Lent Sunday 4 B

1. Fr. Tony Kadavil:

1) Glimpse of God’s love in the Amtrak tragedy:
Near Mobile, Alabama, there was a railroad bridge that spanned a big bayou. The date was September 22, 1993. It was a foggy morning, just before daybreak, when a tugboat accidentally pushed a barge into the bayou. The drifting barge slammed into the river bridge. In the darkness no one could see the extent of the damage, but someone on the tugboat radioed the Coast Guard. Minutes later, an Amtrak train, the Sunset Limited, reached the bridge as it traveled from Los Angeles to Miami. Unaware of the damage, the train crossed the bridge at 70 mph. There were 220 passengers on board. As the weight of the train broke the support, the bridge gave away. Three locomotive units and the first four of the train’s eight passenger cars fell into the alligator infested bayou. In the darkness, the fog was thickened by fire and smoke. Six miles from land, the victims were potential food for the aroused alligators. Helicopters were called in to help rescue the victims. They were able to save 163 persons. But one rescue stands out. Gery and Mary Chancey were waiting in the railcar with their eleven-year-old daughter. When the car went into the bayou and began to fill rapidly with water, there was only one thing they could do. They pushed their young daughter through the window into the hands of a rescuer, and then succumbed to their watery death. Their sacrificial love stands out especially because their daughter was imperfect by the world's standards. She was born with cerebral palsy and needed help with even the most routine things. But she was precious to her parents. We, too, are imperfect – our lives filled with mistakes, sin and helplessness. But we are still precious to God – so precious that He sacrificed his Son Jesus to save us. Today’s gospel tells us how a perfect God sent His perfect Son to save an imperfect world.

2) "I beheld only the face of the man who would die for me."
On the southern border of the Persian empire of Cyrus, there lived a great chieftain named Cagular who tore to shreds and completely defeated the various detachments of Cyrus’ army sent to subdue him. Finally the emperor, amassing his whole army, marched down, surrounded Cagular, captured him, and brought him to the capital for execution. On the day of the trial, he and his family were brought to the judgment chamber. Cagular, a fine-looking man of more than 6 feet, with a noble manner about him was a magnificent specimen of manhood. So impressed was Cyrus with his appearance that he said to Cagular, "What would you do should I spare your life?" "Your Majesty, if you spared my life, I would return to my home and remain your obedient servant as long as I lived." "What would you do if I spared the life of your wife?" "Your Majesty, if you spared the life of my wife, I would die for you." So moved was the emperor that he freed them both and returned Cagular to his province to act as governor thereof. Upon arriving at home, Cagular reminisced about the trip with his wife. "Did you notice," he said to his wife, "the marble at the entrance of the palace? Did you notice the tapestry on the wall as we went down the corridor into the throne room? And did you see the chair on which the emperor sat? It must have been carved from one lump of pure gold." His wife could appreciate his excitement, but she only replied: "I really didn’t notice any of that." "Well," said Cagular in amazement, "What did you see?" His wife looked seriously into his eyes and said, "I beheld only the face of the man who said to the emperor that he would die for me." Today’s gospel presents before us the face of God’s Son who was sent to die for us, demonstrating God’s mercy and love for each one of us.
3) The Hound of Heaven:
The Hound of Heaven, written by Francis Thompson, is one of the best known religious poems in the English language. It describes the pursuit of the human soul by God. It is the story of a human soul who tries to flee from God as it thinks that it will lose its freedom in the company of God. It is the story of Thompson’s own life. As a boy, he intended to become a priest. But the laziness of his brilliant son prompted Thompson’s father to enroll young Francis in a medical school. There he became addicted to the opium that almost wrecked his body and mind. He fled to a slum and started earning a living by shining shoes, selling matches, and holding horses. In 1887 Francis sent some poems and an essay to Mr. Wilfrid Meynell, the editor of a Catholic literary magazine called Merry England. The editor recognized the genius behind these works and published them in April 1888. Then Meynell went in search of the poet. He arranged accommodation for Francis, introduced him to other poets and helped him to realize God’s love. How Francis tried to run away from God, how God “hunted” him, how divine love caught up with him – these are the themes of his stirring poem, The Hound of Heaven. Once we realize, as did the poet Francis Thompson and all the saints, that God pursues our souls to the ends of the earth and beyond, then we will try to return to that love and allow the Hound of Heaven to “catch” us. Today’s gospel tells us about the breadth and depth and height of the divine love of the Hound of heaven for each one of us.

4) “Gee, Mom, she thinks I'm real!"
There is an old story about a family consisting of mother, father, and small son who went into a restaurant. As they were seated at the table, the waitress sailed up. You know, the particular kind of waitress who moves as though she were the captain of a ship. She sailed up, pad in efficient hand, looked, and waited. The parents ordered. Then the boy looked up and said plaintively, "I want a hot dog." "No hot dog!" said the mother. "Bring him potatoes, beef, and a vegetable." The waitress paused for a moment, and then looked at the boy squarely and said, "Yes, sir. What do you want on your hot dog?" "Ketchup - lots of ketchup - and a glass of milk." "One hot dog, coming up," said the waitress and sailed off toward the kitchen. The boy turned to his parents said, "Gee, Mom, she thinks I'm real!" One reason that we are real is because God thinks we are real. He created all of us to be His children. That process of becoming God’s children may be for us as radical as being born anew, as Jesus told Nicodemus, but it is precisely that for which we were created. For Christians, to be real, is to allow ourselves to be loved by God, and to love God in return, which, according to St. John, means doing the truth.

