Tuesday, March 10, 2020


There is a term that comes up a lot in John’s Gospel.
It’s the world.
In John, the world doesn’t mean the planet earth.
It means the way things are – the system           
     -- the way of the world.
It mostly means the way human society works, how people are.

The world doesn’t come off too well in John.
When John talks about the world 
           he doesn’t have much good to say.
The world hates Jesus. The world hates the disciples. 
The world is a fallen place, a realm of darkness.
Disciples unfortunately have to live in the world, 
but they don’t belong to it.
Jesus takes us out of world.  

We find John’s basic attitude in the hymn 
This world is not my home. 
I’m just a-passin’ through; or
I am a poor wayfaring stranger 
while traveling through this world below; or
      I have decided to follow Jesus;
      The world behind me; the cross before me.
      I'll follow him. 

Simple summary: Jesus good. World bad.
But in today’s lesson, right smack dab in the heart of John,
     we find a most peculiar
      --  a downright amazing -- verse.
It may be the most famous verse in the New Testament.
But when John saw what he had written, 
      he shook his head and muttered,
     Where did that come from?
We usually miss what a shocker it is
     in the context of a book about 
     how the world is a den of iniquity.

John 3: 16 – For God so loved the world . . . .
      God so loved the world so much 
      that he gave his only begotten son
       that whoever believes in him 
       might not perish but have eternal life.
And it goes on. Next verse:
     God did not send his son into the world 
      to condemn the world
     but that the world might be saved through him.

It had to be hard for John to write that because 
        John and the world were clearly not on good terms.
He felt hated by the world. He says that straight out.
And he hated the world right back. 
That isn’t an unusual attitude.

Lord Byron wrote:
     I have not loved the world; nor the world me.
     But let us part fair foes. I do believe, 
     though I have found them not, there may be 
     . . . hopes which will not deceive,  . . . 
      I would also deem
     O’er others griefs that some sincerely grieve,
     That two, or one, are almost what they seem – . . . . 
     I have not loved the world; nor the world me.

Byron didn’t much like the world because it didn’t like him.
John was the same way.
He was obviously an odd character. 
You had to be pretty off beat to write 
     such a strange, mystical book as the 4th Gospel.
John felt rejected by the world, judged by it.
He wasn’t what the world thought he ought to be.
So he responded in kind.
The world wasn’t what he thought it ought to be either.

I don’t know how that strikes you,
     but sign me up with Byron and John.
The world hasn’t always judged me kindly
     and I am perfectly ready to return the favor.

I had unkind psychological assessments 
     for every woman in college
     who declined to go out with me.
Nowadays, whenever someone honks their opinion 
     of my driving,
     I have to fight a reflex to express my opinion 
     of their honking.
The world is addicted to judging, condemning, 
        guilting, and shaming.
So I judge the world back, condemn it, guilt it, shame it 
     – and in judging the world, I join it.
That elaborate network of mutual condemnation 
           is one way I can fit in.

Then John 3: 16  jerks me up short: 
         For God so loved the world . . . .
The good news is that I’m part of the world God loves.
The bad news is that God loves the rest of the world too,
all those people who hurt me.
What could God be thinking?

God’s love for the world runs right through Scripture
     starting with Genesis Chapter 1 verse 31:
     God saw all that he had made 
      and indeed it was very good.
It wasn’t perfect but it was very good.

Sociologist James Davison Hunter’s book, 
      To Change The World,
calls Christians to make a positive difference 
      in American culture.
The first step he says is appreciation. Hunter writes,

Goodness, beauty, and truth remain 
in this fallen creation . . .  (P)eople of every creed 
and no creed have talents and abilities, possess
knowledge, wisdom, and beauty that are .  . . in 
harmony  with God’s will and purposes. . . .

     These things . . . , Hunter says, Christians should 
     neither dismiss nor disparag but rather be grateful for      
     and be delighted by because they are gifts of God’s  
     grace . . . .

There really is something good about the world, 
         even people.
They may be wrongheaded, neurotic, and dysfunctional.
But there’s still something in them to enjoy,
     something to shake our heads and laugh about.

So here’s a suggestion for Lent this year.
Suppose we ease up on the world a little.
It’s easy to get stuck in an attitude
     -- easy to get grouchy and grumbly  
seeing everything and everybody  through a negative lens.

Suppose this Lent we keep eating chocolate 
     and checking our Face Book pages,      
     but we take a break from focusing on people’s faults.
We start with a 3 step process of garbage removal.
The first step is knowing that the world’s judgments 
         of us are rubbish.
The second step is forgiving the world for being too broken
     to see us as we really are.
The third step is admitting that our judgments of others
     are every bit as twisted as their judgments of us.

That frees us up to enjoy them. 
Our appreciation and delight muscles may be 
         out of shape.
This may be a strain at first. It takes practice.
I have suggested this practice before. 
But it’s especially helpful in Lent. 
Sit still for 5 minutes each day
     and let people come randomly to mind.
As each person’s image pops up,   
     we hold onto the thought of them
     just long enough to think these words:
     Equally a child of God.
    Equally destined for likeness with Christ.

We cannot make a positive difference in this world
until we have first looked at it with kindly eyes.
That’s how we bless the world.
We please God by loving what God loves,
by cultivating our appreciation of God’s children.

So this Lent, I urge you to take on this arduous discipline.
Cheer up. Lighten up. Be kinder.
Take a second look at someone each day
            to find a spark of goodness to enjoy.