Learning the best truth of all each day
“And 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, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:14-21 ESV)
It is a sad truth of our world, at the moment, that we can say a single name and we are confronted by injustice, violence, sexism, racism, evil. Sarah Everard. Her murder creates a moment – of focus or clarity where we look at the world as it is and we say we don’t want this; the world should not be like this. The public response and the police response regarding her vigil keeps the question of our societal goals, our aims, our ideals in focus. Everyone wants to live well. The question always is, of course, how.
I could say other names, at the moment, and another aspect of our social living comes into focus. Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe in Iran brings to mind false imprisonment and international relationships. George Floyd brings to mind racism.
But there is another deeper aspect about humanity and that is we forget names as well. Alan Kurdi? Nod if you remember him. … Yet, I’m sure you all do. He is the three year old Syrian boy of Kurdish descent who drowned in the Mediterranean in 2015 along with his brother and mother and was washed up on a Turkish beach and his photo brought focus on the refugee crisis and what drives people to flee their home – it is not unreasonable to want to be safe and well.
On Remembrance observances at the Mildenhall cenotaph I am struck by the reading of the names set in stone and very often by the juxtaposition that the world has had more wars since then and we haven’t seemed to learn.
The story of Christianity includes God’s repeated action to rescue humanity because we never seem to learn. That’s the context – learning, education, is this a new teaching or have I been so thick that I haven’t understood it yet? – that brought Nicodemus to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher sent by God …” (John 3:2 ESV) and Jesus teaches him about being born again and seeing the Kingdom of God – and there is a lot of learning to do about water and the Spirit, Baptism – not another physical birth – our mothers would not be fans – but spiritual, sacramental, and very real – but we are slow learners.
That has to be one of the conclusions of watching the people in the wilderness who want God but on their terms, who follow God for a while, and then go off track, who plead for mercy and then afterwards rebel – always wanting a good life, a better life, and a lot of the time complaining, grumbling, murmuring against God. After one rebellion the consequence were snakes that came to torment and kill but God again rescued via the bronze serpent – lifted up – they could look at it and live. And that is one of the conclusions we might reach today as names come and go across our media and point out a dark world – there are many problems – injustice, corruption, violence, rebellion, self service, and more around.
A rescue involves what we would call the moment when we are saved – we are released from the mangled car – when the surgeon knows the operation is successful – when the life saver gets to the drowning person. It is an event and we don’t usually think of the life that is then lived. I wonder when we emphasise the cross or Baptism or encourage coming to Holy Communion that we give the impression of ‘God moments’ after which we can then get back to our life? Yes, these are saving moments but perhaps we should think of them as saving us, rescuing us, helping us for today and tomorrow and beyond.
What Jesus taught Nicodemus is that salvation is living 24/7 – it is relational – yes, there is a birth but that’s never simply a single moment and we don’t even remember it but our mothers do – but our birth marks the commencement of our life out in the world – that is why our mothers gave birth to us so that we could live. However our human nature and this world’s ways which never seem to learn and in fact perversely prefers the dark to the light, produces a situation where we know things – living on Planet Earth isn’t good, or right, or safe, or healthy for all – and those are good goals to work for but instead we scramble for ourselves and wonder why humanity is so forgetful, selfish, unteachable, trapped? Why can’t we make a better world?
And then we hear …
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16,17 ESV)
And when Jesus was lifted up on the cross there people for nearly 2,000 years have discovered salvation, a rescue, but much more than a single moment, there is life. This one man – this Jesus – isn’t forgotten in this world – though at times people do forget him and wander away from him and some rebel against him – but God has come himself as one of us to make it as clear as possible – light in the darkness – that “I want you to live and live safe and well”. And in this world of sin and death, the best living is following Jesus.
He is one single name. He will not be forgotten on Planet Earth. The pages of history will not write over him and consign him to the past. He is both a rescuer and a challenger to how we live our lives. He calls us to repent of our sins, to put away our fears, to take up our cross and follow him into our relationships serving those around us. Our behaviour is in response to other people’s behaviour but it is not determined by their behaviour. Think about it. That’s what following Jesus is about.
But there is one other single name that is never going to be forgotten. In my case, it is George. You can say your name. And most importantly God says your name and even should I develop dementia and forget my name, God will never forget. Baptism. Personal absolution. Prayer and counselling. Holy Communion. And we are brought out of the shame and darkness into the light to live. And even when the darkness of death comes close, this darkness is not dark to the one who died for you and lives again and calls you by name.
Making this world better for all is why we are here and doing it is usually done one name at a time. The world remembers and forgets and remembers and forgets. The followers of Jesus listen and follow the God who speaks our name and reminds us each day not to be afraid or in the dark because God loves us and this world. He never forgets – nor do we. And so we live.
- John 3:14 - 21