Lent 4 – Year B

And this is the judgement, “the light has come into the world.”(John 3:19)

I love reading the gospel of John more than reading the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke because, for me, I sense a very deep compassion in how it was written.

A 16th century protestant reformer once said, “While the synoptic gospels reveal the body of Jesus, the gospel of John reveals the soul of Jesus.” This very comment, along with my own compassion, has inspired me to respond in like fashion to you with this sermon.

So as I began to prepare my notes for today based on a passage in John chapter 3, which you just heard in the gospel reading, I decided to go back to the start of this gospel to refresh my memory about what was going on at this particular time in biblical history.

John opens with some very familiar words to us. First he says, “In the beginning,” and I found those words fascinating enough for me to quickly turn back the pages of the bible to Genesis, the very first book of the bible. There are those same three words of “in the beginning,” again.

Genesis further states, “in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep……, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters….; and there was light.”

Upon reading Genesis and the selected passage in John, I found the following words of “in the beginning….darkness…. And light” to be connected.

John begins his gospel by writing, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was, in the beginning, with God. All things came into being through Him, and without Him, not one thing….came into being. What has come into being was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” What I believe we have heard in a passage from the Old Testament and from a passage in the New Testament is the connection of the words in the beginning, darkness, and light.

Let me explain. In Genesis, the world and everything in it is created by God. In the gospel of John, God sends a messenger, John the Baptist, to prepare the way of the true light, that of Jesus, who is the flesh of God.

Jesus lived among the people; He taught the people; He healed the people; He cleansed the people from leprosy; He cast out demons from people; and He changed water into wine, not just any wine, but a “good” wine.

His name spread quickly throughout the Judean countryside, and many people constantly followed Him wherever He went. I would have wanted to have followed Him too…., wouldn’t you?

Eventually Jesus came to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was a city where many people lived, and where in particular, a certain Pharisee named Nicodemus lived. Nicodemus was a high priest and a very learned man. People looked up to him as a well-respected man who had wisdom and answers. As word began to spread that Jesus was in Jerusalem, many wanted to see Him. Even Nicodemus, though a knowledgeable man himself, wanted to meet this man named Jesus who was capturing the attention of so many people but he did not want others to know this because he feared that the people might begin to question his leadership. So instead of risking being seen in the daylight, he secretly went to meet Jesus in the darkness of night.

As we continue to hear the word darkness again, I wonder…..what other words you can associate with darkness.
How about:
Fear
Doubt
Insecurity
Danger
Loneliness
Unbelief.
We will hear about the opposite of darkness, which is the word light. I also wonder what other words you might associate with light. How about:
Truth
Trust
Security
Openness
Life
Belief.

Well, Nicodemus did meet with Jesus one night, and Jesus spoke to him at length about heavenly things, such as “being born again”; that in order to see “the Kingdom of God”, one must be “born from above.” Nicodemus not only travelled in the darkness to see Jesus, but now he must have felt confused…. as if being, I think, in a different kind of darkness.

Maybe it was a spiritual darkness of not understanding what Jesus was telling him. Sometimes I feel that I am in the darkness about things. Do you ever feel that way? “The light has come into the world”

Nearly every Thursday night for the past sixteen years, I have entered into a “sometimes” world of darkness where I often hear of evil things and of unacceptable human treatment of other people. Yet, I know that this is my passion ministry call from God Himself.

As I sign in and hand over my driver’s license, the sudden reality of losing my personal identity chills my very being. I have just voluntarily entered the grounds of a medium security state prison for women where I know that I joyfully am to talk with a few of them about God.

At times…., on the quarter mile walk to my assigned classroom, an unseen and unknown, yet very conscious feeling of darkness hovers over me. I begin prayers for protection. If I am the only facilitator that night, I admit, that while walking along, I often feel the dark threat of being afraid, anxious, and alone. As I think these thoughts, I pretty much think that’s what life itself is – because we never know what’s going to happen in the next footstep but still, as I continue on my way, headed for the very backside of the prison gym basement where my classroom is located, I enter the building and sign in for the second time, and walk down the hallway to the last classroom on the right. The door is usually closed. I open the door, and there they are. Ten or so women, all dressed in blue denim and wearing white tennis shoes or heavy work boots. The classroom itself is dreary, and when it rains hard, rainwater leaks through the only window and often from the ceiling tiles, and then, of course, things that crawl on the floor begin to appear.

Thoughts in my head speed fast in microseconds, and I think to myself, “why am I here in this dark place week after week?” Well, the answer comes simply and instantly as I go farther into the room. As soon as the women see me, if I am alone, they raise up their hands, and say, “Sally, you’re here!” Those words simply melt my heart and my soul.

Immediately the darkness I had felt just minutes before, disappears, and Jesus’s light and love begin to shine brightly in the very dreary room. To me, this is an example of the connection of darkness, light, and a new beginning.

No longer do these women appear to me as criminal offenders, but rather as sisters in Christ’s light. If they only really knew how much of Christ’s light that they bring into my own personal life. I don’t think there are human words to explain the power and nature of the peace that each of us feels in that place of discomfort and confinement at that moment.

“The light has come into the world”….even into a prison.

By God’s grace and love, these women have been able to discover and to believe that God’s mercy is given freely to all who repent, accept, and believe in the light of Jesus Christ – no matter what crime has been committed.

We, ourselves, are not the light, but we can help each other bring the message of the light of Jesus to others by knowing and sharing with them that the “light represents the very presence of God.” (nib, vol.3, p.664)

The things in our past are in the past, and when we come to fully believe in Jesus Christ, we are able to discover that a new beginning has begun for each of us…, and an eternal light of life with God will be ours. We are, in my opinion, born over and over and over again as we continue to surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ.

As Paul said to the Ephesians, “but God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.”

As we journey together through this season of lent, let’s try really hard to receive the “grace” and put aside the darkness in our own lives, so that “each of us may be set free” into Christ’s light. (hymn 706) “and this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world….” (John 3:19)

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