Sunday, March 29, 2015

When Fans become Followers or When Jesus asks YOU to get the donkey

1When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
          Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10       Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
          Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
This sermon owes a huge debt of creative inspiration to the essay "Donkey Fetchers" by Thomas G. Long. 

Hosanna! Today is Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem. The air is celebratory and joyous. Just like the crowd in Jerusalem, we cheer for Jesus with our palms alongside those who were welcoming him as he rode in on a young donkey. 

Found this on Facebook
This ride into Jerusalem is Jesus’ rock star moment. His reputation precedes him and everyone wants to get a glimpse of him.  Jesus’ fandom lines the street and lays down cloaks for him to walk on. Maybe it was like when the Beatles would come in concert cause women to scream and faint.  Or maybe it’s like on of those comic conventions when a Star Wars or Star Trek actor line up for an autograph.

Fans of the Beatles and Star Wars and even Jesus get passionately excited in the presence of the person that they adore.  They shout and wave their hands. Their hearts burst with love and excitement. And then they go home and tell everyone about their encounter.

But both the stars of today and Jesus have other people around them, too. They have people who take care of them. People who do things like make sure they eat, book rooms and in Jesus’ case go get the donkey. These people are on more intimate terms with the “star.” These people are more than fans. They are more like followers.

On that original Palm Sunday, we are given a story of Jesus’ fans cheering and woo-hooing along the road. They've heard about him and want to catch a glimpse of him in person. If this were today, there'd be selfies and Twitter updates. It’s great to be a fan of Jesus. To be excited about Jesus is a great experience. We should all be fans of Jesus!

But, if you are a fan of Jesus, you'll want to be prepared because at some point Jesus is going to want you to do more than just cheer.  At some point, Jesus is going to turn to you and say:

Go get the donkey.  

Jesus is going to send you into the world to do something.  And if you are ready to transition from fan to follower, you'll start after that donkey.  You will trudge into town and untie a strange, unbroken and smelly animal. When people look at you like you are crazy and ask you why you are untying the donkey, you will simply say because. Or perhaps, the LORD needs it.

Now, your donkey may not be a literal donkey like the disciples in the story. But, Jesus is calling you to the work of ministry, which involves a lot of donkey fetching. Getting a donkey means you are participating in the unglamorous or even unpopular work of ministry. But, donkey fetching is part of following Jesus.

I know we have a lot of donkey fetchers in this congregation. We have people who check the sanctuary every month, making sure the hymnals and Bible’s are arranged. We have people who buy and cut up the communion bread, people who provide the food for lunches and wash the dishes, clean closets and pull the weeds.  Thanks be to God for all the people who participate in donkey ministry.  We have a lot of followers of Jesus, not just fans.

But, notice in the story that the disciples are asked to leave the group to go get the donkey.  He says, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it."

Jesus doesn't make it easy on his followers, his disciples. He's always changing up the expectations. Different circumstances have different needs, different donkeys, if you will. The followers aren’t asked to do the same thing over and over—sometimes they feed hungry people, sometimes heal sick people, sometimes they find lodging, and sometimes they get the donkey. 

If your ministry has been the same year after year, I wonder if Jesus has placed a different donkey out in the world for you to fetch.

Sometimes we discern that Jesus is telling us to go on ahead. Maybe Jesus wants us to leave the group and connect with people in another place—people who are younger than us or richer than us or poorer than us or of a different race. Maybe it time for us to go ahead and get a different donkey--to do our ministry differently as individuals or as a group. 

Maybe our donkey call is to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us—as Jesus taught.

Maybe we are called to hands-on mission by helping with the food bank distribution or with the Salvation Army.

Maybe we are called to feed thousands of hungry people when all we have is a loaf of bread.  

Go to the village ahead of you and get that donkey, Jesus says.

And we may sigh and make excuses and resist because being a fan of Jesus is sooo much easier than being a follower. Why not experience the glory without the suffering? Why not just confess Jesus with our lips and lift our hands in praise once a week and then go on as usual?

The followers, the donkey fetchers know why. We follow for one reason alone. LOVE. We follow Jesus because first loved us. We don’t do it for the promise of reward. We don't do it so that we can exchange it someday for a crown. We do it because we feel the love of God right here and now and we want to love God back to the best of our ability. None of us follow perfectly, but we try.

As I was thinking about the difference between what it means to be a fan or a follower of Jesus, I couldn’t help but remember our baptism today. And how much donkey getting there is in parenthood.

