Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
March 11, 2018—Lent 4B
Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
“We were dead, but God made us alive together with Christ”! (from Eph 2:1,4,5) We were dead. We were dead in our sins. We were dead in our disobedience. We were dead in our tendency to follow the course of this world, of the flesh, of the senses, of wrath. We were dead.
I have Working Preacher’s Karoline Lewis to thank for pointing out this hinge in Ephesians (this hinge, indeed, in the whole New Testament).[i] We were dead, we were lost, we were in darkness. We were afraid, we were hurting, we were possessed. We were slaves to the values and purposes of this world. We were. But God…
But God brought us to life, God showed us the way, God shined a light. God gave us courage, God healed us, God’s goodness overcame the evil that seeks to dominate this world. God freed us.
We were dead, But GOD!
It is an extension; it is the birth of possibility when we thought there was no hope. Our reality hands us final judgments: that we are condemned to death, and suffering and despair. But God laughs those judgments out of existence. God reminds us that our finite understanding of how any of this works evaporates in the face of the infinite.
We are sinful. That is an undeniable reality. And if all we had was our own self, our own powers and capacity, we might well drown in that sin. Without the ways that God breaks into our lives with the touch of love, with the word of warning, with the signpost to lead the way … without all the ways God accompanies us through and out of our bondage to sin, we would be lying dead at the side of the proverbial road. But God does break in, and so everything can be transformed.
There are so many ways in which we are dead in our sins and trespasses. So many of us, for instance, believe that we cannot possibly be worthy. We believe ourselves beyond redemption, that our brokenness is too great for God to even be able to behold us, let alone save us … let alone LOVE us.
But we are reminded, in the cross, that God did not stop loving or forgiving humanity, even when they had tortured and killed him. So tell me, what have you done that is worse than that? How can you possibly deem yourself beyond the reach of salvation?
And perhaps more importantly, why would you wish to place yourself there? Why do any of us want to believe ourselves beyond God’s capacity to forgive and heal?
Could it be that we are terrified to place ourselves within reach of the forgiveness of God? That we do not wish to step into the light: to expose ourselves to the truth of ourselves? We are afraid. We do not wish to admit the damage we do to ourselves, to others, and to the world. We resist the admission, and the humility it requires. And we resist the confession, and the repentance it demands. As John puts it, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed” (John 3:20).
We like the appearance of goodness, so we’d rather not confess. And often enough, we would rather not have to stop doing whatever it is we are doing, so we’d really rather not repent.
We are dead. In our disobedience, in our fear, in our lack of trust, we are dead. But God … but God is rich in mercy. And God loves us so much that God promises us unlimited grace. God offers a forgiveness that will so far surpass what we believed to be possible that nothing will ever be the same for us again. Because love is transformative. And a love like that, a love that can truly take you as you are, knowing the full breadth and depth of you, that love will raise you up to a whole new life!
A love like that, that will take you as you are, will also never leave you as you are. And that’s salvation. That’s eternal, abundant, overflowing life.
We were dead. Dead because we followed the ways of the world, that lead us into destruction. The world is ruled by the flesh: by self-indulgence, greed, selfishness and pride. The world tells us that we are the center of everything, that our needs and wants and beliefs are at the pinnacle and everything else is less important, less valid, and less true. And so we allow our self-interest, allow our tribal instincts to dominate.
We follow the ways of the world; we live by our passions and senses that tell us how different we are from each other; that we are in competition with each other; and so we become children of wrath set against one another. But God loves us all. And God lifts us up, together, into new life. You, and all those people you kindasorta wanted to think weren’t part of all this. But in Christ, as we read in Galatians 3, God has obliterated all the distinctions we seek to make between us and them. And God has raised us all!
We do this, think this, believe this. But God does all this. God IS ALL this!
We … well, we get caught up. We get caught up a lot. We get caught up in ourselves. And so we hear about salvation and we have a hard time worrying about anything other than our own personal salvation.
But God … God loved the world. The whole world. God grieved for the world, and the damage that was being done by our sin and trespass, by our disobedience, by our following the worldly ways of self-indulgence, greed, pride, and wrath. So God sent Jesus to show us the way. So that the dream of God might burst into the world. So that God’s intent for a just and caring world might be more clear and more present. So that the light might guide us to trust, to follow, and to give our hearts to a new way of being. A way of being that will combat the evil and injustice in the world. A way of being that will be manifest in acts of fierce love, deep compassion, and transformative mercy. God sent his Son into our sin and disobedience, not to condemn us, but to show us how to live. In order to save the world.
To believe in Jesus—to trust him, follow him, give your heart to him—is to give yourself to the Way in which he lived, to commit yourself to his work to end hunger and suffering, and to fight against the forces of evil and destruction in this world.[ii] This is the way to be united with the Father. This is the way to be filled with the power and light of Jesus. This is the Way. By ourselves, we are dead. But in the Way of Christ, God will make us all alive, and save this world he loves so very much. May it be so. Amen.
[i] Working Preacher podcast, SB593 “Fourth Sunday in Lent,” posted March 3, 2018.