Monday, 16 March 2015

Lent, day 23: Sunday sermon, 4 Lent, yr B - 'The beloved community'

Continuing the series on 'The kin-dom of heaven: living as God's community'
This week, looking at 'The beloved Community'

1st READING: Ephesians 2:1-10
2nd READING: John 3:14-21

SERMON  ‘And the good news is: God loves’
Let’s pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of
all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.

I wonder, well, at least for those of you who are old enough,
I wonder if you remember a bit of a trend back in the 70’s
and through the 80’s?
It felt as if no big televised sporting event was complete without
the camera inevitably panning across the stadium and passing a large
hand-made sign with
‘John 3:16’ emblazoned upon it.
These signs were everywhere.
And then, at some point, I’m not sure when, they seemed to just fade away.
But not today: because here it is - we find this verse within our Gospel reading this morning.
John 3:16.
If we were suddenly put on the spot and told to recite a bible verse from memory,
I suspect most of us would know this one,
at least.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son 
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

‘For God so loved the world...’
Back in the day when I was relatively new to the bible and to church,
and all this God-stuff,
I remember a conversation with a friend of mine.
We were talking about this verse.
‘Wow,’ said I, ‘God really does seem to love us heaps.’
She grinned at me and my teenage enthusiasm.  
‘Well, yes, he does, but that’s not quite what this verse means.
It’s not talking about how much God loves us,
it’s talking about the way in which God loves.’
It was a good lesson to learn.
It turns out that:
‘For God so loved the world...’
is not about the measure of God’s love
it’s about the manner of God’s love.

What then is the manner of God’s love?
It’s wide - big - vast.
It’s not just an individual thing, not just about you or me,
it’s about the world - the universe - in the Greek: ‘the kosmos’.
God so loved...the world...
that he gave his Son...
verse 17 - ‘not to condemn, but to save.’
‘Not    to condemn’ -
It seems that any time we look at the news,
read the papers, or watch films or tv dramas,
the community of faith really doesn't come across very well at all.
There’s a tendency - because it makes the story more dramatic -
to flag-up faith at the very extremes.
Reasonable, kind, everyday people, who happen to have a faith,
tend not to get interviewed,
tend not to be ordinary, relatively normal characters in dramas.
It’s all hard-line or nothing at all.
The result is, that an assumption is built up
by folk outwith the community of faith
that all Christians are scary, judging, condemning.
And I think this extends to other faith communities as well:
Muslims can be outraged by acts of terrorism and concerned
that those acts will somehow impact on how their faith community is seen.

Assumptions hurt.

Imagine if, simply because of the clothes you wore or because of your name,
people made assumptions about your faith.
Or perhaps associated you with a form of Christianity with which
you strongly disagreed.  For me, it might be like linking Christianity
to that which is practised by the Westboro Baptist Church in the USA.
Who are they?

They are members of an American unaffiliated tiny church –
a small group of people, mostly comprising extended family members -
who seem to be extraordinarily skilled in getting US media coverage,
and courting publicity through sheer controversy.                                                          
They specialise in picketing the funerals of gay people, but also the funerals of
service men and women -
shouting out horrible things to those in the midst of grieving;                                          
letting the mourners know in no uncertain terms that this is God’s just punishment
upon the country for allowing gay people to simply exist,
let alone to have human rights.
And the American news goes wild when this group comes into town to share
their understanding of ‘good news’.
And the reason this group is even cropping up here in the sermon
is due less to the issue they spend their lives protesting about,
but due more to their picket signs:
picket signs that have their slogan,
which begins with ‘God hates...’
and so their signs range from
‘God hates ...this person’,
to ‘God hates ...that group’.
Picket signs that you just can’t miss because they’re brightly coloured,
with those words, ‘God hates’ in big, bold capitals.
And the message that ‘God hates’ is spread -
all over the telly,
all over the papers,
and across the internet.

‘God hates’...?
That breaks my heart.
This group certainly doesn’t speak for me as a Christian.
‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, 
but to save the world through him.’
God did this, ‘for God so loved the world’ -
God loves, not hates....

