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John 3_14-21

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TITLE:  Punching Holes in the Darkness   SCRIPTURE:    John 3:14-21

A Pharisee named Nicodemus came to see Jesus "by night" (3:2). 

"By night" probably means that Nicodemus didn't want his Pharisee friends to see him visiting Jesus.  The Pharisees became Jesus' worst enemies.  But Nicodemus, even though he was a Pharisee, was not Jesus' enemy.  On one occasion, he tried to defend Jesus (7:50-51), and after Jesus' death, he brought burial spices to anoint Jesus' body (19:39). 

But our Gospel lesson today tells of the time when Nicodemus came to Jesus by night.  He came to see what all the fuss was about.  He came to see what kind of man Jesus would turn out to be.  He came with an open mind, which is better than we could say about most Pharisees.  I think that he came hoping that he might learn something from this young prophet.  He came not knowing what he would find -- but I think that he came hoping to find something good.

Nicodemus got more than he bargained for.  When Jesus started talking, Nicodemus found his head swimming.  Jesus talked about being born again, and Nicodemus said, "How can anyone be born after having grown old?"  Good question!  Jesus was using mysterious language -- coded language -- language that Nicodemus couldn't understand -- and who can blame him!

Jesus said something to Nicodemus that became one of the most popular verses in the Bible.  Jesus said: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (3:16). 

Many Christians know that verse by heart, but there are different versions.  Some people memorized it with the word "everlasting" instead of the word "eternal."  I would like for you to recite that verse with me this morning, but I don't want us to get tangled up in the different versions -- so I will recite a phrase and ask you to repeat it after me.  When I say, "For God so loved the world," repeat that aloud -- together:

      "For God so loved the world" (congregation responds)
      "that he gave his only Son" (congregation responds)
       "so that everyone who believes in him" (congregation responds)
      "may not perish" (congregation responds)
      "but may have eternal life" (congregation responds)

We love that verse, because it tells us that God loves us.  It is a Good News verse -- a REALLY Good News verse.

But we are tempted to ignore what comes next, because the next verse isn't warm and fuzzy. Jesus says:

      "Those who believe in him are not condemned;
      but those who do not believe are condemned already,
      because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (v. 18).

Then Jesus goes on to talk about people who love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil -- who choose to live in darkness because their hearts are evil (v. 19). 

It shouldn't surprise us to hear that some people love darkness rather than light.  It shouldn't surprise us to learn that their deeds are evil.  Our news is full of stories about people who love darkness rather than light.  We read recently about three college students who torched five Alabama churches as a prank.  Then they torched four more churches in another area to try to confuse the police.  They weren't ghetto kids.  They came from good homes -- an affluent neighborhood.  One was the son of a doctor, and another was the son of a county constable. 

Jesus says that people love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.

And then we read about Andrew Fastow, of Enron fame.  He told his boss, Jeffrey Skilling, about a woman that he was bringing into a bogus deal. Skilling's only question was, "Can we trust her?" -- in other words, "Can we trust her not to blow the whistle?"  In his court testimony, Fastow told of keeping a handwritten record of bogus deals -- and then destroying it because, "It wasn't a good document to have hanging around." 

Jesus says that people love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.

And then we read about Zacarias Moussaoui's (mou-SOW-we) trial for conspiring to hijack a plane and fly it into the White House.  In Moussaoui's trial, prosecutors read transcripts of radio messages from American Airlines Flight 11.  In those recordings, flight attendant Amy Sweeney told ground controllers, "We are flying low.  We are flying very, very low.  We are flying way too low."  And then a pause -- and then, "Oh, my God, we are way too low!"  Then the transmission stopped as the plane slammed into the World Trade Center building.  After hearing the transcript, Moussaoui pumped his right fist in the air and shouted, "Allah Akbar!  God curse America!  Bless Osama bin Laden!"

Jesus says that people love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.

The scary part is that it is not just horrible people who love the darkness.  There is a bit of darkness-lover in each of our hearts.  We are all capable of things that we are ashamed of -- things that we want to keep hidden.

But the good news is that there is also something in us that loves the light -- that wants the light to dispel the darkness -- that wants to live in a well-lit world where we can see the amber waves of grain -- and the purple mountain majesties -- and the fruited plains -- and the alabaster cities -- and the faces of loved ones -- and all the beautiful things that God has created.

While I was preparing this sermon, I happened across an article about technology that helps people with vision problems.  There are lots of wonderful things out there -- large-print books -- easy needle threaders -- high-intensity lamps -- magnifiers -- computer programs.  The good news is that technology makes it possible for people with vision problems to do things that they couldn't do otherwise. 

But I also saw that article as a metaphor for life.  We all struggle with limited vision.  We all walk through life unable to see into the future.  We stumble through life missing much of the beauty that lies around us.  We go through life with blinders on -- as one person put it, "Knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing."

But there is something in us that wants to do better -- that wants to see -- that wants our lives to count for something.  We are like those vision-impaired people in that newspaper article -- searching for ways to see -- trying to figure out where we are going and what we should be doing -- trying to understand God's plan for our lives. 

That is a part of the reason we are here this morning.  We come seeking help -- looking for guidance -- hoping that God will lead us onto right pathways -- that he will light our journey -- that he will keep us from falling -- that he will open our eyes to see what we need to see.  The Good News is that God will do just that. 

The Good News is also that there are many people like us all over the world -- people who want to do the right thing -- people who love the light instead of the darkness.  Many of them don't know where to look.  That is why Christ calls us to go into all the world making disciples -- spreading the light

Many years ago, before the advent of electric lights, Robert Louis Stevenson looked out his window one evening to see the town lamplighter coming down the street.  The lamplighter stopped to light each lamp as he made his way along the street.  Stevenson sat and watched as the lamplighter lit one lamp after another -- bringing more light to the dark street with each newly lighted lamp.  His work cheered Stevenson, who sat down and wrote about the lamplighter who was "punching holes in the darkness." 

When I read about that, I thought that sounded like a goal fit for every Christian.  Let us determine to live in the light rather than the darkness.  And let us determine to spend our lives "punching holes in the darkness."

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