What Do You Mean, “God So Loved the World?”

All of us have heard it before. But what better day than today
to ask, What Do You Mean, “God So Loved the World?”
How do we understand that when our human world
seems to be breaking, and the earth itself is quaking?
What do we say to Girl Scouts on the front row,
And the kids in worship as they come and go?
How do we live in faith in a world not what it used to be
With a cross up ahead that everyone who walks with Christ
can plainly see?

Oh, we’ve been askin’, “What do you mean?” on the way to the cross with Jesus. What do you mean, he did it [the cross] for me? Our answer: because of who Jesus is [Word become flesh, Victor over temptation, Good Shepherd, Suffering Servant], because of who we are [apples of God’s eye, God’s children and heirs, friends of Christ], and because of what God has declared [Christ shall come in final victory], the cross’ saving-power-and-grace are for us, personally! … But not for us only! What do you mean? Our answer: Our cross-walk with Christ is personal, but not private. God’s heart loves us all, universally, yet in a singular way… by way of the cross… down to our last whisper. Christ: the ultimate source of all God’s saving acts. Our mission: urgently to invite everyone we can to Christ! See, Jesus says, “Heaven can’t wait!” … What does Jesus mean? God is not infinitely patient of our fruitlessness or sins, large or small. But God chooses to nail our sins, not us. God turns to Jesus on the cross to offer us a 2nd Chance Savior. Heaven can’t wait, but looks forward, does not lose hope. So we dare not either. Heaven’s watchword over sin isn’t just, “INCOMING.” It’s, “UPcoming!” Scripture writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now, and we ourselves, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons [and daughters], the redemption of our bodies.”

The whole creation groans, yearns, leans toward the cross. Why? So we and all that is God’s may be redeemed, restored, resurrected to the Paradise God has had in mind from the start. By the cross we know that God loves us personally, but not only; single-heartedly in Christ, but urgently; and… in relationship to all creation.

The cross connects Heaven and Earth (vertically). And by it’s outstretched arms, like Christ’s, embraces our human family(’s) horizon(tally). It has shown us at the crosspoint, where it literally hangs the heart of Christ, the place where both (axes) come together forever. Ahhh, for God so loved the world…Not just your soul, my soul, our soul, but the soul and body of all that God has created… to be the Garden of God’s delight. So, it is well that on the way to that very cross, just as we examine how it is with our souls, we consider how it is with God’s world, and our part in it.

Stuff’s goin’ on, in and with our world itself. It’s a proper form of cross-talk to talk about it. Especially on Girl Scout Sunday, and with our children gathered ‘round. This isn’t a new fangled fad for the faithful. Nor is it optional. Did you hear what Genesis, the Book of Beginnings has to say? To Grandpa Adam, and Grandma Eve? “Bear fruit. Multiply. Fill the earth. Subdue it. (More than conquer: order, steward, tend it.) I give you power over every living thing. Every seedling plant, every fruitful tree. Every beast, bird, creepy thing, everything that breathes.” No modern word should surprise, offend or ego-boost us that our living impacts the earth’s being. God said so at the start. And God is watching! Psalm 24 sings-on-key when it sings, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” God’s will is not only, “ever directed to God’s children’s good,” as the Good Book says. No, his eye is on the sparrow too, as we’ve sung since our childhoods. Did you hear God’s word to Jonah? ‘Remember him. The storm-guy, ‘cause he hopped a boat in the wrong direction to run away from God. The “Et-by-a-fish-guy”, the preach-to-the-sinners guy, the disappointed-they-repent-‘cause-he’d-kinda-like-to-see-sinners-zapped guy. God eventually raises up a shade tree, then “appoints a worm” to wither it, all to address this lesson to Jonah. To us. “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, that came into being and perished in a night. Should not I pity Nineveh, that great city of more than a 120,000 persons (who don’t know their right hand from their left), and also much cattle?” [Alt.] Redemption is not just for the favored of religious folk, but for sinners, and not just for them, but in some mystical, marvelous, mysterious sense we don’t grasp, for creation itself, from azaleas to angus! Doubt it? Doubt somehow we are inextricably tied to the walk to the cross and the wait for the resurrection? Remember this. The powers-that-wanna-be rag on Jesus that his followers are making too much fuss on Palm Sunday. The Cross-bound Christ responds, “If I silenced them, these very rocks would cry out.” (And Easter itself begins with a rock on a roll!)

