Mar 10, 2018

4th Sunday of Lent: "God's Love and our love"

" God so loved the world that he gave his only Son"

John 3: 14-21

The Word for Sunday:

O God, who through your Word
reconcile the human race to yourself in a wonderful way,
grant, we pray, 
that with prompt devotion and eager faith
the Christian people may hasten
toward the solemn celebrations to come. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. Amen

(Collect of Mass)

A simple but wonderful way to explain the love of God to children is to ask: “How much does God love us?” The answer is to say with arms stretched out widely: “This much!” + That gesture forms a cross and we are reminded that the Cross of Christ is forever the indelible sign of God’s love for humanity.

Though it may sound a bit simplistic its truth is far more mature and transforming.  Our readings this weekend on this particular Sunday of Joy as we are on the home stretch before the glory of Easter are saturated with the overwhelming truth of God’s love for us.  In fact, the mistake we consistently make is to think that God’s love and our human expression of love are the same. That God falls in and out of love and is as fickle and inconsistent as we humans can be. God rewards good behavior and punishes us when we're bad. Not so . . .

Our first reading from Chronicles relates the story of the destruction of Jerusalem, its sacred Temple, the source of both civic and religious life, and the capture of the Jewish people off to Babylon where they were enslaved for seventy years.  Now, that may not exactly sound like a Divine love story but it is an indication of God’s desire to save his people and to purify his people in order to offer them a new beginning.

The reading is strong in its imagery.  “The princes of Judah, the priests and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple . . .” It certainly is not a rosy picture of how far they had strayed away from the Lord’s original Covenant.  Yet, despite this, God desperately sends “his messengers,” the prophets, to warn them and call them back to the Lord.  But, they mocked and killed them!

Looking back on history, the writer of Chronicles sees this moment as a profound turning point as Babylon’s invasion and total destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple is seen as a moment not of eternal punishment but rather as chastisement, purification, which in the end, though after seventy years, he inspires the King of the Persians to lead them back, to rebuild the Temple and restore the Nation.  “Let’s give it another go,” as our British friends might say.  God’s love never ceases as time and time again he longs for salvation.

How might we humans deal with the same situation?  I think the vast majority of us would have given up long before and moved on to someone who might appreciate our efforts.  Whatever love may have been there initially would have long gone sour through such hurt and disappointment. Not God and so we see in our other readings as well.

Paul in his writing to the Christians of Ephesus speaks of God as “rich in mercy.”  He states that even when we were “dead in our transgressions” God “brought us to life with Christ – by grace you have been saved.”  This is not a god who walks away but rather and true God who never gives up on us. 

The Gospel reflection from John contains the often quoted and inspiring quote that some feel sums up the entire Gospel event: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

If anyone ever experiences judgment and critical comments about Christianity or why we believers do not walk away considering the state of evil in the world today, this foundational quote, John 3: 16, is the reason why we should never abandon God or walk away.  Jesus coming among us was not an opportunity for God to inflict his final revenge on humanity but rather the ultimate turning point in our relationship with him. God enfleshed in Jesus his Son, and the “sign” of the Cross, is the forever testimony to how far God’s unrestrained love has gone for our sake. 

Yes, the pain of suffering we see and hear about throughout the world these days, the strong diatribes coming from world leaders, and the power we have to destroy ourselves is frightening. We all question “Why” God tolerates such things and more personal struggles in our lives. 

Yet, even in such dark conditions the Christian message is consistent and both the Sacred Scriptures and history itself prove to us that although God is mysterious and distant he is very much in our lives and personally involved.  As he walked among us in Christ he brought hope and promise and made even those moments of struggle for us meaningful in the Cross.  The best answer to “Why” is always the Cross of Christ, which was followed not by the end but the new beginning of the Resurrection.

This Sunday we rejoice in God’s overwhelming love for us.  The Eucharist is essentially about thanksgiving for that Divine love unleashed upon us.  We are reminded that God indeed does love us “this much!" ------------