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Below, you’ll find Steve’s reflection and Andy’s prayers for this week.
You can find this week’s Children’s Time video here.
Fourth Sunday of Lent
Scripture: John 3: 16-21
Music: Yes, He Did, Three Things I Promise
One of the most loved passages in the New Testament is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world.” What a wonderful phrase, it is all about God loving us. When I read it, when I hear it, I just say, “Yes!” It sums up what I most strongly hold to be true, that our loving and caring God, loves the world and all that is in it – even mosquitoes. I truly do believe this is the heart of the Gospel.
But then I read on and I start to run into trouble. You see I’ve been trained not to just look at a phrase but what the entire passage says and what is the context and what surrounds it so that I/we, can better understand what the passage means.
The passage goes on to read, “that he gave his only Son”. I’m okay with that for me, but it makes me ask what did John mean? I’m a little uncomfortable because it begins to feel exclusive when John talks about God’s only son. In other parts of the Scripture, especially other places in the Gospels, Jesus helps us come to the understanding that we are all children of God. That is something that I put great stock in –that we are all beloved children of God.
In context, I understand John is telling us that Jesus is in a special relationship with God. Personally, I believe that Jesus is God’s chosen one to walk among us and show us, or at least some of us, the way. I wonder if my Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist friends would be okay with the idea that Jesus is God’s only son? I don’t think they actually would be. I know they wouldn’t be.
So, I’m wishing I could just leave this alone and not be tempted to read on but it is part of my nature to keep going.
John goes on, “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” I believe there is eternal life with God. It is the first part of that phrase that again leaves me a little uncomfortable, “everyone who believes in him” what does that mean for those who do not believe in him? Do they not receive eternal life?
I have a strange relationship with the Gospel of John. I remember one of my profs, Gerald Caron, who actually holds two doctorates both on the Gospel of John, described it as being a place where, “children can safely wade and elephants can joyfully wallow.” I love some of the phrases in John; it has more of a poetic nature at times. But, there are other parts, including those that are anti-Semitic, that leave me uncomfortable.
I want to take a bit of a tangent and tell you about a phone call with one of my brothers a few weeks ago. He asked me an odd question, “How did our dog, Thumper, get his name.” I was surprized because I am 12 years younger than he is and I was still pretty little when Thumper arrived. I told him the story I remember being told. Then he told me three other different versions of the same story; his and that from my two other brothers. He said he was confused because he didn’t know which one of the four stories was right. I told him not to worry about it because family stories vary from one person to the other but basically they all hold a certain amount of truth.
It is like the story of me inviting people to light candles for peace at our 10 pm Christmas Eve service in 2003 and how the alarms got triggered, the fire department arrived, yada, yada, yada. For those of you who don’t know the story email me and I will give you my version which is one of the 50 or so I’ve heard. What I know to be true, is that it is a story about our church family. It has different nuances and highlights depending on who is telling it. What I treasure about it is it is usually told with love and laughter.
To me, the Gospel’s are our family stories of Jesus. Some parts are identical. Certain parts hold the same thing to be true. All of them help us to see Jesus in slightly different lights and different perspectives. All of them are meant to help us draw closer to Jesus, to God.
John’s Gospel is the most different. Scholars tell us it was the last of the four Gospel’s to be written; sometime between 90-110 AD; in other words, at least 60 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Probably, the leading scholar of John is the late Ray Brown. Brown wrote an interesting book speculating, based on his scholarship, about John’s community. Brown believed John’s community struggled with the world, the Jews, and even with other Christians. It was a community that was very different from that of Mark, Matthew and Luke. It was a community that because it felt it was being persecuted and felt it needed to take a strong stand and differentiate itself from all others. Perhaps that is why we hear such an exclusive vision of Jesus in contrast to the other Gospel’s. In the end, as I think about it, it was not that different from the church today where many feel that you need to follow there one particular way of understanding Jesus or you are dead wrong. I can’t accept that Jesus would hold this perspective to be true.
In this day and in this time, when we have had such a struggle for the past year, when we have not always had the chance to say good-bye in the way that we normally would, in this time when we have lost so much, we need to find ways to come together so we might be able to heal and look to the future. I don’t usually like to cherry pick from the Gospel’s but I will stand with this, my variation of a contemporary translation of the scriptures, the Way, for John 3:16.
“This is how much God loved the world: that God gave us a beloved child, Jesus. And this is why: by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending this beloved child merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. Jesus came to help.”
In these days and the days to come, we need his help, may we be able to turn to Jesus, to his way of peace with justice, of hope rooted in compassion and in a love that reaches out to all of the world, to find a way forward for ourselves and for all of the creation; where there is healing, where there is hope and especially where there is love. Thanks be to God. Amen.
You, O God, Holy Love and Holy Wisdom, you are there in all our turnings; when we turn toward the light of truth and when we ignore its shadows. You are there in every thought, word and deed. And your only response to all our turnings is love: unqualified, unending, patient love.
And so, today, we turn again to you. We turn again to you with thankful hearts, for stories of faith which inspire us, acts of faith which restores us, and the life of faith which strengthens and guides us. For you are the Source of all Life and Love; wherever we turn, you are there. Be with us now, in this time of prayer, as we offer to you our concerns and our hopes, for ourselves, our loved ones, and the world you so dearly love…
We pray for those who carry anger, O God. May they find justice and healing. We pray for those who seek peace, for themselves and others. May it be on earth as in heaven. We pray that you would strengthen us to speak out and act, for your peace and justice.
We pray for those we know and love who today are ill in body and in spirit, that they may know your presence and your peace. We remember those in hospital and care home, and those who daily face the challenges of stress, anxiety, fear and loneliness. We pray for those are grieving. Help us also to turn our attention to these your children, Loving God, parent of us all. Shape us according to the contours of your kingdom, giving us hearts and hands that love.
God of Healing, we pray also for ourselves. We seek the strength to forgive ourselves and others for the brokenness we carry deep within: things we have said or done; hurts we continue to endure; times we have turned away from others or borne a grudge; anxious times when we have held on or held back too long. In prayer, O God, we turn this weight over to you. Mend us, loving God. Reconcile us to each other. Restore us to love.
Turn our hearts and hopes to your love again, we ask it in the name of Jesus Christ, who turned his face to the oppressor, his life to your love, and who leads us in the way of transformation and hope, teaching us to pray, saying, Our Father… Amen.