This sermon was preached on the 10th of March 2024, the fourth Sunday in Lent, in the Anglican Parish of Kalamunda-Lesmurdie

Text: John 3.14-21

I’m going to begin this sermon by quoting two of the first verses of Saint John’s Gospel.

In him was life: and the light was the life of all people. The light shines in the darkness: and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)

The light shines in the darkness.

Do we dare to stand in that light?

After the events of today’s Gospel reading, with all its talk of light and darkness, the very next thing that Jesus does is to go out into the countryside and baptise. The sacrament of baptism marks the beginning of our discipleship, of our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.

On this Sunday, Mothering Sunday, people traditionally returned to the church in which they were baptised: their Mother Church. People returned to the place where they began their life of discipleship, and spent time with the family and friends that they found there.

It was a kind of pilgrimage, a recommitment to baptism. And I’m sure it caused people to reflect upon their lives of discipleship, upon their lives with Christ. And that’s the kind of reflection that today’s Gospel reading calls us to. So let’s give it a go.

Images of darkness and light figure prominently throughout the Gospel of Saint John. There’s a kind of stark duality between them… there’s a kind of cosmic struggle between darkness and light. Darkness represents sin and evil… the absence of God; and light represents life, abundance, goodness. Light represents the activity of God, the presence of God.

A few weeks ago, at the start of Lent, I predicted that the Cross would start to loom large, as we came closer and closer to the events of Holy Week, closer and closer to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. And indeed, the Cross does loom large. It starts to cast shadows. Light and darkness have become more and more starkly separated.

The world, with the Cross towering over it, begins to look very evil indeed.

We come to realise that it was people like us… people just like us, who ran from Jesus.

It was people like us that betrayed Jesus.

It was people like us that condemned Jesus.

It was people like us that saw Jesus put upon a Cross to die.

We all of us have the potential for that violence somewhere within us… especially when we’re in a crowd. As we walk towards the Cross, it can seem like people, like humanity, like each of us … are somehow a mistake. Broken. Made wrong.

The Cross looms large, and the shadow that it casts over the world gets bigger, and bigger. Darkness seems to fall.

The light shines in the darkness: and the darkness has not overcome it.

It’s not about the darkness. It can never be about the darkness.

It’s not about condemnation. It’s not about retribution. It’s about the light… the light that shines in the darkness. The light that has not been overcome, and never will be overcome.

It’s about being willing to stand in that light – being willing to stand before God. Being willing to accept what God offers us: God’s total and unequivocal love. We hear this so clearly today in John’s Gospel.

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

God doesn’t look upon the world, upon humanity, with eyes of condemnation. God doesn’t look upon any of us with condemnation.

So often we think of sin as simply doing wrong things… bad things. It’s like we think of sin as the sorts of things, big or little, that you get told off for by a parent, a teacher, or a boss. But there’s a deeper level to sin. Sin is that which impairs our relationship with God. Sin is that which makes us ashamed to stand before God. Sin is that which makes us wish to hide ourselves from God’s sight… and so we come to love, and desire, darkness.

As Saint John says to us in today’s Gospel: this is the judgement. Do we love the light? Do we love Jesus Christ? Do we, just as we are, dare to accept the love of God?

In this season of Lent, we reflect with a particular intensity upon our lives. We do this because it is hard to stand in the light, it is hard to accept the gaze of God, when we are ashamed even to really look at ourselves, to deeply and honestly reflect upon how we have acted… when we are ashamed to examine our hearts, our consciences. And so we look for those things that get between us and God… those things that we are ashamed of, those things that we know are wrong, and yet we still do.

Each and every time we gather as a community for Holy Communion, there’s a time of confession. And there’s a pause. A time for us to consider our sins, and to silently name them in our hearts, and confess them to God. That’s a profound thing.

To confess our sins is to stand in the light, to stand before God, just as we are. It’s our confession that we have done the wrong thing, that we have erred, that we have turned away from God… and our commitment that we wish to return to God, that we wish to be seen by God, despite the things that we have done wrong.

It’s our returning to God, our stepping out of darkness and back into light. By confessing our sins, we acknowledge that we have done the wrong thing, we ask for mercy, and we acknowledge that God sees our sin… and we accept God’s forgiveness, freely given through Grace. Always offered, never earned.

This is what the prayer of absolution, made by the priest, signifies. Absolution is an outward sign of an inward grace. As we make our confession and accept absolution, God helps us to return to the light. God restores our relationship with Godself.

This time of Lent can be spiritually difficult. I’m here for anyone who wants to discuss anything, or who wishes to make a private confession to God.

The Cross does loom large, as we approach Holy Week. But we should not forget the miracle of empty cave; that cave where our Lord was laid to rest.

Saint John talks today of a love of darkness. What could more profoundly express a love of darkness, than to kill God? And that is what humanity did. God took on the worst of what it is to sin, the worst of what we human beings do to one another, our profound rejection of God.

And God’s reply is found not in retribution. God did not seek to even the score. God’s reply is found in the miracle of the empty cave: new life, the miracle of the resurrection. God showed us the futility of violence and hatred.

God looks upon us not with judgement, not with condemnation, but with total, unequivocal love. The calling of our baptisms, which we remember today, it to embrace the love and light of God, a light that shines eternally.

Dare to stand in that light.

Dare to bask in God’s love.