5) Nicodemus in art and history:
One of Rembrandt's most famous etchings portrays the scene. The limp, dead body of Jesus was slowly taken down from the cross. Joseph of Arimathea, dressed as the person that he was, in all his finery, stands close by. In the darkness, further away, veiled in shadow as only Rembrandt could do it, with his face lined in sorrow, is Nicodemus. He is holding in his hands the linen cloth in which Jesus' body would be buried. The Gospel says that Nicodemus also brought with him a mixture of spices, myrrh and aloes, "about a hundred pounds". One wonders what Nicodemus must have been thinking as he stood there, waiting for the body of Christ to be taken down from the cross. Obviously, much was going on in his life -- this wealthy man, bringing fine linen and a bountiful amount of expensive spices to anoint the body of one who had died as a common criminal. Was he still mystified as he had been when Jesus told him that he must be born again? Was he still puzzled by the response of Jesus when he pressed his question about how one could be born again? Jesus' answer had been totally unsatisfying for his rational mind: "The Spirit blows where it wills -- you feel it, and you hear the sound of it -- but you don't know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

6) Emergency Night call:
One of the things that pastors, doctors, fire-fighters, and police have in common that they all receive occasional night calls. And most pastors would agree that some of our most significant opportunities to help people have come in response to night-time calls, usually of an emergency nature. However, not all of our night calls are that significant. Dr. Robert Ozmont of First United Methodist Church in Atlanta received a call one night about 2:00 AM. He did not know the lady who called; she had found his number in the yellow pages. She had a problem. By any objective measure it was not an emergency; certainly it could have waited until morning. Nevertheless, Dr. Ozmont tried to offer what advice he could. Then he asked, "Ma'am, do you belong to a church in Atlanta?" "Yes," she replied. "I am a member of Calvary Presbyterian." "Why," asked Dr. Ozmont, "didn't you call your pastor about your problem?" "I thought about that," she said, "but my pastor works so hard that I just hated to bother him in the middle of the night." The gospel of John tells us about a night-time call Jesus received from a prestigious Jew named Nicodemus.

7) "Believe in the God Who Believes in You.”
 Mother Teresa was interviewed on American television a few years ago. She said, "It is very, very important, that the families teach their children to pray and pray with them." Then she added, "And we have enough reason to trust God, because when we look at the cross, we understand how much Jesus loved us. It is wonderful to be able to come to Jesus! That's why God made Him – to be our bread of life, to give us life! And with His life comes new life! New energy! New peace! New joy! New everything! And I think that's what brings glory to God, also, and it brings peace." Then she said, "I've seen families suffer so much, and when they've been brought to Jesus, it changes their whole lives." [Robert H. Shuller. Believe in the God Who Believes in You. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), p. 126.] I have also seen lives changed by the power of the cross. Have you? Today’s gospel gives a parallel between the bronze serpent erected by Moses to heal the Israelites bitten by snakes and Jesus raised on the cross to save mankind.

8) "Release this guilty man.”
 King Frederick II, an Eighteenth-Century king of Prussia, visited a prison in Berlin one day. The inmates jumped at the opportunity to plead their cases directly to the king. All except one. One prisoner sat quietly in the corner. This aroused the king's curiosity. The king quieted the other inmates and approached the man in the corner. "What are you in for?" he asked. "Armed robbery, your honor." The king asked, "Are you guilty?" "Yes sir," he answered. "I entirely deserve my punishment." The king then gave an order to the guard: "Release this guilty man. I don't want him corrupting all these innocent people." How ironic! Only when we admit our guilt can that guilt be washed away. One of the greatest promises of scripture is this one: "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (I John 1:9) Repentance is the first step toward new birth mentioned in today’s gospel. Think for a moment. Is there some failing in your life that you have never admitted to God?

9) Only five percent of people are able to dream in color:
Did you know that a glass of hippopotamus milk contains eighty calories, or that only five percent of people are able to dream in color? Facts are intriguing but, just as quickly, they are easily forgotten. The recent knowledge explosion has had a great impact upon technology. With that technological 'know how,' we thought we had a blank check to the future. Then came the new bullies on the block: environmental pollution and computer impersonalism. The marriage of knowledge and technology was not creating the utopia we had hoped for. The yellow brick road to the future emptied into that old dirt path of breast-beating. It didn't break any record for moral progress, either. Many of us have to agree that any quest for knowledge as a thing in itself can be a dull date. Knowledge must ripen into truth. Okay, but what is the truth? To answer that adequately, we must recall Nicodemus. If ever a man were dead certain of himself, it was the Pharisee. For him all was quiet on the western front until he met Jesus. The Nazarene became the burr under his saddle. His intellectual absolutes shook like jello. His neatly spun web of Jewish theology slowly began to unravel.

