What Can We Learn from Jesus? sermon 4 – Giving Up God for Lent – John 3:16

Part I                                             We worship as we live

in the midst of the MYSTERY we call God,

a MYSTERY that IS LOVE.

May the Spirit of LOVE

breathe wisdom and passion

into this gathering.

The appointed Gospel reading for this the fourth Sunday in Lent includes the passage from John 3:16. This verse has been dubbed by many evangelicals as “the gospel in a nut-shell.”  So popular is this verse that in certain parts of rural North America you will still find billboards that read simply John 3:16.  “For 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.” Traditional interpretations of this verse have painted a particular picture of who Jesus was and why Jesus died.

Traditionally, the season of Lent is a time of repentance. So, let us repent. Repent from the Greek word metanoia “to think new thoughts”. Let us metanoia – Let us think new thoughts about who Jesus was and why Jesus died. Repent Metanoia – let us think new thoughts so that we might ask:  What can Jesus teach us?

The way that the Jesus story has been told has crafted, molded and shaped the idol that masquerades as the MYSTERY we call God. The stories about Jesus have been told in ways that paint a particular picture of what it means to be human.  According to these traditional interpretations humans were originally created in a state of perfection to live in a perfect creation. These perfect humans enjoyed a perfect relationship with their Creator. Then one day that perfect relationship was severed when for one reason or another the humans disobeyed the rules established by the creator.

You all know this story. This story provides the raw material for the idol that we have created to serve as our god. According to the story humans are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. Humans were cast out of the perfection of the garden and alienated for their creator. Humans have tried in vain to get themselves back into the garden, to restore our oneness with our creator. But try as we might we are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. We need a saviour to rescue us from our sinfulness. And our Creator needs us to pay for our sinfulness. We must be punished.

Traditional interpretations of the life of Jesus insist that Jesus sacrificed himself, took all our respective punishment onto his shoulders, died for us, upon a cross, so that our relationship to our creator could be restored. We’ve heard these interpretations of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection so many times that they have almost become indistinguishable from the idol that we have created to stand in for the Mystery that we call God. The trouble is, we all live in the 21st century and we know that the definition of what it means to be human that these stories rely upon no longer rings true. We know that humans have been evolving over millennia. We know that humans were not created as perfectly formed creatures who fell into sin. We know that humans are continuing to evolve. Humans are incomplete beings.

We are not fallen creatures. This knowledge has to change the way in which we see our relationship with the MYSTERY that lies at the very source of our being; our Creator if you will. This knowledge has an impact on how we interpret the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

If we look at the stories that have been told about Jesus, the stories that have contributed so much to the creation of the idol that masquerades as the Mystery we call God, we discover a narrative that seems preoccupied with Jesus’ death. It occurred to me the other day, that it is quite peculiar that most of what has been written about Jesus in the New Testament and indeed our liturgies, even the hymns we sing about Jesus they tend to shift our focus to Jesus’ death.

Imagine if you will, trying to understand the life of Martin Luther King, or Mahatma Gandhi simply by focusing upon their death. Imagine trying to understand who Dr. King was and focusing your attention upon his assassination.  Imagine knowing everything there is to know about that final day in Memphis, about the motel, about the people who were on that balcony when Dr. King was shot, about the shooter, the gun that was used, about the funeral procession, the grieving, and about the people who tried to go on walking in the ways of Dr. King. Imagine all the information you would miss if you simply focused upon Dr. King’s death.

You wouldn’t know very much about the civil rights movement, about Dr. King’s dream, his vision of equality, his struggle for inclusion, his cries for justice for the poor, his vision economic equality, or his passion for peace, and his commitment to non-violent resistance.

So, this morning I’d like us to take our focus off Jesus’ death and all we may have heard, or learned about why Jesus died so that we can see what it was about Jesus life that endeared him to his followers. What can Jesus teach us? What can we learn from Jesus life about who, or what the MYSTERY we call God is?  What can Jesus teach us about God?

Part II

Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.

Take a few moments to walk across the sanctuary and have a word with someone about who Jesus was?  What do you know about the life of Jesus that sheds some light on who and what the MYSTERY that we call God is?

 Part III

Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts” Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.

Share as a whole group some responses: What do you know about the life of Jesus that sheds some light on who and what the MYSTERY that we call God is?

Part IV

Repent: Metanoia: “to think new thoughts”. Let us repent, metanoia – Let us think new thoughts.  The Gospel this morning comes to us from the anonymous Gospel storyteller that we know as John. This gospel was written some 70 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. The storyteller writes: For 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. “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.”

Today, when each of us is coping with the loss of an hour’s sleep, perhaps it is easier for us to understand that the way in which we describe reality does indeed change over time. Yesterday, when the sun was in the same position in the sky as it is now, we insisted that it was an hour later. Today, thanks to daylight savings time, the earth hasn’t quickened its course around the sun. The sun is in the same place at the same time as it was yesterday, but today all our clocks insist that it is actually 11:00 and not 10:00.

