March 14, 2021

Series: March 2021

Category: What Are You/We Up To

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Today's Scripture: John 3:14-21

Today's Sermon



John 3:14-21

14“And 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. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.


            I have been binge watching a show, “The World’s Toughest Race.” It’s about an adventure race across Fiji, 10 days of open water paddling, trekking, stand up paddle boarding, mountain biking, rope climbing, swimming, all in the harshest of elements. As the show puts it, you sleep you lose time, leaving some of the elite teams, for it is a group race, going for 72 hours at a time with only a couple hours of sleep.  It’s great inspiration if you want to work out in front of the TV. It’s also great to watch while eating chips on the couch.  Watching these racers from around the world compete, you can’t help but think, “How can they endure?” What’s more is that in the breaks between the misery, there are many expressions are of undeniable joy.

            Today’s gospel passage references an Older Testament story features people on a grueling trek of their own.  If you don’t know this story, you may miss some of the meaning of the gospel.  The story is of the Israelites who have been freed from slavery.  However, as the feelings of their newfound liberation wear off and the suffering of their journey set it, they begin to grumble, some even missing their former state of slavery.  The one thing captivity has going for it is predictability.  In response to their grumbling, God sends fiery serpents which kill many of the people.  The survivors come to Moses and repent.  God then tells Moses to fashion a serpent of his own out of bronze, put it on a staff, and lift it before the people.  Everyone who sees it will survive.  Notice, thought, the people are spared death; they are not spared the bites of this life. They still suffer, and isn’t it so? 

            The gospel story compares Jesus to that serpent.  Look to Christ, recognize him for who he is and what he is about, and you will be spared. We know that doesn’t mean you will be spared all suffering.  You will endure your trek.  While this story is sometimes used to threaten people into believing—almost always fruitless—the emphasis of this passage is clearly God’s rescue to the whole world in Jesus Christ.  God does not send Jesus to condemn it.  Here, Christ is referred to as the light, though the people are judged because they choose the darkness rather than the light, much like some of their ancestors wanted to choose captivity over freedom.  Now, we know the danger of the light/dark metaphor in our context, but I think we understand what the author is trying to say.  Why would people choose to stay in the cold dark when the warm light is there waiting to be received?  One possibility is the people were, dense.  Maybe they were evil, corrupt.  Maybe.  The other answer is far more interesting.  Maybe it’s that choosing light, freedom, is hard.  Stepping into the light is hard.  We can hide all sorts of things in the dark.  Judging by the numbers, many of you watched the interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last week.  If you did, you would have seen that even for those at the highest levels of privilege, moving toward freedom is hard, dangerous, painful, even as it is liberating. 

            The biblical texts teach us again and again in poetry and prose that there is a presence in the midst of it all that can help accompany us, even lead us, through the suffering of our journeys, whispering in our ears a guiding word if we can hear it.  The text uses the word light, but you could easily speak of Spirit.  Spirit appears even before light in our tradition’s creation account—spirit, or wind, or God’s breath which brings order, complexity, and life, out of the unformed.  That spirit blows still, though it takes practice to recognize its presence and listen to its voice.  Without it, it is hard to break the chains of captivity, failing to recognize a greater order. 

            When I say the two words, practice and Spirit, the first name that comes to my mind is Ted Scott.  The Rev. Ted Scott has been a Parish Associate, a largely volunteer pastor, at this congregation for my entire tenure and well more than a decade before that.  You have seen him in worship from time to time, taking on a heightened role during the transition before I came, and if you are a member of the Friday morning Men’s Connection or Wednesday Class you will know him and his depth well.  Ted and Arlene are moving to a retirement community in Palo Alto and while this has all developed rather quickly, we owe it to him, and it is our great pleasure, to pay him homage for what he has been to this community of faith.  We will offer him a blessing today.

            Ted constantly speaks of Spirit.  It’s all about accessing Spirit, as individuals and as groups.  You may know Ted is somewhat of a guru when it comes to groups, having worked with organizational change and small group facilitation, and he knows that when a group opens itself up to Spirit, incredible things happen. The way one learns to better access, dip into, Spirit, which I see as this reservoir that runs through every moment, is through spiritual practice—prayer, meditation.  Practice helps keep us from simply existing in our minds, helping us to sink down deeper into our heart space and rise above to other levels of consciousness.  In our busy lives, we can easily dismiss matters of Spirit, but there is nothing more practical than the practice of accessing Spirit.  Its what helps you endure tough things.  I’ve seen it in Ted.  One time after a skiing accident he was fasting lasting damage from an injury, and to watch him be able to pivot and say, “Okay, this is now.  This is my body now,” was something to marvel at. 

            Spirit helps us adapt, endure, and find joy, even in the midst of life’s struggle and pain.  That, believe it or not, brings us back to the show. It’s got all these human-interest stories interwoven.  I won’t spoil them all, but I will tell you one.  One of the American teams finds itself part way up this 1,000-foot falls in an area that sort of flattens out for a bit.  It’s the perfect spot.  The racer tells the camera that a few years ago, his wife gave birth to twins, only one of them didn’t make it.  They called it baby B.  (So many people have a story of a baby B or a baby A.)  Then they decided to name the child…Spirit.  The racer pulls out a vial and says, after we had our child cremated, I started bringing the remains all over the world, scattering them in the most beautiful places.  He did this so as the surviving twin grew up and started his own adventures they would bring him to all these same places.  In this, he would find Spirit everywhere.

            And I guess that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?