10) “Well, Sarah, that is exactly right.”
A little girl went to the doctor for a check-up. When the doctor came into the examining room, she held up both hands to get his attention and then she said: "Doctor, I know what you are going to do. You are going to do 5 things. You are going to check my eyes, my ears, my nose, my throat and my heart." The Doctor smiled and said: "Well, Sarah, that is exactly right. Is there any particular order I should go in?" Sarah said: "You can go in any order you want to... but if I were you, I'd start with the heart!!!" That's what Jesus did, wasn't it? He started with the heart. He started with Love... and that is precisely what he wants us to do!

11) "God, I ain't got nothin' against nobody."
Anthony Campolo tells about a mountaineer from West Virginia who fell in love with the beautiful daughter of the town preacher. The gruff and tough man one evening looked deeply into the eyes of the preacher's daughter and said, "I love you." It took more courage for him to say those simple words than he had ever had to muster for anything else he had ever done. Minutes passed in silence and then the preacher's daughter said, "I love you, too." The tough mountaineer said nothing except, "Good night." Then he went home, got ready for bed and prayed, "God, I ain't got nothin' against nobody." Many of us know that feeling. To love and to be loved, what joy that simple emotion brings into our lives! Then to realize that the very nature of God is love is almost more than you or I can comprehend.

12) Chain of love:
Before we are able to give love we must receive love. Let me give you a powerful example. Once years ago there was a little girl in an institution who was almost like a wild beast. The workers at the institution had written her off as hopeless. An elderly nurse believed there was hope for the child, however. She felt she could communicate love and hope to this wild little creature. The nurse daily visited the child whom they called Little Annie, but for a long time Little Annie gave no indication she was aware of her presence. The elderly nurse persisted and repeatedly brought some cookies and left them in her room. Soon the doctors in the institution noticed a change. After a period of time, they moved Little Annie upstairs. Finally the day came when this seemingly "hopeless case" was released. Filled with compassion for others because of her institutional experience, Little Annie, Anne Sullivan, wanted to help others. It was Anne Sullivan who, in turn, played the crucial role in the life of Helen Keller. It was she who saw the great potential in this little blind, deaf and rebellious child. She loved her, disciplined her, played, prayed, pushed, and worked with her until Helen Keller became an inspiration to the entire world. It began with the elderly nurse, then Anne Sullivan, then Helen Keller, and finally every person who has ever been influenced by the example of Helen Keller. (Jeffrey Holland in Vital Speeches) That chain of love goes on forever. Before it began with that elderly nurse, though, we have to go all the way back to the beginning when God first loved His creation. 

13) “I resolve to compose no more.":
One day in his later years, the composer Johannes Brahms reached a point in his life when his composing almost came to a halt. He started many things, serenades, part songs and so on, but nothing seemed to work out. Then he thought, "I am too old. I have worked long and diligently and have achieved enough. Here I have before me a carefree old age and can enjoy it in peace. I resolve to compose no more." This cleared his mind and relaxed his faculties so much that he was able to pick up with his composing again without difficulty. Many of us are a bundle of anxieties. That is why we accomplish so little. What we need is to relax in the knowledge that we are loved. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him..." Do you believe in Christ? Then what in the world are you worried about? Accept his love. Lay your deepest concerns at the foot of the cross.

