Updated Did you see the you see the Sienna-Ohio State game last Thursday night? It would not surprise me if you didn’t, it was a first round game in the NCAA men’s finals last Thursday night. Number 9 cede Sienna beat Number 8 cede Ohio State and will face Louisville this evening.
I saw this snippet of a highlight from that game.
The camera is on the Sienna bench just as the team jumps up--they've just seen a great shot pull them into a second overtime. Behind them, another student stands up behind the bench, pulls out a big yellow poster board with—you guessed it—John 3:16.
He didn’t have it long. This big, bald security guard stepped up, ripped it out of his hands and folded it up and threw it away. It’s not that the guard was some atheistic anti-John 3:16-sign enforcer. NCAA rules don’t allow any signs, religious or otherwise, at a tournament game.
Still, I want to say to the kid who smuggled in his sign: “You've got the wrong verse! If you're going to go through all the work of smuggling in the sign, at least have the correct verse!”
We all know—or many of us do, anyway—John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son to the end that all that believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
This is the slogan-passage for many Christians. To them it describes the core of Christian faith. But we forget about the rest of the passage, and its context. This is why if a kid was going to hold up bible-verse sign it should say “John 3:17.” And that reads: “Indeed, God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order than it might be saved through him.”
In other words, God’s salvation is not about “me” but about “we.”
Many Christians focus on the personal part of the passage: “…all that believeth in him…” but the real story is that God loves the world.
We have tended to reduce salvation, and everything that goes with it—sin, redemption, holiness of life—to my personal relationship with God alone.
The Gospel lesson tells us that God’s saving love is for the whole world. In the Gospel, the word is "kosmos." What God loves is not just our culture or the world as we know it, but the whole creation as God knows it. God knows that we love what we know, we stick to what is familiar, and that we usually hate to be accountable. But God wants us to live in the light. Eternal life is more than simply a place in the clouds, it is living in God's light, participating in God's healing of the cosmos.
Living in the light has a moral and ethical implications. We are not only secure in God's love, when we live in the light we are changed and we show that change in how we live. We are called to live in the light, so that everyone may know that our deeds of healing, our works of mercy, and acts of care come from God. John’s Gospel defines “salvation” as being made whole or healed, and he likens this to desire to live in the light.
A long time ago, I was a part of a zoning and inland wetlands commission for a small town in northeast Connecticut. This was my first and last foray into municipal politics and it was during a building boom (remember those? This was in the 1980s, before the last big financial crisis with the Savings and Loans).
There were a couple of things that I learned very quickly: that people who wanted to build houses, or condos or a strip mall would want to do nice things for me. Lesson one: don’t do it. No matter how nice they seem, just say no. You did not want someone to think that you voted a certain way because of favor or a pizza or something.
The second thing I learned was that one could not meet anywhere with any more than one other member of the board, or for that matter with the first selectman (the mayor) and the other elected officials unless one posted a notice and called a meeting. This was because of the state’s sunshine laws. These were laws designed to prevent backroom deals and secret handshakes that could affect public business.
When you live in a small town, a sunshine law can be a pain in the neck. It got to be joke. Meet two people in the supermarket and we’d ask each other “Is this a meeting?” But it also drove home a point: when doing the public’s business, everything had to be in the light. It had to be accountable and accessible. This did not mean that everything did was always right or always wiser and sometimes deciding simple things could be a whole lot slower, but it could not be in secret.
Looking back on it, I see this experience as a metaphor for the Christian life. We are people live in the light.
What does it mean to live in the light?
It means that we direct ourselves towards God in all we do.
Living in the light means that we are honest to ourselves and to those around us about ourselves: that we are imperfect and often ignorant, and we are stubborn and sometimes afraid—these are signs of what we call ‘sin.’ But in living in the light, we are aware of not only where we fall short but also where we are growing.
To live in the light means that what we do as Christians reflects on our relationship with God. There is a transparency in our living when we dare to live in the light: people see us as we are and as we are becoming (and that is not always pretty or predictable). Living in the light means leading with what gives us strength and hope. Living in the light also means that we shine light on the path for others. This happens in a number of ways:
When we lose our temper or judge a person harshly, we can be thought of as a rank hypocrite--until we own up and make amends. Then we show off where we need to grow.
When we show mercy, seek forgiveness and reconciliation, and do a kindness for another, we show that we are giving ourselves over to God.
When we call out the best in others, we are living in the light and them to live in the light as well.
When we speak truth to power, we are calling people out of the darkness and into light.
When we care for a person in need or in pain, we shed light on where there was ignorance, or violence or the darkness of sin.
Over and over again, whenever we bring hope to where there was despair we are people who project God’s light into people’s lives. And so we live out God’s will that the world not be condemned but saved through Christ.
Everytime we give in to the temptation to make our relationship with God as a private thing, we are in fact succumbing to fear and choosing to live in darkness. But through our faith and baptisms, through our sacramental and community life, we live in the light. And that light transforms us and makes us whole.
You all know that I am passionate about evangelism. I want the whole cosmos--and every person in it--to know the love and saving power of God in Christ. I want people to know Christ and choose to follow him as friends and apprentices.
Christians have been and always will be communicators. But as useful as they might be, cardboard signs at basketball games nor clever signs on buses nor all the clever ads and tracts in the world cannot communicate the substance of the Gospel. "John 3:16" signs are a parody of themselves because they cannot substitute for a real relationship with a person who is living in the light. A person who dares to live in the light is willing to lovingly and honestly engage people who long for light in their lives.
So here is what I want to say to the young man with the sign at the basketball game: if you want to show off John 3:16 (or better yet verse 17) live in the light—live so that others see God at work in you.
Live in the light…anyone can hold a sign.