For God So Loved the World: Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 15, 2015) in Christ Lutheran Church, El Cerrito, CA
Sunday Lent IV March 15th 2015 at Christ Lutheran Church
Numbers 21:4-9 Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 Eph. 2:1-10 John 3:14-21
For God So Loved the World
It is strange to us to think that gazing at a serpent lifted up on a pole could heal people. Some commentators called it a belief in sympathetic magic. Rationally speaking, I think lifting a snake up on a stick makes it harmless, if it is a snake in the grass. The antidote to snake bite comes from the venom of snakes. Go figure. Symbolically, the snakes crawls out of its old skin and comes out with new skin to point to the resurrection, leaving the old self and becoming the new self in Christ, the way we do. Be that as it may, if God wanted to heal people by letting them look at that serpent that Moses lifted up, then God could heal the people through faith that way. In any case, the Medical community still has snakes climbing up a pole as the symbol of their healing profession, which is quite fitting this morning for our healing service. (Healing prayers for people took place at a station in the narthex during communion.)
Luther called the verse John 3:16, the Gospel in a nutshell: “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life.”
The God who we believe in is not stand-offish and does not keep a distance from us. God roots for us, cares about us, heals us, and is all involved with us. As St. Augustine says, “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.”
Our God is full of compassion. God loved the Hebrew slaves for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s sake; for Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Zilpah; Rachel and Bilhah’s sake, to include the wives – and God heard the cries of the oppressed under their heavy, task-masters and sends Moses to tell old Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”
Now in the new covenant, God so loved the world that God sent his Son Jesus so that Jesus could save us from our sins. Now in Lent, the week after next is Passion Week. The passion of Jesus is God’s love story for us sinners. The passionate love of God takes place in Jesus’ dying on the cross for us, because greater love has no one than this than to lay down his or her life for their friends.
The Gospel is the greatest love story ever told, because in the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ our Lord God showed the greatest love, the most passionate love the world has ever known.
We who are baptized participate in this divine passionate love, loving God back and spreading this almighty love to everyone that we relate with, so that they too learn and experience that “God so loved the world, that God gave God’s only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
On the cross we see God’s Son dying for us, but we also see the sunshine of the resurrection, we see God raising up Jesus from the dead. On that cross we may not be able to look upon him, his face is so marred. In the words of Isaiah: “He was acquainted with our infirmities, he was despised and rejected, and held to be of no account. Surely he has borne our sicknesses and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted. But Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole and by his bruises we are healed.” We hide in the wounded side of Christ, because all our wounds, sicknesses and afflictions are healed because God raised Jesus from the dead.
So when we participate in the passion of Jesus Christ, we will not perish. We will be awakened to live with God, become alive in God. That is the Good News, which is much better than life-insurance, which can’t overcome death and it kicks in only after we die.
Everlasting life is the wonderful promise of John 3:16. And that promised life starts right here and now, not only after we die and go to heaven. In the words of Athanasius, a church father, the resurrection of Jesus makes our whole life, your whole life and my whole life, a feast without end. In the Middle Ages they had to deal with the plague and a constant threat of death. Martin Luther died at 62 years of age, which was considered very old for back then. They often celebrated the dance of death, painting it on walls and performing it in carnivals, but because of the resurrection, the Lord of the Dance Jesus Christ, leads us in the dance of life. We dance for joy because of our recovery from sickness. We dance in the joy of the resurrection into the wholeness and fulfillment of life, which Athanasius of old called “the feast without end.” Amen.
 Cf. Isaiah 53:3-5.
 Several of my ideas in this sermon come from reading Jürgen Moltmann’s wonderful book: Der lebendiger Gott und die Fülle des Lebens: auch ein Beitrag zur Atheismus Debatte unserer Zeit, (Güterslohe Verlagshaus, 2014). (To translate the title: the Living God and the Fullness of Life: also a Contribution to the Atheism Debate of our Time) For example, the Augustine and Athanasius citations come from his work. Also that eternal life starts here and now as well as the idea that we live toward the fulfillment of life and thus are led by Christ, the Lord of the Dance, into the newness and fulfillment of life.