14) Driving Miss Daisy:
Miss Daisy drove her Packard into her neighbor's backyard. Boolie Werthan, Daisy's son, thought that such an incident was sufficient evidence to warrant the end of his mother’s driving; she needed a driver, a chauffeur. Hoke Coleburn, a middle-aged black man, was Boolie's choice for the job. Daisy, however, would not accept this restriction, this change in her life; she was not open to being transformed. Boolie may have hired Hoke, but that did not mean that Miss Daisy had to use him. As Hoke stood idle, Miss Daisy took the street car wherever she went, to the hairdresser or the grocery store. Hoke Coleburn was being paid for doing nothing. That is exactly how Miss Daisy wanted things. As stubborn as she could be, Miss Daisy ultimately did change her attitude. One day she needed a few things from the store. She left the house and began to walk toward the streetcar. Hoke decided that Miss Daisy's refusal to use his services needed to end. As she walked down the sidewalk, Hoke slowly drove alongside in the new 1948 Hudson Boolie had purchased for his mother. "Where are you going?" scowled Daisy. Hoke replied, "I'm fixin' to take you to the store!" Although still not content with the arrangement, Daisy agreed to get into the car; her conversion had begun. Daisy did not approve, but Hoke had become her chauffeur. Whether it was to the temple (you see Miss Daisy was Jewish), the store, or a trip to Mobile to visit relatives, Daisy and Hoke went together. As the years passed, their relationship as driver and passenger grew; they bonded together. Then one day Miss Daisy's conversion became complete. The process had been long and sometimes difficult, but now it was finished. She could finally say, "Hoke, you are my best friend." Alfred Uhry's 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Driving Miss Daisy, tells more than the story of a relationship between a black chauffeur and an elderly, rich, Jewish widow. It is a story of a challenge to be transformed in mind and heart from rebellion to a sense of acceptance in one's life. Lent is a season when the church calls us to reflect upon our lives and see how we need to be transformed, to enter into a stronger relationship with God. Daisy's experience is one illustration of a reality for all - transformation takes time, and shortcuts to its end product only lead to problems and disappointments. Today's popular and familiar passage from John's Gospel challenges us, like Nicodemus, to be transformed to Christ.
15) “I can’t imagine dividing love by eight.”
One of the “ministers” (that means lay persons) of a local church was delivering meals as part of his work with a “Meals on Wheels” mission. He took the meal to a home of a woman whose only child was visiting that day. He congratulated the woman for having such a nice son, and said “I have eight children of my own.” “Eight kids,” exclaimed the woman. “I love my son so much that I can’t imagine dividing love by eight.” “Ma’am,” the man said gently, “you don’t divide love--you multiply it.”
Jesus’ Love is not zero-based: The more you give, the less you have.
Jesus’ Love is eternity-based: The more you give, the more there is to go around.
 Jesus’ Love is other-based: we are to reach out in love to “all people” and “especially to those of the family of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
16) A baseball story:
Those who are "born again" claim Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord. Let me share a sports story told by the outstanding Christian coach at Florida State University, Bobby Bowden. Back in the 1920s there was a great major league baseball player named Goose Gosling. His team was in the World Series one year. In the bottom of the 9th inning of the final game, the score was tied. Goose came to the plate. He got the kind of pitch he wanted and hit a solid line drive over the shortstop's head. It rolled all the way to the wall. The left-fielder fumbled the ball as he tried to make the play. Goose rounded second. As he neared third base, the coach was waving him toward home. The ball reached the catcher a half- second before Goose did. Goose lowered his shoulder as he had been taught and hit the catcher as hard as he could. The ball squirted loose and Goose Gosling stepped on home plate. The fans erupted in pandemonium and poured onto the field. In all the confusion no one noticed the first baseman retrieving the ball, racing to first, and tagging the base. He then appealed to the umpire, claiming that Goose had never touched first base. The umpire agreed with the first baseman and called Goose out. Many people are like Goose Gosling. They seem to be altogether successful. Everybody is cheering for them. They glitter with success. But if in the course of living, they never repent and claim Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, they never even make it to first base.

17) “I have lived my life the best I could.”
Perhaps the most powerful movie I have ever watched is Saving Private Ryan. Tom Hanks, as Captain Miller, along with a ragtag squad of soldiers in World War II, give their lives in search of Private Ryan so he can be returned to his parents. Private Ryan's parents had already lost their other sons in that terrible war that many of you know first hand. As they move in the search of Private Ryan, they argue with one another and sometimes fight with one another, "Why on earth are we risking our lives for Private Ryan? He is probably not worth it anyway." Still, they push on. Finally at the big battle at the bridge, one by one, they give their lives for this no-named person called Private Ryan. Finally there is Captain Miller, lying wounded and taking his final breaths, looking up into the eye of the Private, saying just two words, "Earn it." The movie fast forwards and now Ryan is an old man. Once more he goes to the rows of crosses that help us remember the high price of our freedom. He finds the grave of Captain Miller and falls to his knees, saying, "Every day I think about what you said to me that day at the bridge. I have lived my life the best I could. I hope that was enough."

18) Miracle of new birth:
One rainy Sunday afternoon, a little boy was bored and his father was sleepy. The father decided to create an activity to keep the kid busy. So, he found in the morning newspaper a large map of the world. He took scissors and cut it into a good many irregular shapes like a jigsaw puzzle. Then he said to his son, "See if you can put this puzzle together. And don't disturb me until you're finished." He turned over on the couch, thinking this would occupy the boy for at least an hour. To his amazement, the boy was tapping his shoulder ten minutes later telling him that the job was done. The father saw that every piece of the map had been fitted together perfectly. "How did you do that?" he asked. "It was easy, Dad. There was a picture of a man on the other side. When I got him together right, the world was right." A person's world can never be right until the person is right, and that requires the miracle of new birth. Don't you dare stop asking God for the experience of new birth until you can shout from the housetops, "Through Jesus Christ, God has fundamentally changed my life!"
Fr. Jude Botelho:

In the first reading of today we are told of the many misfortunes that God allowed to come upon Israel because of their sins, the greatest being the destruction of the temple and their banishment into exile. However Chronicles points out that this was not because God wanted to take revenge on his people. The author points out that during their misfortunes God did not abandon them but rather took care of them and moved persons and events in such a way that they would, after their exile, be able to come back to their land, rebuild their temple and once again prosper as His people. God did not keep a record of their wrongs but was ever ready to forgive. People may give up on us but God never abandons his people.