Ephesians chapter 2 talks of God’s love -
‘because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 
made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - 
it is by grace you have been saved...’
...It is through God’s grace that we can walk tall, lift up our heads.
In grace and love we are, and will be, shown God’s incomparable kindness.
We are God’s beloved community.
This is the very antithesis of hatred.
God loves
God loves the world
God desires that the world is saved, is rescued - from itself.
From poor choices that result in
environmental disasters
in order to make some easy money;
from the situation in which the whole world
has more than enough to feed
everyone on the planet,
and yet people starve to death...
and even in this United Kingdom,
where the constituent parts are deemed
to be prosperous,
we see and seem to accept the
rise in food banks.

...God loves
God loves the world
God desires that the world is saved, is rescued - from itself.
from poor choices based on naked power and might is right -
where young women who dare to go to school are kidnapped or terrorised,
and young men are radicalised through frustration, alienation,
and a sense of disempowerment.
from poor choices based on
misunderstanding or manipulation
where entire groups of vulnerable people
pay the price for a lack of vision
or self-serving decision-making.
...God loves
God loves the world
God desires that the world is saved, is rescued - not   condemned.

...‘For God so loved the world...’
Not a measure
but the manner in which God loves.
We are loved, rescued,
are free from condemnation.
As followers of Jesus - the One who came to free us -
as a community of the beloved,
what is the measure of our love:
for God
and for the world that God loves in this way:
‘that he sent his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish 
but have eternal life’?
As God’s community of faith,
how do we model the manner of God’s love for the world?
For this is what we are called to do as his beloved community:
to model love, not hate, not condemnation.

Emerging from a sense of the church as God’s beloved community,
called to model love, the term ‘The Beloved Community’
took on a broader, more global context for the great social
justice campaigner, the Martin Luther King.
Steeped in the Christian tradition,
and stemming directly from his understanding of the good news of the gospel,
King’s vision was for a nation - a world -
in which people were treated with equal dignity and respect,
where people were judged
‘not by the colour of their skin, 
but by the content of their character.’ [I have a dream speech]
For King, the vision of ‘the beloved community’ was one in which
all people could share the good things of the earth -
where ‘poverty, hunger, and homelessness will not be tolerated because
international standards of human decency will not allow it.
Racism and all forms, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced
by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood...
where love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred...                                                      
and where peace and justice will prevail over war and military conflict.’
[from The King Centre -]
King stated that the:
‘goal is to create a beloved community and
this will require a qualitative change in our souls
as well as a quantitative change in our lives.’

Thinking of his words, I’m reminded of the hymn
‘let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me’
Each one of us is a member of God’s beloved community -
called to model God’s love - God’s belovedness - to others...
For ‘we are his workmanship, 
created in Christ Jesus to do good works’.
As we grow in the knowledge of God’s love for ourselves, and each other,
our default position of just looking out for our own interests is re-set:
because, as those who are beloved,
we understand more fully the good news of God’s
immeasurable love for the whole world - and, in the
sharing of that good news - the gospel of God’s love,
we incline to King’s wider understanding of the beloved community -
as we work towards the creation of a place where all are valued -
and where we find the image of God in those we encounter in our daily lives...
and where we seek, in small and big ways, to respect the dignity of all...
As King also said:
‘darkness cannot drive out darkness. 
Only light can do that.  
Hate cannot drive out hate.  
Only love can do that.’
As the kin-dom of heaven of heaven on earth,
we work to bring about the
kingdom of heaven on earth -
To be bringers of light,
and to live and love in such a way that the good news -
the good news of God’s love - actually does come across
as good to a world starved of goodness and love.

...‘For God so loved the world...’
Not a measure, but the manner in which God loves.
And the manner in which God loves is good news indeed:
and very much worth having.
Thanks be to God.  Amen.

1 comment:

Mrs Gerbil said...

And because God loves the world, the bikers turn up when Westbro Baptists try to protest at a service person's funeral & stand in front of them. Bikers, showing God's've got to love them!