- St. Paul's
Sermon - 2 Lent
In the Name...
Some years ago I heard the phrase, "God so loved the world...that he didn't send a committee." I think we can all relate to that. On the other hand, I've had people challenge me about the phrase "God so loved the world" because they simply can't believe it. They think that this is hopelessly sentimental hogwash. Just look at the world, they say. Are you blind? Are you nuts? What's lovable about it?
In every part of it, Man is doing his best to kill, starve, or cheat his fellow Man. Even when we think that this should not be the case. Whenever natural disaster strikes - a hurricane, a flood, an earthquake - one thing we can be sure of is that there are people who will do their best to siphon off millions of dollars in relief funds and line their own pockets. Democratic reforms and the downfall of Communism dictatorships in Eastern Europe led to the resurgence of centuries-old ethnic hatreds and left millions dead in civil wars from Bosnia to Chechnya.
The examples are endless, from war crimes and terrorism to a repairman who knows more about fixing bills than appliances. Touch the world anywhere and you come away with bleeding hands. What on earth is lovable? Certainly not even the way we treat the earth. Nuclear waste, acid rain; the list goes on. How could God love this?
But, in the midst of all this despair and cynicism, the Church continues to say what it has said for two thousand years of human history that God loves the world, and that is something which has set us apart from almost every other religion on earth. Other religions such as Islam and Hinduism and Buddhism and Taoism, all teach that the world is inherently bad and that living here is a curse that we mortals must endure on our way to some sort of spiritual enlightenment or Nirvana. This, however, is not the Christian view.
Our view goes back to Genesis when God created the heavens and the earth. He looked at all he created and said, "It is good." And that is what we will insist upon, that "it" is fundamentally good and that what's wrong is not creation itself, but, the fact that things are in the wrong order and that's our fault, not God's.
Last week, our first lesson was the story of Adam and Eve and an event we call The Fall. The poet John Milton began his masterpiece "Paradise Lost" with these words, at once majestic and foreboding, "Of Man's first disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste brought Death into the world and all our woe, with loss of Eden till one greater man restore us and regain the heavenly seat".
The mortal taste of death, all our woes, loss of Eden - but, only, we are reminded temporarily. ‘Til one greater man restore us and regain the heavenly seat. In other words, until Jesus, the Son of God, puts creation back together the way it was meant to be before we messed it up. Because God so loved the world.
Love is a strange quality because, as we know from experience, we give it to people even when they don't seem to deserve it. If we argue with a parent or a child, a brother or a sister, a husband or a wife, that doesn't mean we stop loving them - or at least it shouldn't. We may really have an issue, we may really disapprove of something they've done or not done, but, as long as we love them, we try to help them correct themselves.
God and world are a lot like that. As we saw, last week, it was Satan's hope that God would be so angry at Adam and Eve that he would destroy them for disobeying him. To Satan's shock, not only did God forgive them he even cursed Satan for leading them astray. But, forgiveness was not the same as approval. There was a price to pay.
In one sense, Adam and Eve were like teenagers who didn't have driving licenses and crashed the family car while out drinking and driving. I've known kids who did just that. Maybe you have, too. They weren't literally killed by their parents, but, they were grounded and probably had to do some probation time.
Well, that's the situation we're in. We were created to rule over creation, right alongside God, but, we were cocky and immature and smashed it up. So, we've been grounded and are doing our probation time. Our Father still loves us. He didn't destroy us, but, he's made us live in the mess we made to see how we like it. And he didn't just turn his back on us, either. He kept in touch through prophets and sages. He sent messengers to guide us, he made a covenant with us, and when he thought we were ready, when he thought we could handle it, he sent his Son, Jesus, to begin the process of restoring things to the way they ought to be.
We didn't deserve this. We hadn't earned this. But, God did it. For us.
The season of Lent is a time when we are called to reflect upon how little we deserve and how much we've been given. And so, we continue to praise God, to worship and adore Him, but, with muted tones as a reminder that, at the end of the day, we can never repay Him for what He's done.
Ah, ha, though, we hear the critics say, if He's really done so much, as much as you say, then why is the world still a mess? Why is there still violence and greed and cruelty and a million other problems just as there was before Jesus? A simple answer. Because the process of restoration isn't finished. It's easy to break something, much harder to fix it and, again, we know that from experience. And the bigger or more expensive something is, the harder it is to fix.
Again, to use the car analogy, the car we smashed up wasn't a second-hand Smart car - it was a brand-new Bugatti Veyron Super Sport. In case you're wondering, that retails for about $3m., a bit more than even a Lexus or Lamborghini. Imagine, then, the repair bill and shop time for the entire universe.
You see, God doesn't just love us humans who inhabit the Earth; He loves all that he has made and that includes the Earth itself. Jesus died to restore us to fellowship with the Father and he also died to restore the natural order. It's actually no 21stC heresy to say that Jesus came for the magnolia and the manatee, as well as Man, because that has been an article of orthodox Christian theology since the beginning.
Other religions are happy to admit the immortality of the soul in one form or another, but, only Christianity talks about a future body for that soul. Only Christianity talks about a new heaven and a renewed earth. Indeed, Christianity is the most materialistic religion on the planet because Christianity is the religion of the plants and the planets.
This cosmic theology is more associated with the Greek East than the Latin West from which we derive, but, its root is John 3.16. God so loved the world.
Can we love Him, and it, any less?
In the Name...