Fourth Sunday in Lent 15 March 2015
(Numbers 21:4-9 Psalm 107 Ephesians 2:1-10 John 3:14-21)
“To Hope When Hope is Crazy!”
This Gospel text has always bothered me! The reason being that it does not “fit” with what I read in the headlines and hear on the news everyday. The Gospel writer tells us that “…God so loved the world that he sent his only Son….. [Jn 3:16], and yet so much evil seems to go on. The disconnect for me being, “how can there be such overwhelming evil in a world God loves so much?”
Lately it feels as if we are encountering the darkness in the world on a daily basis. Where do I begin?
• The Islamic State now brainwashing kids for brutality.
• Ferguson, Missouri, back in the news in more distressing ways than ever.
• The brash and bigoted video made by a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma. And so it continues…..
Yet, then I find some light!! This past week I found a story of Soaad Nofal, a Muslim schoolteacher who walked into ISIS headquarters in the city of Raqqa, Syria, carrying a cardboard sign with messages challenging the behaviors of members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, saying that their behavior is un-Islamic, after the kidnapping of nonviolent activists. And after Nofal was joined by hundreds of other protestors, a small number of activists were released.1
Those are the stories we don’t hear nearly as often, and it was a small achievement in light of some of the horrors we haveseen, yet I believe this kind of courage is an indication of light coming into darkness. It is also a reminder that in situations where we may seem powerless, it keeps alive the hope that light can overcome the darkness of our world.
Last Sunday we turned our clocks ahead for daylight saving time. We exchanged an hour of darkness in the morning for an extra hour of light in the evening. For several days after this switch, I always feel as if my internal clock is just a little off kilter. I guess it’s a small price to pay for the gift of light.
How fitting it is that this shift occurs during Lent, this time when we are invited by God to walk with Jesus on his path to the cross, a journey that requires a willingness to come face-to-face with the darkness inside oneself and the darkness of this world.
[Pew Bibles, p.114] In the third chapter of the Gospel of John, the gospel writer tells of an encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. Described as a Pharisee and a leader of the Jews, Nicodemus has come to Jesus by night (in the darkness) to ask him some questions. Jesus tells the puzzled Nicodemus that he must be born from above (born again), and then Nicodemus gets all confused when he takes Jesus literally.
This is where we pick up the story. Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, and compares himself to a serpent intertwined on a cross. Of course, this shocking image comes from the time when the Israelites were complaining about their difficulties in the desert after their exodus from Egypt (first reading) and were punished with a plague of venomous serpents. Nicodemus would have known that story well!
They plead to Moses for help and God instructs Moses to make a serpent out of bronze and to place it on a pole, and any who were bitten and looked upon it will be healed. The author of John’s gospel compares the healing salvation brought by Jesus being lifted up on the cross to the bronze serpent of Moses and his people in the desert. [children’s sermon]
The cross of Christ is the symbol and sign of God’s love and healing. Might it also proclaim that we now live in the reign of God, a true light shining in a world darkened by so much hate and violence? And when I understand the cross in that way—held up as a beacon of light , a sign of God’s love and healing—I find great solace in powerless people standing up to the power of darkness in the world. This is what I keep coming back to some days when I hear the news.
Several years ago Archbishop Desmond Tutu was speaking on the campus of the University of Portland. As the story goes, when he was finished with his speech, he was leaving the stage, and then, almost as if he got one final surge of energy, turned and went back to the microphone.
Almost as a heaving afterthought, Archbishop Tutu began: “We say all these things that we believe, but do we really believe them? Because they do not make any sense, of course. We say we believe in love, but so much in and around us is hate. We say we believe in humility and generosity, but so much in and around us is ego and greed. We say we believe in Jesus, but we do not give everything away and follow him through the narrow gate, do we? I am the worst of sinners in this regard.
We say we live in his light, but so much is darkness. I am not delivering a sermon. I am just saying that we are so much in the dark. Many times I despair also. Every day, there are times of darkness when everything I say and think seems small and mean and only a swirl of wind in the dust. But somehow hope returns, and we stand up and walk again.
Perhaps that is grace. Our learned people write learned things about the nature of grace, but I think perhaps it washes over us all the time, and we take it for granted. Hope does not make sense. But we continue to hope against all evidence. Could it be that to hope when hope is crazy is the purest grace? To believe against all sense and reason and logic, that is grace! The world will say you are silly! Be proud of that! 2
Especially when I struggle with God’s love for the world in the midst of so much darkness, I go back to Archbishop Tutu’s words: To hope when hope is crazy may be the purest grace! The world will say you are silly! Stand up and be proud of that! Amen.
1. Sojourners magazine, April 2015. p.15
2. Quoted in National Catholic Reporter, in an article by Brian Doyle, March 10, 2015, from a speech given by Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the University of Portland, Ore., in 2009.
Fourth Sunday in Lent 15 March 2015