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Lent 4 2012 Sermon
Rev. Joyce Avery

When you were a child, were you ever afraid of the dark?  Did you imagine all sorts of scary things living in the dark.
I was always afraid to go outside at night by myself, but soon you kinda get over it.  Not always, you just don't want anyone to know how afraid you are.  While we were in Mesa, AZ, we had a gal from the Police Dept. come and speak to all of us living in the park.  She said that it wasn't safe to be out by yourself at night and to always have someone with you.  It was a scary situation.
Most adults no longer fear the dark.  But listening to our readings from Numbers and John today, maybe we shouldn't be so quick to put that fear of the dark behind us.  Certainly, we no longer imagine monsters hiding outside, but as adults, maybe we ought to look at darkness in an adult way.  When the Israelites left Egypt on their way to the promise land, they had a real-life monster to contend with: poisonous snakes!  They surely knew better to stay away from them, but some were bitten and died.
They had a real life monster to contend with.  This must have happened when the Israelites were grumbling against, not just Moses, but God.  I guess we can't blame them as they were tired, hungry, hot and thirsty.  They became desperate and feared dying of another kind before the snakes came upon them.  God heard their cry and had Moses set up a bronze serpent on a pole, so that if anyone was bit they would look at the bronze serpent and they would live.
What happens to us adults, as we begin ignoring the true darkness of sin?  This is what Jesus is talking about in John.  When Jesus refers to the Old Testament, and he tells his hearers that he is the new "caduceus" (ka doo se es)--that's the new serpent wound around the pole that the medical profession use as a symbol of their ministry as healers today.  Jesus tells them that when the Son of Man is lifted up, whoever believes in him will have eternal life.  God did not send Jesus into the world like the snakes to kill the people!  God sent Jesus into the world to show how much God loves us.
There is something very frightening about living in the dark, especially if it is an interior darkness --a despair of hate.  Jesus talks about evil deeds hating the light.
Many of us might feel much better in the light, and sigh of relief that we are not of the evil nature.  The light brings out the good nature, happiness and just plain easy going with all people and especially friends.  I am sure there are many who love the dark, the guns in their pockets, drugs to sell & just evil thoughts from killing people for money or revenge.  We just can't ignore that darkness.  We are all sinners.
Lent is a time to consider our darkness -- to see if we have been able to no longer believe that sin can surround us with darkness.  God so loved the world, God so loved you and me, that he came into the world, died for our sins and rose again.
When Lorraine, Bonnie and I attended a TCM meeting at the Priory in Olympia a week ago last Saturday, we had to bring & tell about our favorite verse in the Bible.  Well, I chose John 3:16. For God So Loved the World, That he gave his only begotten son, That whosoever believeth in him, Should not parish, But have everlasting life.  This was the first verse that I learned and memorized when I started Sunday School.  I found some information on it written by Joseph Wallis.  He quoted: “I believe this to be the greatest verse in all the Bible. It is the best loved and best known verse.”
“There are only 25 words in this verse yet no other single verse in all the Scriptures has been as blessed in the salvation of so many souls.  Martin Luther called John 3:16 the miniature gospel. It has been called the gospel in a nutshell.  It has been called a love letter from God written in blood and addressed to all.  If ever there was a verse that Satan would love to blot out of the Bible, it would be John 3:16.  If ever there was a verse that makes hell tremble, it is John 3:16.  If ever there was a verse that has lightened the path to heaven for multitudes, it is John 3:16.”
“Some have divided the verse into parts, like:
God's Grace - For God so loved the world
God's Gift - That he gave his only begotten Son
God's Gospel - That whosoever believeth in him
God's Glory - But have everlasting life.“
“There are many ways to look at this verse but for a few minutes, I want us to look at some of the words of this great verse.”
“SO LOVED - What is love?  The dictionary says love is "to have a feeling, affection, or regard for, to be strongly attached to or attracted toward, to hold dear".  There are also synonyms like affection, charity, devotion, fondness, liking, and passion. All these definitions are weak when defining the word "love".  The difficulty becomes greater when you add the word "so".  GOD SO LOVED .... A SINNER MAY GO TO HELL UNSAVED, BUT HE CANNOT GO TO HELL UNLOVED. “
“THE WORLD - We are not talking about the matter-world or the world system but the world people.  The greatest love of man or woman is love of self.  What a narrow love that is !  "No one in all the world could possible love everyone in the world.  In fact most people find it difficult to love all their relatives."  But God has found it possible, with His great heart of love, to love every individual in the entire world in spite of their faults:  
God loves white people - but "red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.  God loves the civilized - but also the heathen.  
God loves the Baptists - but also Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics and Episcopalians.  
God loves the fundamentalists - but also the liberals and the communists.
God loves preachers - but also murderers, gamblers, bartenders, and prostitutes.
God loves ALL - ALL colors, ALL individuals, ALL social groups, ALL ...
God loved a world of saints - NO - A - WORLD OF SINNERS.  He loves the sinner not the sin, the criminal not crime, the rebel not the rebellion, the liar not the lie, the idolater not the idol."

“THAT HE GAVE - The world knows a little about giving but God's giving costs something.  Most of the giving we know about is giving that really has no element of sacrifice in it.  He gave all he had in the person of his Son."
“HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON - Here is a word of relationship. God the Father is called "Father" not because of relationship to his creatures but because of his relationship to his Son.  A child was once trying to quote this verse and said "his only forgotten Son" and how true it is.  He has been forgotten by most people.”
“THAT WHOSOEVER - This means all.  All have sinned and all need a Savior.  It means any who will.  It means those who believe!- It means you and me."
“BELIEVETH - Believeth denies salvation by any other way but by faith.  It denies works, even good works as a means of salvation.  We find Nicodemus was an educated, rich, moral, religious, a do-gooder, a "church member", intelligent, but not saved.  Jesus told him "ye must be born again". The doors of heaven swing on this experience.  We are saved by faith and not by works.”
“IN HIM - Salvation is in a Person and that person is the Lord Jesus Christ.  Salvation is not found in believing in the preacher, the church, a good Christian, but in Christ.”
“SHOULD NOT PERISH - Men of the old world perished but Noah was spared.  People of Sodom perished but Lot was spared.  The first born of Egypt perished but Israel was spared. Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish eternally in hell but make heaven their eternal home. There is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun.”
“BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE - What is everlasting life?  Everlasting life is not just eternal existence because if that were the case, the devil and all sinners would have it.  It is having Jesus.  He said "I am the life", "I am the resurrection and life ... "  Eternal life is Christ living in me and Christ in You". "
There was also a poem at the end of this sermon that the writer had found years ago and I thought you just might like it:
“For God - the Lord of earth and heaven, So loved - and longed to see forgiven, The world - in sin and pleasure mad, That he gave - the only Son he had, His only Son - to take our place, That whosoever - Oh, what grace, Believeth - placing simple trust, In Him - the righteous and the just, Should not perish - lost in sin, But have everlasting life - in HIM."  AMEN