In the coming months we will be cheering and celebrating mothers and fathers for their respective special days. Everyone is a fan of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Those days lift up the job of parenting, making it seem easy. All the mothers on the TV ads are beautiful and radiant. Dads are never stressed or out of shape. And none of them are ever changing diapers or wiping noses.

But, in many ways the journey of parenthood is like the journey of being a Jesus follower. There are “show” days. Palm Sunday and Easter or Mother’s and Father’s Days. These are days of celebration and joy.

And then there are the other days, the many days where we tend to the more mundane in what can feel like a never ending series of everyday tasks. Feeding, bathing, changing, convincing a child to sleep. Again and again and again. Here at the church, we cook and clean and print bulletins and practice readings. Again and again and again. 

Those who have raised children know that becoming a parent means that your life is no longer your own, your heart shifts. The needs of the child come first. We change our whole lives to accommodate our children.  They way we eat, sleep, exercise and even speak changes. The people we hang around with changes. Our heart shifts— and with it our lives.

And that’s the difference between a fan and follower of Jesus. A follower has experienced a heart shift. A huge piece of a Jesus follower’s heart belongs to Christ. When this happens, our whole life changes. When this happens and Jesus asks us go ahead and do some donkey fetching, we say yes. 

Following Jesus isn’t just about belting out our favorite praise songs and heading home. It's about committing to do what Jesus asks. When we do this weird things happen. We start to see Jesus in odd and sometimes broken places. When we become a follower, we gain the strength and courage to go on ahead to the next thing. Sometimes it's inspiring and rewarding. Sometimes it's mundane. Sometimes it's downright terrifying. 

But, even though Jesus tells us to go ahead, Jesus has been there already himself. There is no place that we can go where we can't find Jesus. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with Us, has fetched his share of donkeys. He did the mundane. He did the unpopular. And he called it ministry. 

Eventually, he did the unthinkable, and we call it salvation. The crowd of fans turns against him. His most devoted followers fall away from him. But Jesus goes on ahead. By the end, there are no Hosannas or palms waving. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus goes ahead to the cross on his own. The women watch from a distance. 

Why did he do it? Why did Jesus go ahead with it? Probably to fetch a few donkeys like you and me. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Seeds of Resurrection

13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The hour has come, Jesus says, for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Now imagine that you have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you didn’t know anything about the resurrection and Jesus was saying these words to you what would you think Jesus’ hour of glory might be?

If you were the singer Bruce Springsteen you might think it was a return to your high school days when you were the big man or woman on campus. In his song Glory Days, Springsteen sings about people who missed the power and promise of their high school days.

If you don’t know about the resurrection you might think that Jesus being glorified means he is going to rise to power. If you only read the Old Testament, you might assume that glory means victory over those who hold you captive since in the Exodus story of the escape of the slaves from Egypt, God gains glory from Pharaoh.

If you don’t know the story of Jesus death and resurrection, you might think that when the Son of Man is glorified, he’ll be lifted up onto the shoulders of people who love and support him like a beloved coach or ball player after a big win in March Madness.

But when Jesus says, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  He means something different. He means something troubling. In his life and his preaching, Jesus challenges us to think about glory differently. Jesus says his glorification will look like this:

Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. (The Message)

Jesus is telling those who are listening that to be glorified is more complicated that winning a victory and lording over all the people. No, the Jesus way is complex and full of paradox. One tiny seed contains many fruits. To win you have to lose. To ascend you have to descend. To live you have to die. This is the way of Jesus. This is the way of resurrection. This is the way of life. It’s a pattern that we see in little ways each day of our lives and in big event that draws us to God by way of the cross.

In the story today, Jesus uses the idea of a seed to explain what will happen to him. If you think of a seed, it has life within it. Its protective shell guards the essence of life for the plant, withstanding heat and cold and different seasons. A seed is a portable, transferrable, time-traveling way of creating new life.

From the Seed Savers Exchange
I was delighted that the last time I was in the store the displays of seeds were out. After a winter of too much cold and too much snow, just the pictures of flowers lifted my spirits. There were cosmos and nasturtium and zinnias. This time of year even the lettuce and spinach are beautiful. In the cold of March, we can buy life in an envelope from the hardware store or get them shipped in the mail. Amazing.

Growth and dormancy, life and death are a cycle we go through here in Western Pennsylvania and in our lives—the flowers and the gardens die off, we cut and prune them and prepare them for winter. We descend into the dark and snow. A time when things survive, but nothing seems to grow.  And then comes spring and we perk back up. The glorious flowers and fruits and even the number of people in the sanctuary multiply. This isn’t THE resurrection of Christ. But it does give us visible reminders of resurrection.

