Honesty in Love

Pastor Elizabeth Bier

Honesty in Love

5 mins
March 15, 2021

Scripture: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

The Gospel reading for today is from John chapter 3. This includes maybe one of the most well-known verses for Christians, John 3:16. I'm going to read today from both the NRSV and the Spark Story Bible. 

Jesus and Nicodemus

The Story Bible reminds us that this is a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus has come to Jesus at night time - sometimes it’s easier to ask big questions in the cover of darkness. Have you ever whispered secrets at a sleepover, or deep conversations around a campfire, night time pillow talk, those big questions that sometimes come after a bedtime story. These times strengthen relationships that are lived during the day, in the light.

To Believe Is to Trust

For God so loved the world that he sent his only son so that those who believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Another way to translate that is: For God loved the world in this way - that God sent his only son so that all who trust in him shall not perish but shall have eternal life. That “believe” word is really more about trust - about a relationship that includes our heart, soul, a community, rather than having to believe and agree to particular faith statements.

Healing through Truth

In the NRSV, the passage just as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, so also does the son of man need to be lifted up. The short context for this is that the Israelites in the wilderness complained against God, sinned against God, again; God sent snakes to bite them; in order to be healed, they needed to look at the bronze sculpture of a snake that God told Moses to make and put on a pole. Snakes on a pole as a sign of healing is actually one that we see in medicine logos around the world today - tracing origins to Greek myths, possible connection with this story too, maybe? Snakes shedding their skin - a sign of rebirth and renewal.

To be healed, the Israelites needed to look upon the consequences of their sin - death came as they broke their relationship with God. Christ came to save and to heal the world - to heal brokenness in our bodies, in our relationships, in our world, between us and creation, for the entire world. When we look up to Christ on the cross, we see the consequence of sin. Of God in the flesh bearing the consequence of sin, which is death. God in flesh put to death on a cross because of the sin of the world.  Jesus, the Light of the World, exposes truth all around him. That truth is not all beautiful; most of it is human mistakes, wickedness, and hatred prompted by selfishness and fear. The cross is a symbol of death and oppression - a symbol that also reveals salvation.

The Love of God is in Christ

God loves the world, and God showed God’s love in a particular way, through sending Jesus. God’s motivation for sending Jesus is not condemnation, but love. When we look upon Jesus on the cross - we do not see a place of actively judging, but rather, actively loving, giving life, healing. This is a life that ultimately does not end. Does a person have to have everything right in their lives before they can look to the cross? Nope. Moses doesn’t require being right with the community before looking at the serpent. This has to do with trust, not obedience or character. We’ve spent a lot of time deciding who’s out, rather than talking about saving. Who to exclude? That’s not our mission.

When we can look at a situation and be real about it, say what’s happening, even if it’s painful or hard, we find life - that’s a promise of the good news of Jesus. Looking at the truth of a matter, the truth of brokenness, of sin, of betrayal, of fear, and seeing God's light and love shining back. Saying that this is not the end. You are forgiven. You are invited to a rise anew. This is one of the reasons that we keep confession and forgiveness as part of our service every week. To be honest about junk that we do, the ways that we hurt each other - when we know what we did and when we don’t and to hear the words “you are forgiven.”

An Awful Anniversary

This week marks a year since our Global pandemic was declared. This pandemic has laid bare inequities in our country and around the world - those most highly impacted have had generations of lower access to quality medical care, exploitation with past vaccine & medical testing, or are frontline workers who don’t have the privilege of being able to work from home. In seeing remembrances cross my social media feeds, I noticed that those who had lost 5 or more loved ones to COVID-19 this past year were my friends who identify as African American or indigenous; or, they are lower socio-economic background. You may have heard it said that “we are all in the same boat” in this pandemic - that’s not quite right. We have all been in the same storm, but not in the same boat. 

As a person without kids in school and being in a healthy (enough!) relationship, I know that my pandemic experience is different from households who are managing so many competing schedules and priorities. And, I'm not living with the additional stress and danger that abuse, neglect and other relationship challenges present during these pandemic times. As someone who has received my full COVID-19 vaccination, as many of us present here today have, we need to continue to be aware of those who are still waiting. Just because we can move a bit more toward back to normal doesn’t mean we’re there across the board. Being real about the impact of the pandemic helps us live into how to move forward, caring for all.

Living Honestly

When we are honest about the reality, we are free of the shame and guilt - can receive the gift of the way forward, new possibilities. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. 

What is that truth? I think the Ephesians passage captures it well: 

“8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” While we were dead in our sinfulness, God acted to make us alive as a gift of grace in Christ Jesus. We are saved not by what we do but by grace through faith. Thus, our good works are really a reflection of God’s grace at work in our lives.

Trusting God’s Love

What does it look like for you to trust in God’s love? To trust that God’s love will be reflected in your life? I have a couple more stories from the devotion we’ll be using on Good Friday for the Stations of the Cross. Station VIII: Helping - Simon of Cyrene was an example of helping to his two sons, Rufus and Alexander; so too, we are examples to the children in our lives of helping others. Station XII - Care - Jesus on the cross, in the face of suffering, caring and creating family - connecting his mother and his beloved disciples. This Reckless Love of Christians seen in care for the sick and dying, transmitted through the centuries in the form of  schools, hospitals, and social services. They will know we are Christians by our love, thanks be to God. Amen.

This article was orginally reported by
Pastor Elizabeth Bier

Rev. Elizabeth Bier is the pastor of ONE in Christ Parish, a three-point parish in Greenwood, Longwood, and Withee. She is ordained with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and has served the ONE in Christ Parish since February of 2019.