Thursday, June 9, 2011

Homily for the Trinity Sunday from John 3:16-18 for June 15, 2014
Homily for the Trinity Sunday, Year A
first posted June 19, 2011

Well, what can be said about such a familiar text, especially verse sixteen, that has not already been said? I looked for the definition of “threadbare,” and Merriam/Webster wrote, "exhausted of interest or freshness."

On one level this may describe our text, past its due date. On the other hand, it is a homiletic dream to be able to preach from such an historically prized set of words.

Two things can be said concerning verse sixteen. First, it is beloved because these words combine simplicity with a profound view of theology, and second, it is beloved because these words offer a seminal text. That is, it presents a ground-floor to what is now the most accepted view of the atonement, and it does so in a way that leaves nothing to be added.

But, there is more here than verse sixteen, of course.

I suppose my favorite verse in all of scripture is verse seventeen: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."

This is the Christian message, I think, at least what should be the message and the movement of the church because is ultimately mirrors the message and the movement of GOD.

Notice, GOD is moving toward the world with a profoundly demonstrated love, by giving the world himself, by joining in the devastation of the human condition, and by being subjected to the whims of a world at war with itself through evil.

St. Paul puts it this way:

"For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others." (2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT)

Here we see beyond the movement of condemning people and assigning them to separation. Here, at least, John is telling us that the Almighty, and this is the most surprising thing of all, that the Almighty has actually taken up our cause and is moved by our plight. GOD, seeing the pain of humanity, did more than just see our pain and brokenness. Through the suffering of the Son, the Almighty experiences the human condition and is even broken by it through death.

This means we can never point our boney finger in the face of the Almighty and say, 

"You don't understand; you don't know how I feel." (Hebrews 4:15)

But, the text also presents us the sour note of condemnation: "Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."

Here, one is said to be condemned from an unwillingness to believe in the name of the Son of GOD. Here John presents us with what may be the most difficult aspect of the Christian message. Namely, in this day of pluralism, the exclusivity of the person and the work of the Son (and this is not the only text which points in this direction, see Acts 4:12). And here John offers us what is for him the final word: Christ is the way, the only way, to the Almighty:

"Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it...The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was going to come into the world." (John 1:4, 5, 9)

How do we reconcile the love of GOD presented here with the condemnation from GOD just as assuredly presented? I don't have a satisfying answer, but I will say this: If someone were to "perish," as the text says, I believe they will do so because they want it that way.

Could it be, speaking strictly within Christian nomenclature, that by freedom of choice one becomes so dominated by hate and a zeal for destroying others that one finally has no recognition of what good and evil really mean as actual, active categories of human behavior? That is humanity within one dies.

Could it be that those who willingly choose real and wholehearted evil, finally are shaped by that evil and become unwilling to be part of GOD's final, forever Kingdom by ultimately rejecting GOD's presence?

Could it be that this final condemnation occurs because of GOD's unwillingness to violate one's free choice, and even if those choices lead that one down the starkly in-human trail of evil and debauchery GOD simply refuses to stop them, which means humans ultimately, actually condemn themselves?

I have in mind St. Paul's words: 

"And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done." (Romans 1:28)

What must be kept in the forefront at all times is that this idea of evil and condemnation is more than a theory of theology or a philosophical quandary to be discussed in the classroom.

No, we live in a world where monstrously evil men and women daily ply their trade. In fact, if we really knew the evil that lurks next door, or that which resides deeply even in our own hearts, we would be devastated in spirit beyond repair. 

Here the question becomes clearly focused: Is justice, ultimate justice, important to you or not? Do you want those things done in secret finally acknowledged? (Matthew 10:26-27)

Well, be sure of this, only the Almighty is witness to all these acts of human treachery. Truly, only the Almighty is the one able to know and acknowledge all the evil actually done. Only GOD sees it all.

This means, ultimately, it is the Almighty who must bring justice to the world. 

In our weaker moments, we would have him “go live” with this action right now. But, in his great love for us (and by us I actually mean real, live flesh and blood people), which was demonstrated by the giving of his Son, he waits patiently for us to choose the way of life.

All of this, of course, is more than the text says. Here, we are simply and flatly told: "whoever does not believe has already been condemned..." But, here the text also announces that those who believe, those who seek that different path found in the Christ, those who look up and pursue new life and a new way to live, they will find it!

JOHN 3:16-18