Take what you like best
Joachim and Rebecca were married for ten years but there was no sign of a child to gladden Joachim's heart and perpetuate his name. So he decided to divorce his wife and went to old Rabbi Ben Shamir to make the necessary arrangements. "Joachim son," said the Rabbi, "we had a party to celebrate your marriage, so before we do anything about the divorce we are going to have another party to mark your parting," and unknown to Joachim, he winked knowingly at Rebecca. The party came and acting on the advice of the Rabbi, Rebecca plied her husband with the best vintage wine. As she topped off the cup Joachim spoke to her, "Little wife, take what you like best from this place and take it with you to your father's house." Then he fell asleep. Rebecca put him to bed and then with the connivance of the Rabbi and the sturdy shoulders of some of the guests they brought the bed with Joachim in it to her father's house. When he awoke the following morning and recognized the surroundings he called Rebecca. "Little wife, what am I doing here?" to which she coyly replied: "I only did what you told me to, husband dear. I took what I liked best to my father's house - and that was you!" Joachim took her in his arms and forgot about the divorce. A few weeks later she told him she was pregnant.
James A Feeban from 'Story Power'

In the gospel we have Jesus' encounter with Nicodemus, who appears three times in the Gospel of John, each time at night. His caution in coming at night implies heavy opposition to Jesus in Jerusalem. This is the only time on record when Nicodemus meets Jesus and they speak. In today's reading, God orders Moses to make a bronze serpent, mount it on a pole, enabling all who looked at it to be cured of the bites of poisonous snakes as they trekked through the desert. Jesus used this story as a parable of himself. He told Nicodemus that for the salvation of the world, he himself would be lifted up. He meant it in a twofold sense: lifted up on the cross and lifted up into the glory of the resurrection. Jesus told Nicodemus and us through him, that if we look at Jesus and believe, we will experience healing pardon and new life. Jesus summed it all up by saying, "God sent his son into the world not to condemn the world but so that through him the world might be saved." This is the sum and substance of the good news that Jesus came to bring us: Salvation is ours in and through Jesus Christ. The only requirement is faith. If we believe then God's power comes alive in us, if we do not believe then we condemn ourselves and God's spirit lies impotent in us. Some people condemn themselves by turning away from the light.

A life that makes a difference
Several years ago a bomb was detonated outside the huge oak doors of a Greek Catholic church in Jerusalem. The heavy doors were blown inward so that they careened up to the front of the sanctuary and destroyed the chancel area. Windows were blown out, pews were destroyed, and the balcony collapsed. Dr. Ken Bailey, a Presbyterian missionary scholar and friend of the priest of the Greek Church, stopped by to assess the damage. It took little time to determine that the priest was in shock and unable to make necessary decisions. So Dr. Bailey took it upon himself to ask seminary administrators at the school where he taught to close classes, and he invited students to join him in helping the priest. They cleaned the church and boarded the windows to prevent looting. The next day, Bailey again called on his friend. The maid confided in him that the priest did not cry at the bomb's destruction. However, she added, "He did cry when you and your friends helped clean up the mess it made." Dr. Bailey has since remarked, "I did not teach any theology that afternoon -- or did I?" If theology is about love in action, he held one of his best classes that day. The truth is never so beautiful as when it has its working clothes on.
Steve Goodier

Coming to the light
In the Lithuanian city of Kovno there lived a Jewish professor. Though he had been an agnostic all his life the professor began to be more and more troubled by the sad, neglected condition of the Jewish graveyard in the city. Since the holocaust of the Jews by the Nazis and the harassment of them by the Soviets, no one had taken care of their graves. So out of his goodness of heart, the professor himself decided to do so. Whether or not he was aware that tending the graves is a mitzvah, that is a traditional good deed, we do not know. In any case the good man acquired a spade, a sickle, a pair of shears, and began his job of making the graveyard worthy of those buried in it. At first he was on his own, but as the weeks went by other Jews joined him in the work. Most of these were once observant Jews who had become agnostics like the professor. Eventually there were two hundred of them, all doing the true thing. As they worked a beautiful thing happened. Their Jewish faith came alight in them. Practically all of them became observant Jews once more.
Flor McCarthy in 'New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies'

Judgement on ourselves
A visitor was once being shown around an art gallery. The gallery contained some beautiful paintings which were universally acknowledged to be masterpieces. At the end of the tour the visitor said, "I don't think much of these old pictures." To which the guide replied, "My good man, these pictures are no longer on trial. But those who look at them are."  The man's reaction was not a judgement on the pictures but on his own pitiful appreciation of art. In the same way those who prefer darkness to light have condemned themselves.
Flor McCarthy in 'New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies'

