Sermons That Work

Taste Is a Very Odd Thing…, Lent 4 (B) – 2006

March 26, 2006

Taste is a very odd thing. Goodness knows where it comes from. It can be something handed down in a family, not without rebellion. It can be cultural or societal. Then we have the issue of whether something is in good taste or not. Episcopalians are sometimes accused of being more interested in taste than in truth. Even our sins are tasteful!

The Gospel today contains a passage greatly beloved by almost all Christians. As the Revised English Bible reads: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who has faith in him may not perish but have eternal life.

Interpretation — may we term it “taste”? — has a great deal to do with how we approach this verse. To some it is a proclamation of exclusion. It might be read as “God so loved the world that he sent his Son in order that those who don’t have faith in him won’t have eternal life, but will perish.” Such an interpretation ignores the verses that precede and follow this popular saying. St. John talks about Jesus being lifted up so that all may see him and have faith in him. He says that Jesus didn’t come to judge but that through him the world may be saved.

It is so easy for us to make Jesus a prisoner of the church or of particular formulae of belief. We want this text to say that people who have difficulty with faith, people who are “not Christians,” people of other religions, because they cannot recite the Creeds are going to hell in a hand basket. Yet these passages talk about Jesus being lifted up that all may see, and that Jesus has come not to condemn the world, but to save it. Face it, we have a taste for judgment!

Despite the fact that Jesus told us that the eternal destiny of other people is none of our business, we want to judge, we want to condemn, and we want to assert that we are “saved” and others are not.

This is quite the wrong way to look at our calling. The church, we are told by St. Paul is the New Israel. St. Peter tells us that we are a nation of priests. Our catechism tells us that we have been called in baptism into a covenant relationship with God. All these are Old Testament metaphors. Israel was called to be the chosen people, chosen not to be the only people God loves, but to be the example of what it looks like to be loved by God. Old Testament priests were called to mediate between God and humanity, and humanity and God. The covenant we have with God is that we are to be His people, to the world and for the world.

As Jesus did not come to condemn or judge the world, but to save it, so the church is faithful when it demonstrates that it is the loved community, called to mediate that love to all, of whatever race, or color, or creed.

Part of our Lenten discipline might well be to examine just how we are doing in these areas. How do we as a congregation, and as individuals, “look” to the watching world? Do we look as if we are the beloved community? Do we look loving? How does the world around us see us? Are we accessible? Is there something compelling about us that draws people to the lifted-up Jesus?

Does our world, our community, our “village” see in us and our congregation the Jesus who does not judge or condemn, but the Jesus who yearns to make all whole, or “saved,” whoever they may be?

Being a Christian is no easy calling. It carries with it enormous responsibilities. Yet, as the collect for today reminds us, Jesus the true and living Bread fills us with his presence and empowers us to be for him the chosen people in whom God’s love for the whole of creation is daily made evident.

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Christopher Sikkema


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