Love is Jesus’ Mission
By Bishop Chris Giesler
Preaching Text: John 3:1-17
It does not take long for us to look around and see that our world can be pretty miserable. From the headlines of today’s newspaper, we see that the war in Ukraine is now moving into its second year, with Russian troops continuing to move into place for what looks like a full-scale spring offensive. To us in North America, this is a reality we keep at arm’s length. After all, it is happening on the other side of the ocean and half a continent away. But on the ground there, this is violence at a scale that is unimaginable, fought in close proximity going block by block and village by village. Real bullets, real bombs, and real tanks are being used. As a result, real lives are being lost.
The impact of recent earthquakes in Syria and Turkey is multiplied because so much money in Syria has been spent on the civil war that has gripped this country for the better part of a decade. And in Syria, since the opposition holds the area impacted by the earthquakes, the government has limited the aid that can be delivered to those who are suffering. This is making a terrible situation even more catastrophic. And since the areas impacted by the earthquakes in Turkey are where many Syrian refugees have fled, the Turkish government has not exactly rushed to their aid.
Closer to home, an 18-year-old from a wealthy section of Bucks County was arrested and charged with the murder of a Temple University police officer and father of five. The officer was chasing the teen in an area of the downtown Philadelphia campus where robberies and carjackings had been reported. After shooting the officer, the teenager carjacked another car by threatening a car owner’s life and fled the scene. His two younger accomplices were caught at the scene and helped police arrest the killer.
And even closer to home, we all, to a greater or lesser extent, have broken relationships, quarrels, hurt feelings, disappointments, and separations that we are dealing with. These can be with family members, long-time friends, neighbors, and fellow church members.
The problem is that these are not the only global, local, and personal problems plaguing us. Life can be very difficult at times.
Life was not easy for the people in Jesus’ day either. Israel was an occupied country. The Romans took control of the country in 63 BCE and held it with brute force until Constantine conquered Jerusalem in 324 AD. The Sanhedrin, of which Nicodemus was a member, was the ruling council of the Temple in Jerusalem. He was one of the 71 members of this influential group that often bargained with the Romans for power in the country. This was the group that ultimately cooperated with Pilate to see that Jesus was crucified.
In chapter 3 of John’s Gospel, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night so as not to lose his seat on the Sanhedrin. He obviously wants to know more about Jesus’ teachings, and his first words are ones of flattery, but Jesus is not interested; he has something to teach Nicodemus and responds by saying, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Now most of us grew up hearing that translated as “born again,” the phrase used in the King James Version. The Greek words can be used either way, but I believe that “born from above” fits the whole of John’s Gospel better. In this fourth Gospel, much is made about Jesus coming from “above” from heaven. Much is also made in John’s Gospel about the perfection found above, that the world down here did not understand who Jesus was. “In John 1:10-11 we read, “He (Jesus) was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
But as John 3:16 tells us that even though this world is imperfect, God still loved the world and cared enough to bring his presence into the world through the life of Jesus. Through Jesus, we can see the perfection of the heavenly realm and seek to work for it to be made real here on earth. Right in the middle of the Lord’s prayer, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth even as it is in heaven.”
Love was God’s motivation for the mission of Jesus, and it should be our mission today as well. Bishop Sam Gray shared the following on his Facebook page this past week. I have seen several versions of it in the last few days, but I like the way Bishop Sam words this. We often hear of giving up things or “fasting” for Lent, but we are urged to fast from the destructive practices that so often define our actions to feast on the things that Jesus calls us to do. May these words help you to live into Lent and into Mission.
Fast from judgment, Feast on compassion
Fast from greed, Feast on sharing
Fast from scarcity, Feast on abundance
Fast from fear, Feast on peace
Fast from lies, Feast on truth
Fast from gossip, Feast on praise
Fast from anxiety, Feast on patience
Fast from evil, Feast on kindness
Fast from apathy, Feast on engagement
Fast from discontent, Feast on gratitude
Fast from noise, Feast on silence
Fast from hatred, Feast on love
Fast from discouragement, Feast on hope