God So Loved the World
Text: John 3:1-17
When I was ordained almost five decades ago, my small home church celebrated with a reception. They had baked a cake, and intended to inscribe with frosting my favorite scriptural verse. I told them John 3:16, but that was longer than space allowed, so they simply stated, “For God so loved the world . . . .”
In retrospect, I find it illuminating that instead of focusing on the doctrine of incarnation—God giving his only son—or the doctrine of salvation—how believing results in eternal life, these rural folk emphasized God’s love for all of creation. They emphasized God’s inclusive love in Jesus Christ, rather than underscoring an exclusivist or evangelistic perspective.
So much religion is world-denying or world-denouncing, a “Christ against culture” proclamation. The world is identified as “sinful” and the church “pure and holy.” However, during the global AIDS crisis we have discovered that too often churches and church people have been far from pure and holy, often stigmatizing and discriminating in their moralistic and judgmental responses to persons infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.
The encounter of Nicodemus with Jesus is insightful, especially when Jesus declares, “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born anew.” (3:3) Nicodemus thinks age keeps people from being born again, as if we cannot be transformed or changed regardless of how old we are. Yet Jesus insists that if we are to grasp the vision of a just and loving world, we all have to be born of the Spirit.
Many in the church and society are caught in traditional cultural and religious condemnations of people because of their sexual orientation. Homophobia, not homosexuality, is a choice. We don’t choose whether we are straight or gay, but we can choose whether we are going to be open, caring, and compassionate, rather than prejudiced bullies or bigoted church people. Does being born again lead us to greater inclusiveness or narrow exclusiveness?
The world’s culture is never an unmitigated good; the loving spirit of Christ is imperative to overcome injustice, poverty, prejudice, and violence. “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.”
To Think About: Does experiencing the love of God in Christ make us more loving and compassionate or more distant and indifferent to persons infected and affected by HIV and AIDS?