Choose to Live in Light and Love

March 11, 2018

What are the two most difficult words to say in the English language? Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said this often over the years. They are ‘I’m sorry.’ Today, as I’ve been reading the sections from Book of Joy on forgiveness and gratitude, I would add another two phrases  of three words - ‘please forgive me’ and ‘I forgive you.’

As we move this week to focus on the pillars of joy, the positive qualities that cultivate the possibility of experiencing more joy, I wonder how many of us are reading the Book of Joy this Lent, and how it’s going.  I’m finding it a rich experience, that yields new insights when I re-read a section, or see things differently the more I live with it. I hope you’re finding the same.

I’ve been struck by the way that mind and heart are balanced in the book. Together the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu reflect that balance. Between their different faiths and different personalities, the Dalai Lama talks more about the mind, and the Archbishop talks more about the heart. Joy. Yet they both talk about the possibility of choice, whatever the circumstances, the invitation to choose to live in light and love, to choose actions that lead to the experience of joy, not as much a feeling or because of circumstances, but more a sustaining way of life that they both reflect in their own lives.

The readings today also reflect that invitation to trust. The gospel with that very famous John 3:16 verse, is set in the context of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in the middle of the night, about being born anew, as a metaphor for the new life and radical change that Jesus offers.

The Torah story of the Israelites that we did not read, but sang about in the gospel song, the gradual, and is referred to by Jesus in John’s gospel, was their invitation to trust when faced by their fears and terrors.

Jesus was quoting Numbers 21, when the people of Israel rebelled against God in the desert and God sent poisonous snakes to kill them, but those who repented and looked up at a bronze serpent that God told Moses to make and lift up among the people, were spared. It was their choice to face their fears and terrors, and to take a simple action that must have seemed usesless, but  choosing to trust that action would bring healing and life.

Mike Kinman says, “What does that have to do with Jesus?  It’s about complete trust in God. The people of Israel who rebelled in the desert shouted “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” They stopped trusting that God would provide. In many ways, it’s hard to blame them … they were in the middle of a desert!!!

Mike Kinman: “We are called to trust in God completely regardless of all
temptation and evidence to the contrary. And when we do, we will have new life like we can scarcely imagine.

Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world any more than God led the people of Israel into the desert to die. But in both cases, we are asked to trust deeply. To put ourselves in God’s hands instead of our own. And to receive a gift of amazing life that is freely offered if we will do so.”

Some words about the gospel are necessary, given that many of us had to learn John 3:16, given that a certain football player (Timothy Tebow) is well known for that verse, given that most people do not read on to v 17 and following verses.

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “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.

Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

This is not about those who believe are in, and those who not believe are out. God’s love is unlimited and God can only love. The word for faith (Pistis) is better translated as ‘deep trust.’ A faith that literally puts your life in the hands of that in which you are believing. The kind of trust that chooses to live in gratitude, no matter whether the circumstances are good or terrible. The kind of trust that chooses to forgive those who hurt, because it is more life giving to forgive than to live in bitterness and unforgiveness. The kind of trust that enables us to lives of depth and abundance. The kind of trust that believes that our lives are infused with grace, all the time, and that it is by grace we are saved, as we believe, as we deeply trust, the love of God at work in us and those around us and in the world.

For a couple of years I used to go and volunteer on Fridays once a month, at St Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco . They have a food pantry and give out groceries to about 600 families a week. Anyone was welcome, no questions asked at all, no criterion or qualifications. Sometimes I wondered about some of the folks coming to get food. People of all kinds came with their bags and baskets to get food. One day a neighborhood boy walked up to the rector, Paul Fromberg, as food distribution was happening and pointed out that one of the recipients had a cell phone.

“He’s not poor. He shouldn’t be getting food,” the boy said. Ignoring that people can still be poor and have a cell phone, Paul went right to the central point. “We give food to anyone who asks. Because that’s what our job is. Our job is to give.”

Their job is to give. God’s nature, God’s job if you like, is to love, is to give grace.  Our job is to choose to be open, to choose to receive that love, offered in Christ, to receive the grace that is there, to choose light and life and love. That’s not so easy. John’s gospel says that people loved darkness rather than light.

Choosing to live in light, in faith and trust not fear or comfort. Choosing to forgive. Choosing to be grateful. Choosing life, as the bishops’ statement on gun violence said, made on Wednesday this week at their House of Bishops meeting.  They quote Deuteronomy 30:19,  “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”  (Deuteronomy 30:19) This is some of what they say:

At this critical moment young people of the United States are inviting us to turn away from the nightmare of gun violence to the dream of choosing life…  The bishops  wholeheartedly support and join with the youth in this call to action. They call for a Day of Lament and Action this Wednesday, a month after the Parkland Florida shootings, and to join in the march for our lives on March 24th.

They pledge themselves to bring the values of the gospel to bear on a society that increasingly glorifies violence and trivializes the sacredness of every human life. 

And to walk with the youth of the United States today and into the future in choosing life.

We can choose life, choose to believe and trust the love of God, choose to live in the light, because of God’s limitless, tenacious love, shown to us in Jesus, who gave himself  and his life for us, on a cross that we will focus more on as we move closer towards holy week. That verse 16 says it – God so loved the world. The earth. The cosmos. The universe. That means every single person, every living creature, and creation itself. Every single person no matter who they are, what they believe, what they've done or not done. And it is hard for us to contemplate such love and grace.  Everyone from pacifists to NRA members.  Victims of shootings and the shooters. Dreamers and ICE agents. It can feel scandalous and outrageous, that as Desmond Tutu said, no one is unforgivable. God’s love is for all people. What all humans have in common is that we are loved and cherished by God. We are invited to respond to that love, and as we know, too many choose not to live in the light, in love and grace.

Today, we are invited to choose to receive the love of God that surpasses knowing.

To live in light and love, in vulnerability, in giving to others, in forgiving and being forgiven, in being grateful no matter the circumstances. As we come to the eucharist let us receive Christ, present with us to love,to strengthen, to send us out to live in gratitude and forgiveness, to love the world. Amen.

Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome here.