I wish we could stop at John 3.16 today but we can’t. Most of my ministry I have stopped here. And it is a wonderful stopping place. For if we ever get our hearts around this text: For God so loved the world—the world—everybody—God takes us all in—and say that whosoever believes in Him will never perish--why it would change the church and all of us, too. For we would open our hearts to everyone and that is a pretty big order. Even to us—especially to us. But I don’t want to stop there today. I want to move on down to that 19th verse. I don’t think I ever got that far in any sermon. Listen: “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 that 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.”(3.19-21)
Do you hear what John is saying? God loves the whole world—everybody. But that is only part. And now we come to the hard part. People loved darkness rather than light. John is talking about the everybody that God loves. Everybody, all of us, gravitates to the dark side. This is why we need a Savior.
My granddaughter Libby used to say: “Mama, can you come in here—I am afraid of the dart.” And I don’t know anybody, anywhere that comes close to the darkness of evil and comes away more than a little tarnished.
One of the basic problems in the whole Bible is the dart. There is that Garden, surrounded by all the lushness that God Almighty could provide there came this beautiful snake. Whispering, “Do you really think you have to listen to God? Bite that apple—you won’t die.” And from there to Cain and Abel where one brother slays another to Jacob taking his brother, Esau’s birthright to David’s adultery to Solomon’s destruction of the Kingdom over greed and sex and rock and roll.
So many of us have stopped too soon. We talked about John 3.16. But what about this nineteenth verse? What about evil? What about the dart that we have all tried to live around or ignore or just wish it would go away? We thought we solved it when we identified the problem. Evil was for us Baptists, drinking, dancing and smoking. And there are churches all over this land this morning that are preaching evil with a little “e.” Them. Those people. They. And we know who they are. If you are a Republican they are Democrats. If you are a Democrat they are Republicans. They are in Iraq and Iran and Pakistan and Afghanistan. Isis—really mean and scary. Over there. What about here? All these shootings and kidnaps and rapes. What about all these pay-day loans where some people with nothing are paying 300 to 500% interest. They’ll never get out of that hole. What about here? I teach Grief groups and they come in with the saddest of stories. The Mama who found her 22-year-old dead of a drug overdose. The little man in my church who comes every Sunday. He just put his wife in a nursing home and he goes every single day and holds her and she says: “Do I know you?” We know about evil—don’t we?
But look again at the text. John says people love darkness rather than light. Not just the “them’s”. Not just the “they’s.” Everybody John says. We all love the darkness rather than the light. And John’s verse forces us to look closely at ourselves and see how very far we all fall short from what God wants us to be.
Paul said it, “What I want to do—I do not do. What I do not want to do—I find myself doing.” Which means that like Paul we all have a shadow side. We all have a dart—and left alone it would destroy us and all those around us. For sometimes the sins of the fathers and the mothers are visited on the third and fourth generations. William Styron, one of our greatest writers was subject to depression all his life. He called it, in one of his books Darkness Visible. It was so real he could almost reach out and touch it.
Like the moth to the flame, we keep coming close to the darkness. But mostly we deny it. Oh, it is so much easier to know your wife’s faults. Your boss’ faults. The preacher’s. The Deacon’s. Your Mama or Daddy that wounded you. We can look so many places out there and find the blame. Obama, George Bush, the Legislature, Bill Clinton, the Gamecocks, maybe the Session or the Presbytery. The list is endless. We see everybody else’s shadow side. I like the story of the man who answered his doorbell one day and let his old friend in—along with a great big shaggy dog. As they sat talking, the dog bumped into an end table and almost sent a lamp crashing to the floor. After chewing on the rug the dog began to ramble through the house and, as he went, you could hear the sound of breaking glass. He finally jumped on the couch with his muddy feet and curled up for a nap. The homeowner could not take it any longer. “Don’t you think you should have trained your dog better before you brought him in here?” And the friend said: “My dog? I thought it was your dog.” Nobody wants to claim the dog. But we all have a shadow side and we have to deal with it.
Have I depressed you enough? There is evil and there is good. Atheists say they have us here. If there was a God why evil? And I can’t answer that question except to say if we did not have a choice we could not be free people. But that’s a weak answer. But John told us in those opening verses: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out.”(1.5) And then move down to the ninth verse he says that Jesus is the true light and “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (1.9) What our faith says is that the light is stronger than the darkness.
And this is good news for all of
us. Whatever shadow sides we have to deal with, whatever darkness we carry does
not have to be the last word. Move on through John’s gospel. And when we come to that
twentieth chapter, the Easter story begins: “While it was still dark…” Mary
Magdalene comes to the Open Tomb. While it was still dark. You ever been there?
Of course you have. We all have. And John says Mary stands there weeping for
the best person she ever knew had been nailed to a cross on a dark Friday
afternoon. It was Easter Sunday early…and it was still dark. We’ve all been
there. Sometimes even on Easter. But John tells us there is more.
|photo by Marilena Marchese / flickr|
In Oberammergau at the Passion Play in Germany we sat for three hours or more as the story of Jesus’ last week was played out before our eyes. And then we broke for lunch and then came back for the rest of the play. They show the crucifixion in graphic terms. Jesus nailed to a cross. They show his broken body being taken down and the weeping women and other disciples. And slowly all the lights go out and we sit in darkness. And then through the darkness we can barely make out these women who come and stand beside the huge stone door. They weep and try to move the door—but it will not budge. And suddenly two angels come from stage left and stage right and slowly they begin to unroll an aisle cloth--liken we used to do at weddings. The angels move to the door and just crack the door open. Through the cracked door you could see the light shining through. And the dark stage slowly, ever so slowly is filled with light until it covers the whole audience. And then through the light there comes Jesus, the Risen Lord. And from all over a hundred children come running, running and grab Jesus by the legs laughing in wonder and joy.
You brought some dark in here today. It may be heavy and it may be hard. But John says: the light has come into the world and the darkness cannot put it out. The dart does not have the last word.
There is an old play that was on Broadway some time ago called The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. In the play the Mama has told Sonny,er son, to go on upstairs to bed while she finishes up in the kitchen. A few minutes later she goes to the darkened stairs and Sonny is just sitting there. “Sonny,” she says, " I thought I told you to go on up to bed.” He says, “Mom!” And she sees he is embarrassed, and she tells him: “Sonny, why are so afraid of the dark?” And he replies: “Cause you can’t see what’s in front of you. And it might be something awful.” “Sonny—you’re the man of the house—and mustn't be afraid.” I’m not afraid,” he says, “if someone’s with me.” And the Mama walks over and takes his hand and they go up the darkened stairs together.
This is what the Gospel—good news—is all about. We leave here and go back to whatever hard, hard things we have to face. And the good news is that we don’t just stop at John 3.16. We remember that other word: we may all carry our own dart but the strong kindly light can always put it out. "Weeping may last for a night but joy comes in the morning." Thanks be to God.
(I preached this sermon Sunday, June 14th at the Westminster Presbyterian Church, Westminster, SC)
--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com