It all started at the 1977 NBA finals. A man named Rollen Stewart donned a rainbow-colored fright wig, positioned himself where the television cameras would be sure to point, and held up a sign that said “John 3:16”. The rest, as Henry Ford would say, is bunk.
John 3:16 has been called “the Gospel in a nutshell,” but it really is only half of the nut. By lifting that single verse out of its context, the announcement of God’s loving grace in Jesus Christ is disastrously separated from any need for a human response to the announcement. That is not what John had in mind when he wrote his Gospel.
In 2009, Amy P. McCollough reminded readers of Homily Service that the announcement of God’s love must always be connected to God’s command to do justice.
How might it be that we continue to love the darkness? To be in the darkness can encompass staying snuggled beneath the covers in our warm and cozy beds, which stands in direct contrast to Jesus’s call for us to venture out in ministry amid the harsh, uncomfortable, often cruel world. To remain in the darkness may signify a life that continues to be hidden. Here, our propensity to distort the truth, or conceal our deepest selves, contradicts the commitment of Jesus to naming the truth of our human brokenness, as well as the truth of God’s great mercy. To stay in the darkness can mean simply remaining in one’s comfort zone, allowing life to continue without much reflection or challenge rather than walking with Jesus this strange journey toward Jerusalem and the cross outside the city.
We know that the world remains enmeshed in such darkness. Shadows are cast by the global growing environmental crisis, corporations’ cutthroat competitions, and the world’s never-ceasing wars. Darkness is part of the global cycles of consumption and production that leave some of us overindulged and other of us desperately hungry.
How do you avoid the temptation to preach only against forms of sin that are not particularly attractive to members of your congregation?
Amy P. McCollough (2008): 22 March 2009; Lent 4, Homily Service, 42:2, 48.
Amy P. McCollough is senior pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Baltimore, Maryland.