Attitude towards the light
The Simon Community run night-shelters for down-and-outs. Each night volunteers bring soup and sandwiches to those who, for one reason or another, do not want to come to the shelters. They go looking for them in derelict buildings and such places. The most important aid they take with them is a torch, because often there is no light where the down-and-outs live. Most of the down-and-outs receive the volunteers as friends. But some refuse to have anything to do with them. The volunteers can tell at once which group they are dealing with by their reaction to the light. Some welcome the light. Others fear it. You could say that the light judges them, in the sense that it shows up the darkness in their lives - the darkness of alcoholism, misery, hopelessness, crime. But it doesn't come to judge them. It comes as a friend, to brighten up their lives, to comfort them. That's how it was with the coming of Christ's light. Christ did not come to judge people but to save them. He came bearing a light -of truth, goodness, and salvation from sin. Some welcomed his light, others rejected it because it shows the evil in their lives.
Flor McCarthy in 'New Sunday and Holyday Liturgies'

A number of years ago, these two verses, John 3:16 and John 3:17, took on extra-special meaning for many Bible readers. You may recall the episode. It involved our astronaut programme. Space engineers were designing space suits for the command module pilot and the lunar module pilot. A part of the design of each space suit was an umbilical cord, consisting of a long flexible tubing. The purpose of the umbilical cord was to supply oxygen to the astronauts when they "walked" in space or passed from one module to another. The suit receptacle into which the command pilot's cord fit was called J 3:16. Designer Frank Denton said he named the two suit receptacles after the two gospel passages: John 3:16 and John 3:17. Just as J 3:16 and J 3:17 supply the astronauts with what they need to survive in their journey from one module to another, so John 3:16 and John 3:17 supply us with what we need to survive in our journey from earth to heaven.
Mark Link in 'Sunday Homilies'

God so loved the world that he gave...
Once a certain saint asked God to show her the difference between heaven and hell. So God asked an angel to take her first to hell. There she saw men and women seated around a large table with all kinds of delicious food. But none of them were eating. They were all sad and yawning. The saint asked one of them, "Why are you not eating?" And he showed her his hand. A long fork about 4 feet long was strapped to their hands such that every time they tried to eat they only threw the food on the ground. "What a pity" said the saint. Then the angel took her to heaven. There the saint was surprised to find an almost identical setting as in hell: men and women sitting around a large table with all sorts of delicious food, and with four-foot forks strapped to their arms. But unlike hell the people in heaven were happy and laughing. "What!" said the saint to one of them, "How come you are happy in this condition?" "You see," said the man in heaven, "Here we feed one another." Can we say this of our families, our neighbourhood, our church, our world?" If we can say that, then we are not far from the kingdom of heaven.
John Pichappilly in 'The Table of the Word'

May we experience and believe that by God's love alone are we kept alive!


I can't think of a greater condemnation to be levied against a people than this: They loved darkness instead of light. I would never want that to be said of me. But that is the way God sees the world. You and I see the world as it is right now. Most of the people around us try and do the right thing and when we are wrong hopefully we apologize. So we tend to think well of most people. But look out on the passage of time. 

The Ancient World of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Hellenism, Rome, Persia, India, and East Asia was filled with the ignorance of hundreds of thousands of gods, magic, rituals, superstitions, human sacrifice, conquests, sewage(refuse was mostly thrown into the streets for the rats and dogs), disease (priests attempted to foretell the course of a disease by examining the livers of sacrificed animals). And the list doesn't end there: ethnic bigotry, civil wars, persecutions, despots, tyrants, class rule, and the systematic murders of tens of thousands. 

The Middle Ages of Persia, Constantinople, Islam, Britain, China, India, Genghis Khan and the Mongols, Timur and the Turks, Europe, African Empires and the Americas. All of them covered in the darkness of man's inhumanity to man: Revolutions, expansionism, Mohammad's Conquest and Christianity's Crusades, warlords, heretics, witchcraft, increased trade bringing death and plagues to millions, and the crowding in the cities spreading the misery all the more. And on top of this misery wars fought for every ridiculous reason known to man. 

The Enlightenment and the Modern world also have fared no better. We too have loved the darkness instead of the light... 
Who doesn't love the "Indiana Jones" series of movies? Harrison Ford was in an airplane crash last week, and it was the head-liner for all the prime time media. Ford is a good actor and seems to be a decent guy. But mostly he and his "Indiana Jones" screen persona seem to hit the "hero" jackpot. Ford's crash landing, and his amazing survival, made for media gold.

Ford made an emergency landing of his vintage airplane on a golf course, managing not to hurt anyone else or damage any homes or property. And he survived. Hero stuff all over again. 

Everyone who knows anything about "Indiana Jones" knows that he hates snakes. He is a strong, tough guy until he meets a slithery thing. Then he dissolves into a quivering mass of spinelessness. Now, there ARE people who do like snakes, who keep them as pets, and let them slide about their homes. But these people are definitely in the minority.  

Most of us do NOT want to be in the company of snakes. Most of us are right there with "Indiana Jones."  Snakes are slippery and scaly and slimy and scary. Snakes are creatures we really do not want to engage or embrace. "Anaconda" was a great title for a movie about the Amazon, but "Snakes on a Plane" -- was there ever a better B-movie title! Combining our fear of snakes with our loathing of economy class air travel - what a genius movie idea. Snakes are creatures so different from us that they evoke revulsion and fear, even when we do not know if the snake we are looking at is dangerous, or a harmless natural insect repellant.   

