God Loves All of Us
“I have decided to write a book. That is no small thing for me because I am not a writer. Nonetheless, I think I have an idea that will work even for a non-writer. I am going to start with a three-ring binder. The first page will be the title page. On that page will be the following: The God in Which I do not Believe: Essential Atheism for Serious Followers of Jesus Christ. Then, every time I read an article about a God that is vengeful and angry, capricious and cruel, or hateful and harmful, I will make a copy of it. After I punch three holes along the right margin of the page, I will place it in the binder.
Sadly, such a book would write itself in a short amount of time. One binder might not be enough. The things people say about God and the actions that are attributed to God are so far removed from our Gospel reading this morning that I often fail to see any resemblance between the two.
Chapter 1, of my book, not John’s gospel, wrote itself in the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. You may have seen it on Facebook. It was a picture of a prominent, American evangelical leader with an excerpt of what looked like an interview underneath it. I do not know If the interview actually occurred or if the person in the picture actually said any of what is recorded there. I do know that the idea conveyed there is prevalent among some and is often repeated, especially in times of tragedies involving schools and school-age children. It starts with a question, why would God allow something like this? The answer starts with another question, what else would you expect? Then goes on to list ways that God has been excluded from public life in the United States. Prayer in school, Nativity scenes on courthouse lawns and crosses on public land are just a few examples. The logic being that since we do not permit state sanctioned religious activities then God will abandon us to our own devices.
That does not describe the God in which I believe. When we say the Lord’s prayer together, that is not the God to whom we are praying. First, our God is the God of the universe, the maker and creator of all that is, was and will be. No regulation, no city council, no legislature, no court, not even a supreme one, can remove our God. If you are grieving the removal of your God from a public space, your God might be too small. Second, as the Psalmist says, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever. . .” Our God is not some fickle, spoiled child who chooses to be present with us on a whim. Our God is a covenant making God. One who has promised to be with us and to never leave us nor forsake us.
God saves lives. God saves souls. God saves peoples. God has not come in Christ to condemn, but to save.
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
We do not spend nearly enough time talking about, thinking about, and reflecting on this God. We are slow to reach the point where we let this God have sway over our living with and relating to other human beings.
That may part of the reason that so many of God’s life-giving efforts get turned into something God never intended. That snake that Moses lifted up in the wilderness is a good example. The Hebrew people were wondering in the wilderness on their way to the promised land. They were complaining about the food and water. They were miserable. Then they stumbled on an infestation of poisonous snakes. Many were bitten and some died. So, God told Moses to make a serpent of bronze and put it on pole. When anyone was bitten by a serpent he or she was to look at Moses’ snake on stick to get cured.
It evidently worked. Because years later when Hezekiah was reforming the worship and spiritual life of Judah, he broke the bronze serpent into pieces and removed it. The people had worship it and made offerings to it. They treated it as if it was a God instead of a gift from God.
Like the bronze serpent, Jesus turned the cross, an instrument of torture and suffering, into a symbol of healing and new life. And yet, like the bronze serpent, the cross and even scripture have taken on idolatrous qualities in contemporary Christianity. John 3:16 has become a slogan in itself, and not always for good. At its best, it is the impetus for the formation of a radically inclusive community to which all are welcome–the lost, the forgotten, the abandoned–bringing healing and new life as God, “who so loved the world,” did through Jesus. At its worst, however, John 3:16 is used as a weapon to separate the “saved” from the “unsaved,” a vehicle of religious superiority and a means of intimidation for those who do not share (or want to share) the belief in Jesus as savior. The message, repeated over and over in weeks of lent, is that the search for idolatry in our lives and hearts must be relentless, and must include everything, including the beliefs we profess and how we profess them. . .”
“Idolatry happens when we conclude that the most significant aspect of God so loving the world is that God loves us and more to the point, me. God’s cosmic dream of a reconciled creation made new gets stood on its head. God’s intent was never to narrow that love down to me and mine and those that I could convince to think like I think. No, the flow is in entirely the opposite direction, broad, expansive, inclusive, Loving the whole world.
Us is all of us. All Colors, All races, All nations, All peoples, All sizes, All Shapes, All genders, All orientations. All, God loves us all. God offers life to us all. God is not here to condemn us, but to saves us.