and pours his life out for us not because of our belief, but because of our suspicion, our fear, our hatred, and the suffering and death that this causes us to bring to Jesus, to each other and ourselves.

Through Jesus, God doesn’t invite us to a Godly party, but to a Godly world, a heavenly creation where our lives are filled with goodwill and not suspicion, where there is abundance and not scarcity and need, where there is sharing rather than hoarding, where there is joy and not ambition.

This, as I said, is a great invitation, it is a grace-filled invitation, but it is a troubling and challenging one as well, at least for me. I still have a lot of trouble with believing in Jesus. Of course I have trouble believing that someone could die and be raised to new life. That’s just something I’ve never seen before.

But I have a lot of trouble believing in the things Jesus says and does, and that he actually expects them of me. For instance, when Jesus, who doesn’t seem to have a lot of things, tells the rich young man to sell all that he has and give the money away, so that he may have eternal life, I’m a little skeptical, especially as evidenced by my continuing to have stuff. Or when Jesus says that when we neglect the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned, etc. that we neglect him too, I’m not sure enough about this truth to really change my patterns of behavior much. Or, when we hear Jesus say that he came not to condemn the world, but to save it, when we see him pour his life out not for a good cause, but for the people that are killing him, that’s a little challenging as well. How can we love those who would do us harm? How can we even imagine that those who are involved in the brutality of ISIS or Boko Haram are worthy of love, and forgiveness and mercy?

The truth is, is that this invitation into Jesus’ eternal life is one that I sinfully reject in thought, word, and deed with my whole being. The truth is, is that unless the light that has come into this world serves my own interests, I do despise it, because I am a sinner.

The truth is, is that the good works that I do manage to do, the works that we do, the lives we live and the love we share are not mine, or our actions. They are not our human sign for the world about how great and righteous God has made us. Rather, they are a sign that God can and does bring salvation, and love, and even eternal life to each of us, and to all the world. And God does so, not because of our acceptance of that love, but in spite of our rejection of it.

As the church, as Christians, we have been given the grace to know that our savior has come, and the grace to share the signs of God’s saving presence, the sacraments of Baptism and Communion with each other and for the sake of all of creation. And, with the assuredness of these Signs of Promise, we as Christians, even in spite of our disbelief, have been called to bear God’s Son, Jesus Christ in our very bodies, and continue to bring his salvation to a world in need.

And so, this morning, on behalf of God, in the name of Christ, I invite you to know that you have the gift of eternal life, and to share that gift. I invite you to share it like the women and children who suffered at the Ravensbruck concentration camp in World War II, a place where 92,000 died, did. This was a place where this prayer, this prayer of eternal life, was found scrawled on wrapping paper, next to a deceased child.

Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have brought thanks to this suffering-our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this, and when they come to judgment, let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness.

You are invited, to this eternal life, to this Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

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