We walk with Christ to the cross this Lent. We do so on the edge of a century when believing-folks will be constantly challenged by stuff goin’ on in and with our world itself. I’ve been aware of this a long time. 7th grade Social Studies! We were talking about Brazil’s new capital, cut from the Amazon. (I thought: every last tree.) I’d learned in science. Trees and underwater life take in CO2 and give off the O2 we breath. I raised my hand, “If we cut down all the trees, won’t we run out of oxygen?” The teacher and the class laughed uproariously. “Who gave you the idea people could do enough to change the world?” the teacher asked. “My science teacher. And Mrs. Matthews.” (She taught us the creation story in Sunday School and our part in keeping it humming along.) More laughter. I gave up/in. Who knew? Me: personally beginning the debates on global warming, the environment, the theology of global stewardship! Not a bad day’s work for a 7th grader, despite the laughter. Folks are fussin’ still. But few are laughing. Category 4 and 5 hurricanes have almost doubled in the last 30 years. Malaria has spread to higher altitudes like the Colombian Andes, 7,000’ above sea level. The ice flow from glaciers in Greenland has more than doubled since 1996. At least 279 species of plants and animals are already responding to climate change, moving closer to the poles. Ice cores from the Antarctic show us 650,000 years from ice ages to eons of drought. In all that time, CO2 never measures over 265 ppm. In the last 200 yrs., it’s jumped over 40% (375). And when our Girl Scouts are young grandmas, we’ll be 2 1/3X the 6.5 millenia high, absent some change. Global precip. is up 20% across the 20 Century. But vast dry spots occur, doubling dessert growth in the last 30 years. (*Gore, An inconvenient truth.) Something’s up! Stuff’s happenin’ across this creation we were charged to care for from the start. ‘Happenin’ to the earth whose fullness belongs to God. ‘Goin’ on, with or without the noise of Al Gore on one side and Rush Limbaugh on the other. ‘Goin’ on whether we are the entire cause, part of it, or along for the ride and just charged to be loving and faithful, for the sake of the same Christ who would as soon redeem the world as redeem us. You and I don’t have to settle the science, though we should be aware of it. We just need to walk with faith. And live with a Godly discipline for the sake of Christ.

We never see Jesus join anyone else’s “movement” or “political cause.” He confounded most of those in his day. In our sense, he was not an environmentalist. And he wasn’t exactly talkin’ climate or weather when he said, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent [to stave off unfaithfulness and fear] in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” John’s same Gospel that reports these words tells us Christ was there on the first day. And “All things were made through him.” So it should not surprise us. On his walk to the cross, he teaches us by the water that will listen to him and bear his weight, the lily that neither spins nor weaves, the sparrow as it flies or falls, the fox that has a home when he does not. It should not surprise us. By his cross, nothing and no one is unconnected, or uninvited to participate in the Paradise God-in-Christ set out to fashion from the beginning.

Lent has always been a time of spiritual discipline. Prayers. Fasting. Giving to the human world in need. (Why not the physical?) Repentence, turning around, changing our ways. Maybe this year on the way to the cross, we could learn a new devotion from our scouts. As an act of faithfulness to Christ maybe we could say with them, we Disciples are to, “Make the world a better place. To be clean, conserve, and enrich the world around [us]. [We believe] it is important to leave [sic] a better place than when she found it.” It may just be a spiritual thing to light with fluorescents, drive less. Inflate tires more. Recycle. Ease up on the hot water and our thermostat, unplug our stuff, even plant a tree. (*Gore)

God so loved us. And not just us, all of us. And God is eager for us. God so loved the world. So God has sent his only son, Jesus. His desire is not for perishing, but for paradise: with us, with all that God in Christ has made. Oh, that we should take a little walk with Jesus!

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