So we do not readily have a warm, fuzzy relationship with limbless reptiles...
Born of the Spirit

Windborne! That's a far better moniker for Christians than that mistaken term "born again." That's a phrase we picked up from Nicodemus' misunderstanding of entering a second time into the mother's womb rather than Jesus' terminology "born from above" or "born of the Spirit." "No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and wind - Spirit - pneumatos."

Windborne speaks of being carried along by the wind of the Spirit of God. Here is a lifestyle that is not bogged down with the how questions, but a life that soars among the clouds powered by the mystery of God. "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes." Ours is a life filled with mystery and the unexplainable.

Science has taught us to ask the how questions. Our contemporary culture seems to be obsessed with the tangible, the explainable, and the measurable. And we are tempted to believe that the only reality is that which we can see and touch. But Jesus calls us to a life of the spirit. It's a life lifted by the invisible power of the wind.

Mickey Anders, Windborne
 God Is Seeking You in Love

Fred Craddock tells the story of his father, who spent years of his life hiding from the God who was seeking him out: 

"When the pastor used to come from my mother's church to call on him, my father would say, 'You don't care about me. I know how churches are. You want another pledge, another name, right? Another name, another pledge, isn't that the whole point of church? Get another name, another pledge.'

My nervous mother would run to the kitchen, crying, for fear somebody's feelings would be hurt. When we had an evangelistic campaign the pastor would bring the evangelist, introduce him to my father and then say, 'Sic him, get him! Sic him, get him!' May father would always say the same thing. 'You don't care about me! Another name, another pledge. Another name, another pledge! I know about churches.' 

I guess I heard it a thousand times. One time he didn't say it. He was at the Veteran's Hospital. He was down to 74 pounds. They had taken out the throat, put in a metal tube, and said, 'Mr. Craddock, you should have come earlier. But this cancer is awfully far advanced. We'll give radium, but we don't know.' 

I went in to see him. In every window - potted plants and flowers. Everywhere there was a place to set them - potted plants and flowers. Even in that thing that swings out over your bed they put food on, there was a big flower. There was by his bed a stack of cards 10 or 15 inches deep. I looked at the cards sprinkled in the flowers. I read the cards beside his bed. And I want to tell you, every card, every blossom, every potted plant from groups, Sunday School classes, women's groups, youth groups, men's bible class, of my mother's church-every one of them. My father saw me reading them. He could not speak, but he took a Kleenex box and wrote something on the side from Shakespeare's Hamlet. . . . He wrote on the side, 'In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story.' I said, 'What is your story, Daddy?' And he wrote, 'I was wrong.'" 

It is not until you know God is seeking you in love, not in condemnation; it is not until that moment that the gospel becomes Good News for you. 

Fred Craddock, adapted by James Fitzgerald, Serpents, Penguins, and Crosses
God Can Make Something Out of You

Some years ago, the great boxer, Mohammed Ali, was asked by a ghetto youth how he could quit school and start a boxing career since he had bad grades. Ali smiled at the young man and said in his poetic fashion:

"Stay in college and get the knowledge,
And stay there! Til you're through
Cause if God can make penicillin out of moldy bread,
He can make something out of you."

This is the good news of John 3. Because God so loved the world, He SENT His only son to make something out of us; when we accept Him into our lives and commit our hearts to Him, then He gives us new life in this world - and new life in the world to come.

James W. Moore, Encounters with Christ,

We Become His Son

There is a story that comes out of the Bedouin culture. "Bedouin" is the Aramaic name for "desert dwellers." These people live much as the characters of the Old Testament did. During a heated argument, according to this story, a young Bedouin struck and killed a friend of his. Knowing the ancient, inflexible customs of his people, the young man fled, running across the desert under the cover of darkness, seeking safety.

He went to the black tent of the tribal chief in order to seek his protection. The old chief took the young Arab in. The chief assured him that he would be safe until the matter could be settled legally.

The next day, the young man's pursuers arrived, demanding the murderer be turned over to them. They would see that justice would prevail in their own way. "But I have given my word," protested the chief.

"But you don't know whom he killed!" they countered.

"I have given my word," the chief repeated.

"He killed your son!" one of them blurted out. The chief was deeply and visibly shaken with his news. He stood speechless with his head bowed for a long time. The accused and the accusers as well as curious onlookers waited breathlessly. What would happen to the young man? Finally the old man raised his head. "Then he shall become my son," he informed them, "and everything I have will one day be his."

The young man certainly didn't deserve such generosity. And that, of course, is the point. Love in its purest form is beyond comprehension. No one can merit it. It is freely given. It is agape, the love of God. Look to the cross. At the cross we encounter love in its purest form. 

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
Rules for Being Human

1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period this time around.
2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid.
3. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error experimentation. The "failed" experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately "works."
4. A lesson is repeated until it is learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.
5. Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.
6. "There" is no better than "here." When your "there" has become a "here," you will simply obtain another "there" that will, again, look better than "here." 
7. Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects to you something you love or hate about yourself.
8. What you make of life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.
9. Your answers lie inside you. The answers to life's questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.
10. You will forget all this.

