Deal With It

March 5, 2023

Series: March 2023

Speaker: Rob McClellan


Today's Sermon


"Deal With It"


Reading (s)
John 3:1-17

           1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

           11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

           16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

           17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Deal With It

            If John 3:16 is among the most cited Bible verses – “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believes (trusts) in him may not perish but may have eternal life” – John 3:17 may be among the most overlooked:  “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  The larger context of the 3:16 matters.  What a shame that a verse which leads us to an unequivocal statement about God’s universal love, love for the world, gets employed as a litmus test for insider status for some humans. Moreover, there is the larger preceding story of Nicodemus, that emphasizes the already present the kingdom of God.  One just has to learn to see it, which is accomplished by being born of Spirit, something totally accessible.    

            With all this talk of birthing, let’s remember how long our birth has been in the making, which will lead us to seek rebirth. Death and rebirth is, of course, the universal pattern.  Think of it for a moment – if the universe is 13.7 billion years old as we are told it is, then God has spent a long time conceiving of you who have been chosen to exist in this moment.  I put it that way that not to place you at the center of the universe in some conceited way, but rather to lodge you into a larger cosmological story of birth, death, birth.  Isn’t it miraculous?  What a grace it is to exist.  How beautiful. 

            That beauty and grace of it all is so much that it’s hard for us to take as we touched upon last week.  It’s overwhelming, which is why in Scripture when people encounter God or God in Christ, the word used to describe the encounter is almost always one of awe, awe so great it’s even named fear, it’s a terrifying beauty.  This encounter demands a response.  A colleague of mine serving in Pennsylvania tells of a sermon his predecessor gave, which clearly echoed a refrain he must have repeated many a time.  It came down to this:  “God loves you.  Now deal with it!”  The first part we’re used to hearing, in fact we hear it so much in churches (hopefully, I suppose), that perhaps it’s lost its meaning.  “God loves me” become some amorphous blanket assurance, better than blanket condemnation, but maybe not very helpful in inspiring anything or sparking change, action, creativity. 

            It’s that second sentence which is so interesting. Now deal with it!  What do you mean?  What’s there to deal with?  Another way of saying it is that God loving you or us is not the end of the story, it’s the beginning.  It’s what propels the plot forward, defines the characters and their actions, as well as their character.  It implies, no it directly says, God’s love requires some accommodation, internalization, maybe even wrestling, and a response. 

            We often manifest that response in service, which is a good thing, and we’ll say more on that later, but we should recognize one of the reasons we rush to service is because it lives in our comfort zone which is productivity.  Notice we rush to service more than justice because service doesn’t upset the apple cart; it doesn’t ask questions.  Justice can be necessarily counterproductive.  Productivity isn’t of course bad as along as it stands in right relationship in the right balance and aimed in the right direction.  There are other things to make besides mass-produced items for retail. There’s a reason why Gandhi made as part of his work for freedom for his people making his own clothes.

            Beyond “useful” making, there is the divine activity of making beauty, which is useful in others ways – the artistic, the aesthetic. These used to have a higher place in our faith and culture has maintained a higher place in some others. One of the responses to the divine is to make art – it’s to dance, to sing, to paint.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and one of the ways we imitate the creator is to join in the creative act.  I was listening to an old lecture series with Matthew Fox lately and he talks about how important it is to cultivate the artist in us, the creator in us.  He says it gets shamed out of us by the time we’ve barely hit double digits and so the vast majority of adults in a culture such as ours claim not to be artists, as if artist is a separate category of human belonging only to the professional – there we go again with measuring by market value.  The Scottish hymn-writer John Bell says he can count on one hand the number of people he’s ever met who are actually tone deaf, though ask around and you’ll find that many in 5 minutes who will claim it.  Incidentally, art, expression will not only lead to a less violent society, but it also leads to justice, which is more disruptive than service. Art is where we access the divine dream for the world.  Are we doing enough art around here?

            Well, to service, inspired if not by divine beauty than by its glaring absence…We just passed the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine, a war we were told would be over in the span of a weekend’s time. Back in June of last year, Russian journalist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Dmitry Muratov auctioned off his medal and donated the $103.5 million in proceeds to aid Ukrainian child refugees.[1]Sometimes, I shield you from such extraordinary stories because I don’t want you to think your life has to be defined only by grand feats of grace, but today I don’t want to protect you from possibilities that are greater than you can presently imagine.  Remember, we have to be born into a new way of seeing, a way that gives us a way to conceive of that which is greater than we could have ever before imagined.

            In the end, which is the beginning, this passage is not only about God giving birth to us, being born in Christ.  It is about us learning to give birth to the Christ in the world.  Matthew Fox paraphrases Meister Eckhart, the 13thand 14thcentury mystic saying, “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I do not give birth to the Son of God in my own person and time and culture?”  Eckhart continues, “We are all meant to be mothers of God.”[2]  

            Lent is not about your death, at least your true self’s death, it’s about what that which you are prepared to birth.