Throughout his ministry Jesus calls us to participate in the final resurrection we should also participate in the every day resurrection. He says repent. He says let the things of this world die in order to participate in God’s world. He says whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be.

Jesus calls us to follow him in this cycle of dying and living. Not just in the big things, but in the little things, too. Dying in order to live not an easy journey. It wasn’t easy for Jesus. It’s not easy for us either.

The church historian Diana Butler Bass puts the idea of dying to live another way. She says that we need to let go, let it be and let something new come. But letting go is so hard. It’s soul troubling.

Sometimes we don’t have a choice. A loved one will die or we will experience an accident of illness that forces us to let go of life as we knew it. But, sometimes we are faced with the challenge of making a choice to let go of something we love or value.

In our time of advanced medical care letting go can feel irresponsible or unloving. We are racked with guilt about choosing to let go.

My family experienced this with the death of my grandmother. She was a smart, engaged and active woman for much of her life. She raised six sons after her husband died. She worked as a school counselor and was a professor of counseling at IUP. She was a matriarch’s matriarch. I, and many people in my family, were proud of her survival skills. I can remember one year that my sister said that she wanted to do the Race for the Cure in her honor.

Grandma responded, “Don’t you dare. I have survived so much more in life than breast cancer. That’s not who I am.”

But age caught up with her and little by little those of us who loved her had to let go of what we thought defined her.

She retired. She slowed down. Eventually, this fiercely independent woman who loomed so large in our minds could no longer take care of herself and so she was placed in assisted living, and then nursing care. And finally she was hospitalized. With oxygen. Then a feeding tube. But even though she was a dying old woman in a hospital bed, we hadn’t let go of who we thought she was. Even when things were hopeless. I think that some of us thought she would survive this, too.

But she didn’t.

Her hour had come and we had to let go of our idea of who she was and let her be. Simply let her be. We had to let go so that something new come into her life and ours.

Unless the seed is dead and buried, it cannot bear fruit.

In order to be bearers of God’s fruit and glorify God we have to let some things go. Jesus is very clear on this. He doesn’t use the euphemism of letting go. Jesus uses much stronger language. He says some things have to die, we have to lose our life, we have to hate life in this world.

It’s almost as if Jesus frightens himself with these words, after all he is the one facing death. 

After speaking these hard words of death and losing and hating, Jesus says, Now my soul is troubled. Jesus knows the path is hard. Jesus knows fear.  

Can you picture Jesus with his troubled soul pacing and muttering? Talking to himself saying, My soul is troubled, what should I say? Should I say save me from this hour? No! That’s why I’m here. My soul is troubled. But, this is the reason I have come to this hour. OK. I'll do it. Glory to God.

But despite his troubled soul, he knows why he is there. He knows the path he must take. In verse 32 he says, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. Jesus will be lifted up bodily as he was nailed to the cross and he will be lifted up or exalted for his willingness to go there out of love for you and for me.

Why was Jesus soul troubled? Jesus soul was troubled because there were a lot of things he had to let go of. Jesus soul was troubled because there were things and people in the world that he loved dearly. He knew he would have to let go of these things.

He had to let go of the love and support of friends and family who followed him in his ministry. Those of us who move or change jobs understand that it can be hard to leave people behind. But sometimes that’s what we are called to do. To serve Jesus we must follow him.

Jesus had to let go of his reputation. People had placed their hopes and dreams in Jesus the Messiah. They dreamed that he would be the one to lead them to overthrow the Romans and return Israel to power. When Jesus didn’t do this, the crowd turned on him.  We have to let go of worrying about what other people think of us when we follow Jesus call. To serve Jesus we must follow him.

Jesus had to let go of his comfort. The man went willingly to be tortured and executed. I don’t think any of us are at risk of being lashed and crucified. But, nonetheless, if we are to follow Jesus, we may be called to give up our comfort. We may be called to give up our security. To serve Jesus we must follow him.

Jesus had to let go of the love and support of his friends, he had to let go of his reputation, he had to let go of his comfort for God’s glory. These are just a few of the things Jesus had to let die in order for the resurrection to happen.

Jesus’ dying and rising pattern has cosmic and eternal implications. But it has daily impact as well. As Christians, we are a people of resurrection. But, we can’t be a people of resurrection unless we are also a people of death.  Our daily lives are filled with opportunities to choose between life and death. The good thing is that most days we decide between life and death metaphorically or symbolically more than literally. 