Michael D. Powell, Look, Listen, Love, and Live
Judgment and Grace

Most preachers have preacher dreams. I am sure every profession has its own particular variation. They are often recurring and usually show clearly the preacher's feelings of inadequacy. Early in my ministry, I used to put my sermon on the pulpit before worship so it would already be in place when I got there to preach. The problem with that is the accompanying dream I would have on many Saturday nights. In my dream, I would step up to the pulpit and the sermon would not be there. The dream took many shapes and forms, but it always came down to the missing sermon and me having nothing to say. Nothing. The dream stopped when I started carrying my sermon with me. More recently I had a dream that I came by the church and a wedding was beginning. I suddenly realized I should be up there performing the wedding, and I was completely unprepared. So you can see a common thread in these preacherly dreams...unprepared and unable. It reveals the dark side of us, the part of us that really needs the grace. It reveals that even if I sing "God Is Love," and "Jesus Loves Me," there is nevertheless that judgment there that haunts me, even in my dreams. 

Sharon Rhodes-Wickett, God's Promises: Judgment and Grace
Complain, Complain, Complain

The story is told of a young man who entered a very strict monastic order. It was so strict that members were permitted to speak only two words per year to the abbot. At the end of year one the young man appeared before the abbot and spoke his two words, "bad food." At the end of the second year the young man appeared before the abbot and spoke two more words, "hard bed". At the end of year three he came to the abbot and spoke his last two words, "I quit." The abbot responded, "Well it is about time. Complain, complain, complain - that's all you've done since you came here." 

We humans are people of darkness. People who complain, rebel, work against the Kingdom of God. Death is all we know. Lives filled with the patterns of sin. However, God does an astonishing thing. He brings the light. He erects a cross of death that we might look up and live. He leads us out of the darkness. He loves the world and does not condemn it. He does not condemn you, if...if you will believe. 

Brett Blair,
Affirming What We Believe

In his autobiography, actor Alec Guinness tells a story that might keep every pastor and church school teacher awake at night. He was a teenager and it was the morning of his confirmation. The classes were finished. The students' heads had been filled full of Bible stories and theological doctrines. Guinness says Holy Trinity Church in Eastbourne was crammed with confirmation candidates, their parents, friends, schoolteachers, and sponsors. At the appropriate moment, he notes, "The girls, mostly in grey uniforms, filed up to kneel at the Bishop's left hand and the boys, in blue serge, to his right. I remember white episcopal hands and shaggy black eyebrows. A pale, greenish light filtered through the window-panes, giving a subaqueous hue to the perspiring congregation." Then he adds, "At the age of sixteen, one early summer day, I arose from under the hands of the Bishop of Lewes a confirmed atheist ... With a flash I realized I had never really believed what I had been taught." 

I don't know about you, but I am troubled by that story. I believe in Christian education. God's people are called to teach the Christian faith to children, teenagers, and adults. Sunday church school and confirmation classes are important educational activities. The church needs to do these things. And yet, here is the story of a bright, intelligent person who emerged from those experiences, and he did not believe a word of what he learned. As a professional church leader, as a Christian educator, that story bothers me. At a personal level, however, that story haunts me for another reason, namely, that it sounds surprisingly familiar. On a bright Sunday morning, it is easy to affirm what we believe. As the familiar verse we've heard today puts it, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life." With sunbeams shining through stained glass, I can believe it. But late at night, after the lights are dimmed, sometimes I have my doubts, my questions, my lapses of belief. Perhaps I'm not the only one.

William G. Carter, Water Won't Quench the Fire, CSS Publishing Company
All You Need is Love 

Anthony Campolo tells about a mountaineer from West Virginia who fell in love with the beautiful daughter of the town preacher. The gruff and tough man one evening looked deeply into the eyes of the preacher's daughter and said, "I love you." It took more courage for him to say those simple words than he had ever had to muster for anything else he had ever done. Minutes passed in silence and then the preacher's daughter said, "I love you, too." The tough mountaineer said nothing except, "Good night." Then he went home, got ready for bed and prayed, "God, I ain't got nothin' against nobody."

Many of us know that feeling. To love and to be loved, what joy that simple emotion brings into our lives. Then to realize that the very nature of God is love is almost more than you or I can comprehend. 

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
 All It Would Take To Make Me Happy

Charles Shultz, creator and author of the Peanuts cartoon characters often conveyed a message in his comic strips. In one strip he conveys through Charlie Brown the need we have to be loved and through Lucy our inability to love one another. 

Charlie Brown and Lucy are leaning over the proverbial fence speaking to one another:
CB: All it would take to make me happy is to have someone say he likes me.
Lucy: Are you sure?
CB: Of course I'm sure!
Lucy: You mean you'd be happy if someone merely said he or she likes you? Do you mean to tell me that someone has it within his or her power to make you happy merely by doing such a simple thing?...