I preached last Sunday. I haven’t done that since Christmas. It felt good—very good. I used the gospel lectionary text for the day. John 3.14-21. In reading the text I discovered something I’ve never seen before. Usually I stop at John 3.16: “For God so loved the world that whosoever believes…” The last few years I have been overwhelmed by that word, whosoever. The utter inclusivity of the gospel takes my breath away. We, in the church have pared down that whosoever—but John 3.16 enlarges the circle until it includes everyone. But then I read the 19th verse: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world and people loved darkness rather than light…”And the thought hit me: The whosoever are all those God loves, but in this verse 19 the whosoever now become the people. And the people love darkness rather than light. Hmm. The people.
We know the people that love the dark. All those others. We can wax pretty strong about those that spend their time shooting the lights out of everything. Surely it is the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Surely it is always those countries that rape and torture in Zimbabwe and other countries. Those monsters that deal in human trafficking. We could even expand the people to include those that sold us down the river financially—and put us in the mess we’re in. I have been told there are over 600 hate groups in this country—surely they follow the darkness.
But this term, the people is as inclusive as God’s love. We all gravitate toward the darkness. John puts it even stronger—we love the darkness more than the light. To truly hear these words could help us deal with our piousity. We all have a shadow side. So do all our institutions. Like Paul what we want to do, we don’t do—and all those things we wanted to shy away from, we find ourselves doing. So we all have to contend with the powers and principalities of darkness. Yet John has already told us: “the light has come into the world and the darkness cannot put it out.” Which means that the light is stronger than the darkness.
Maybe with this sea of unemployment, this gloomy, gloomy talk of the economy or that neighbor who has a stroke and won’t be coming back to her house—maybe we all need to hear that the light will triumph after all.
I have some friends in a deep-South town. She is slowly going blind. Nothing can heal those wounded eyes. And knowing how bleak their future is, their Christmas letter moved me terribly. They told the true story of little eleven-year-old Antoine Mack who lived in the worst of the slums in Boston inner city. He was handpicked along with some others to attend a summer camp for two weeks that the Episcopal Church ran. He had never been outside his city. He had never seen a cow or looked out on a sea of grass. After two wonderful weeks, Antoine was packing to go back to the tiny constricted place he called home. And he sat down and wrote this poem:
The night will never stay,
The night will still flow by
Though a million stars in the milky way
pin it to the sky.
Though bound with the blowing wind,
and buckled by the moon,
The night will always slip away,
Like sorrow, or a tune.
I think Antoine is on to something. We all do gravitate to the darkness and it is all around us. And yet—the light is stronger than any dark. And in that kindly light we all can find our way.