To serve Jesus means we must follow him. To bear fruit the seed must die. To glorify God, we must risk something.  As we close out our Lenten reflections. I encourage you to think about what is dying and rising in your daily life today. What is it that you must let go of and let be so that you can let something new into your life? What needs to die in order for you to bear God’s fruit? What of the here and now are you so focused on that you can’t see God’s eternity?

The answers are as unique as our DNA. It might be an addiction or a desire for power or notoriety. It might be fear of following God because God’s call might tarnish our reputation. It might mean giving up the comfort of easy living and trying something difficult. What do you need to let go of so that something new can come into your life?

We gather today grateful that the God of the universe was willing to let go. God was willing to be the seed that falls to the earth—life and mystery and being encased in human flesh.

We gather grateful that despite his troubled soul, Jesus was willing to die to his life so that you and I can enter into a life with God.

We gather grateful to God in Christ who lets go in order to all to draw all people to himself.

The seed must die to bear fruit. Christ crucified is Christ glorified. In his death there is life. Thanks be to God.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Turning the Diamond

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.”

John 3:16  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.

"Rockin" Rollen Stewart began the trend of
hoisting "John 3:16" signs at sporting events.
See more at Midwest Sports Fans
Many of us know John 3:16 as a standalone passage. It’s the quick summary of what our faith is about. It’s got it all: God, Love, Jesus, Faith, Redemption.  We see it on video shots of football end zones, on cards and billboards.  Because most of us know John 3:16, we don’t bother to think about it. Today we are going to look at this verse from three different angles—it’s meaning when Jesus said it, what it meant to early Christians like Paul and what it might mean to people in our world today.

First, what did it mean when Jesus said it? When Jesus spoke these words, he was talking at night to a man named Nicodemus who sneaked out to see him. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. We can guess from his position that Nicodemus worshiped God and followed the Jewish Law. He was intrigued by Jesus, but for some reason didn’t want to be seen with him in the light of day.

As a Jew, Nicodemus would have understood that he was part of a special covenant that God had with Israel.  God had promised that He would be their God and they would be his people. God had promised to redeem the world through the children of Abraham. In fact, God is known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Lineage was important. Just look at how many begats there are in the Old Testament! Nicodemus was likely born to Jewish parents who were born to Jewish parents and so on and so on.

But the important thing that Jesus says to Nicodemus is he must be born again in the Spirit. In other words,  it doesn’t matter who his parents are. If he wants to understand what God is doing through Jesus, he must be born again.

Jesus says no one can see the kingdom of God unless they have this experience of being born again. Jesus implies that spiritual rebirth is more important than physical birth. This opens the door for other people, not just the people of Israel, to become children of God regardless of the womb that carried them.

It’s possible that Nicodemus was making the mistake that many of us make—assuming that since God is for me and my people, God must not be for those other people. Reading Jewish commentary on Genesis we discover that the idea of God loving the world is not new. It's just easily forgotten. It's something that we humans forget as we try to follow the rules of our religion.

So that’s the set up for John 3:16. After this born again talk, Jesus says:

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.

Note that Jesus doesn’t say that God so loved Israel that he gave his one and only Son. He says God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. Jesus says whoever believes in him, not whoever is born Jewish. Belief transcends physical birth. Belief leads to spiritual rebirth.

Jesus radically expands the idea of who can be in relationship with God for Nicodemus. He invites anyone in the world who believes, regardless of their family tree or their purity status or even gender to walk with him. So when Jesus says 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, he was expanding the way that people were thinking about and talking about God. By saying God so loved the world, Jesus was showing Nicodemus that God was bigger than both his rules and his imagination. Jesus was illuminating the work of God in a whole new way. 

Fast-forward a few years and we get another angle as we think about Paul and his work with the early Christians. Living in the Roman Empire as a Jewish-Roman citizen, Paul took Jesus’ statement that God loves the world to heart and set out to spread that news. Paul used the technology of his time to share the gospel.

Despite the bad press it gets in churches this time of year, the Roman Empire contributed a lot to our world. Rome had connected people groups from various parts of the globe under one government. It created roads and infrastructure that allowed for the exchange of ideas and introduced allowed rituals and customs to travel back and forth between different groups. The widespread use of Latin and Greek helped the people communicate. With its roads, shared languages and government, Rome created the world wide web of its time.

The connections between the communities allowed for the rapid spread of ideas—including Christianity. While the apostle Paul didn’t have the luxury of Twitter, but he used the technology of his day, writing letters, walking the paved roads and taking ships to share the story of God’s saving love for the world in Christ.

