In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The God who created the world and everything that exists, this God loved the world that He had made. How do we know that God loves the world? How do we know that He loves us? Do we know His love because we see a beautiful sunrise, or because we can stand on top of a mountain and look over the wonder of God’s creation, or because we can stand on the edge of the ocean and behold His majesty? But what if that sun is covered by ominous clouds and a tornado or hurricane comes, leaving destruction in its path? And what if that mountain is a volcano and it erupts, smothering life with fire and mud? And what if that ocean becomes a tsunami, destroying people and towns? No, we cannot be sure of God’s love from His creation. That is the way of every paganism from the beginning of the world: when the creation is treating me well, I assume that God or the gods are happy with me. When there is drought or storms or disaster, I assume that God or the gods are mad at me, and I had better figure out a way to appease them so my crops will grow and give me the food I need.
In fact, there’s only way I can be sure about God’s love for the world and for me, and it is what God has done in His Son, Jesus. This is how God loved the world: He sent His Son, through whom all things were made, into this world. He loved the world, but the world loved darkness rather than light, because its deeds were evil. God made the world; God loved the world; God sent His Son into the world. But the world wanted nothing to do with the God who made it and loved it. The world hated the Light, because the Light exposed it for what it is.
But Jesus did not come into the world in order to condemn the world. No need to do that; the world had done that quite well on its own. The world was already condemned. Jesus came into the world to bring that condemnation to an end. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up. Moses lifted up the serpent because the people had cried out for mercy under the judgment of God that came to them in the form of poisonous serpents. They were already condemned, already dying. But God gave Moses a Word: anyone who looks at the serpent on the pole will be healed. The serpents remain, but their poison is harmless. The serpent on the pole is both a sign of their judgment, because it is in the form of their death, and it is their healing, if they believe the word that God spoke through Moses.
So also, it is necessary for the Son to be lifted up on the cross. Here’s the love of God, wrapped up in flesh and blood, the sign of our sin hanging there. But He is also our salvation and healing. He is not the sign to direct us to some other word; He is the Word who is believed. He is the love of God. He is the salvation of God.
And this Love appears in the midst of a world that is opposed to God to the point that they will not receive the One who is the source of their life and existence. They crucify Him instead. And He says, when I am lifted up, you will know that I am He, the only God, the only Love. When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to Myself. Precisely that world that loves its darkness; precisely that world that hates God; precisely that world, and those people—them, you, me, the whole world—He draws to Himself with arms stretched wide by nails and wood. The God who is love—this is His love in the world. This is the love of God, not that we loved God, but that He loved us by sending His Son into the world.
And the light of the world remains, in spite of the darkness. He who is love cannot stay dead and love is risen from the grave. That death is life because the one who died is alive forever. And those who believe Him come to Him. The ones who have been washed by water and the Spirit, they see the Love of God there on the cross. And those whom the Spirit has called, gathered, and enlightened come to the Light, and their works are all worked in God. They come to Him because they know where His love is found. You come today because you know where His love is found: in the same place He gave it: the flesh and blood of Jesus, crucified and raised up, drawing you to Himself. Here at the altar we are again given Jesus, which is the Love of God in this world. Here we see, here we know, here we believe, here we are healed and saved. There can be no doubt about the Love of God for you, if He gives you that flesh and blood love.
You and I, born from above by water and the Spirit, have been called and gathered and enlightened by that Spirit, so that we can look on Him and believe Him when He speaks to us. God has given His Son as a ransom for the whole world, for you and me, so that with cleansed hearts we might be prepared joyfully for the resurrection, to celebrate in sincerity and truth that paschal feast for all eternity.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/9/18