When we focus upon the life of Jesus of Nazareth rather than the death of Jesus, we can begin to hear some of the things that Jesus was passionate about. Jesus’ passions reveal to us the image of the Mystery that we call God that Jesus worshipped. When we set aside the institutional narrative of atonement that the church has relied upon to interpret the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the idol that masquerades as god, the idol whose contours are reinforced in our worship services, by our hymns, prayers, creeds, choice of scriptures, and rituals, this idol begins to crumble. When we forgo our obsession with Jesus death and open ourselves to the passions of Jesus life, we begin to see new ways to understand the new images of the HOLY ONE that Jesus encouraged his followers to see. Jesus’ life reveals images of God that point far beyond the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, to the Ultimate MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of all reality. The apostle Paul who was the first to write about Jesus, portrays Jesus as a doorway into the ultimate. For Paul, Jesus was not God but a human in which God was revealed.  For us, Jesus can be the medium through which the Mystery we call God can be imagined.

For centuries our imaginations have been limited by images created in the 4th century when the institution carefully crafted creeds about the nature of God and interpreted the death of Jesus that reflected their limited knowledge of reality. Our ever-expanding knowledge of reality is inconsistent with these 4th century interpretations of the experience of Jesus.  Setting aside the doctrines of previous centuries, frees us to explore Jesus’ life from a whole new perspective; a perspective that embraces all that we have learned about what it means to be human; a perspective that is mindful of the vast expanse of the cosmos, a perspective that sheds light on the evolution of our species; a perspective that provides a window on the process of healing the wounds created by our bondage to sin, but rather by our incompleteness; a perspective that points beyond itself to a oneness with the MYSTERY that is the LOVE that we call God. Take for example Jesus passion for non-violent resistance to oppression. In a world where tribalism was the only remedy offered as a solution our quest for survival. The life of Jesus represents a significant evolution in human consciousness. Jesus was able to move beyond tribalism, Jesus was able to evolve beyond the human instinct for survival and give himself to and for others. When we tell the story of Jesus life from this perspective we, like the early followers of Jesus are able to see the LOVE that is God lived out in the life of a human being. In Jesus, God did not invade the world, coming down from heaven to pay a price for human sinfulness. In Jesus we see a life in which the Divine ONE is revealed. Jesus broke down the boundaries and the barriers by which humans separated themselves from one another. The LOVE that is God that is seen in Jesus was the overcoming of all fear and division. In the presence and through the experience of Jesus life, the tribal barriers between Jew and Gentile, Jew and Samaritan, male and female, Jew and Roman, bound and free, rich and poor, life and death all these divisions faded away. In the life of Jesus there was a humanity that included all and that dismissed none. In the life of Jesus, a human community without boundaries could be imagined. In the life of Jesus, God is imagined as the power of life, the passion of love, the Ground of Being that draws all lives into a new way of being human.   In Jesus we see the LOVE that IS God lived out in the life of a human being.  In Jesus’ life we are able to see a way of being that moves us beyond our tribal instincts and points us toward a way of being that is open to the power of the Reality that is the LOVE that is God. In the life of Jesus, the passions of Jesus we are directed beyond the idol we worship as god, beyond the doctrines created by 4th century understandings of reality, beyond the primitive madness of a blood sacrifice for sin, beyond the fear of a judgmental god, toward an integration of all that we are learning about what it means to be human in a cosmos far more incredible that our ancestors could ever begin to imagine.

The passions of Jesus are embodied in a life that reveals the LOVE that IS God. As followers of Jesus Way of being in the world, we are called to embody that LOVE here and now, in ways that will continue to move us beyond our tribal quest for survival, beyond our fear of death, beyond the divisions that threaten not only human life, but all life. As followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world, we are called to evolve in ways that will expand human consciousness so that all may know the LOVE that is God. Like the sun up in the sky, Jesus hasn’t changed, what is changing is the way in which we are seeing Jesus, the way we are telling the story. The experience of Jesus remains the same, the explanations of that experience is changing. As we evolve, as our consciousness expands, so too do our understandings of what it means to be human. The life of Jesus continues to point beyond the craven idols we create to worship, beyond our deepest fears, beyond our tribal urges, beyond our limited vision, beyond the beyond and beyond that also, to the ONE who is LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF.

Repent, Metanoia, think new thoughts! Discover ways of being human in which we become more fully the medium through which the LOVE that is God can be seen and experienced here and now.  Repent, Metanoia, think new thoughts!

 

One thought on “What Can We Learn from Jesus? sermon 4 – Giving Up God for Lent – John 3:16

  1. A beautiful and meaningful message for Lent. Thank you Pastor Dawn! I enthusiastically encourage all of your blog readers to share and link this post with all their friends, and family, and colleagues. The conversation is changing… and it needs to continue to change. All successful movements begin with a small staff of “believers” who choose to walk against the grain and challenge the status quo. Please keep the conversation moving. #changetheconversation

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