While Jesus walked and occasionally boated to the cities around Jerusalem, Paul went even further to cities like Galatia, Ephesus, Corinth and Rome, cities of foreigners, cities where other Gods were worshiped. He managed to find the money and resources to travel across thousands of miles and encounter different cultures.

Paul was thinking globally. He travelled and preached because he wanted to show people the great big love that God had for the world Through his encounter with Jesus, Paul discovered that God is not just the God of one nation or people, but the whole world. He wanted to introduce as many people as he could to a God that showed love for the world through Jesus. It’s Paul who says, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Paul introduced people to a God was above political affiliations and regional deities. Galatians and Ephesians and Corinthians and Romans were invited to be one in Christ. Their political affiliations fell away when they were united together in their faith.

While some people had their lives changed by Jesus and Paul, others felt threated by it. Some people wanted to keep God to themselves, to keep God small. To contain God to their people.

Some resisted the idea that God’s love was available to the world—to prostitutes and tax collectors and gentiles and common people. Some people resisted the idea that God is bigger than a nation or regional deity. Jesus and Paul and the early Christians were shining light on a new aspect of God that they could suddenly see. They were bringing light into darkness with their words and actions. But it wasn’t always well-received. Verse 19 says:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

Jesus and Paul learned the hard way that some people prefer to the dark. Some people will kill to stay in the dark.

The other day I was sitting in my kitchen with my dad talking about the horrific potholes on Route 66. The conversation meandered to how so many dirt roads are now paved roads and how my grandmother used to travel by horse and buggy with her father to pick up supplies for the store that they owned. Later in her life, people had travelled to the moon. Transportation has improved dramatically. Heated car seats are proof of this.

Like those Roman roads, cheap travel is changing our world. Like Paul and his travels, it’s bringing many of us into regular contact with people on the other side of town and the other side of the world. It’s changing how we see our culture and our faith.

And then there is the information superhighway of the World Wide Web, you know the “www” of every internet address. Did you know that the web is 25 years old? So is the Hubble telescope.

That means people under 30 have pretty much grown up with those fantastic photos of parts of the universe that are so far away that we can barely imagine them, let alone see them. They’ve grown up watching movies about space travel have concepts like black holes and wormholes and tears in the fabric of spacetime—and they can watch them on their phones.

Without cars, planes and spaceships the world was huge. Paul travelled this big world the old-fashioned way, feet, horses and boats. When I was growing up, our world started getting smaller. We knew it was the only inhabited planet of nine in our solar system, a special place for sure. But for a twenty-five-year-old today, our world is a speck of cosmic insignificance. The town they grew up in is a tiny dot on a Google map.

We have a whole generation of people whose understanding of God has to be bigger and more complex than the one the shaped you and me. Today, God has to work across galaxies, not just across oceans. Heaven can’t be a place above the clouds because the Hubble has already shown us what is up there. Where is God in all of this nano, techno, interstellar stuff?

Jesus says:

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.

Do you know what’s really cool? 

In the Biblical Greek, that passage says God so loves the Κόσμον, Kosmon. This has the same root as our word cosmos. God’s love encompasses the whole shebang, all of it, the whole system, not just this earth. God’s love is bigger than the universe. It’s bigger than our understanding and it’s bigger than our imagination. We can only see and experience little bits of God at a time. But, I suspect we may be seeing new bits. 

The Good News is that this great big God infinitely loves the cosmos—this expanding, exciting and terrifying cosmos. The understanding who God is and what God does may seem to be changing between the generations, but God has always been the God of the cosmos.

God is like a diamond. When we look at it we can see the color and the light sparkling and shining a certain way--some yellow on the right, red at the top and white on the left. 

Turn it and we see the light and colors arranged in a different pattern within that very same diamond. Does the diamond change? No, but the way we see it changes based on the light and the angle. This is what Jesus does, he turns the diamond, revealing God in each new time and place.

Jesus presents Nicodemus with a choice and he presents us with a choice. When we look at our life and our faith, we can see the new ways the light reflects, we can look more deeply and discover new beauty. Or, we can hold steady so nothing changes. We can keep the patterns the same year after year after year. Or, we can hide the love in a box, keeping it in darkness under the illusion of protecting it and keeping it safe when what we are really doing is denying the world the gift of God's beauty.

The Message puts our confrontation with Jesus this way: “This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”

The way we see God may be changing, but the way God sees us doesn’t change. God sees the big picture, the cosmic picture. But God also sees you, calls you and longs to embrace you. God wields the greatest power in the universe on your behalf. And that is love.

God so loves the cosmos and God so loves you that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Don't those words just sparkle?