#Kindness is the reflection for March 15, 2015. Do religious people have it in focus? What does a change in tone mean to communication? Find out a perspective that will change how you think in this podcast. Available on itunes and android. #MSAWordfortheDay #MySpiritualAdvisor #Sermon #Homily #Kindness, #Tone #SystemofDarkness
For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 3/15/2015 The 4th Sunday of Lent.
Please pause this audio and read John 3:14-21.
What is the difference between these two statements:
“Did you leave the light on?” [angry tone]
“Did you leave the light on?” [inquisitive tone]
They are the exact same sentence, but the tone of my voice has changed when I read the second one. The first one indicates that we are angry that someone left the light on. It could cause people to feel like they should not answer the question, not answer it honestly if they are guilty, or find a way to escape. The second one indicates that even if you are guilty, no awfulness is going to be dished out. It makes all the difference in the world.
But when the words are written down without my tone of voice or my indication by bracketing how the words should be written then the whole thing is left open to interpretation. In communication, there are two important factors: the way one communicates and the disposition of the one to whom the communication is being communicated. If I rolled out of bed and felt awful, not wanting to deal with anything that day, then having you ask me if I left the light on could be an assault on my freedom to be free of such considerations. I might be a little grumpy. Whereas, if I had a wonderful night of sleep, have full employment and am loving my life situation, I could handle the question no matter how you asked it.
I am always taken aback by how polarizing of a figure Jesus is. Here we are, by the third chapter of the Gospel of John and already a member of the leaders of the Jews can only meet with Jesus at night, in the cloak of darkness. The words we hear in the Gospel lesson for today are spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus, a leader of the Jewish community in Palestine at the time of Jesus. Nicodemus does not understand the power of God with which Jesus comes. He reads the same words that Jesus reads, but cannot fathom how God is working things out. Clearly he is confused and wants to find truth, but he cannot come to Jesus in the daylight. He has to come in the darkness to protect himself from others who read the same Torah, the law of God, and are trying to figure out what Jesus is doing with it.
There is great irony in this entire scene. The leader of the religious people, who claim that their religion brings freedom and the “chosen-ness” of God is meeting in the cloak of darkness to get instruction from one who is telling him that God has come to bring salvation, not judgment, and God is bringing it in the light of day. This passage is John’s account of Jesus’ answer to the third of three inquiries stated or asked by Nicodemus. The three inquiries are:
- “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
- “How can anyone be born after having grown old?”
- “How can these things [that entering the Kingdom of God requires being born anew of the Spirit], how can they be?”
In the darkness, Jesus tells him of the way in which God alleviated the punishment for sin through Moses and a bronze serpent, which is the first reading for this Sunday in Lent. Then, Jesus goes on to say that the ultimate purpose of God is not to condemn. God has not come to trip people up or reject them outright. In fact, like the second chance that God is giving the people who looked at the bronze serpent in the desert, he is giving the people another chance through the Son.
What the leaders of the Jews in this Gospel seek is not anything like this kind of generosity. What they seek is control of what it means to follow God. Could they want this control to assert their own righteousness? Could it be they want this control because of their own egos? Nothing gives someone more a sense of self importance than the granting of power of any sort. Whatever gets in the way of that power must be gotten out of the way. Clearly, here, Jesus is in the way.
To Nicodemus’ credit, he is struggling. Yet, his hypocrisy is shown in his coming in at night to seek the truth. Truth, as Jesus adroitly points out, sheds light on darkness. As Jesus points out further, the world rather loves its darkness.
How many of us have not said what really needs to happen because the boss has some other hair brained idea that he just has to have done? We know that if we do what he or she wants done, the consequences will leave the company open to lawsuits, inefficiency and a total abandonment of our goals as an organization. Yet, for our own self-preservation in the system of darkness, we continue.
How many of us have dysfunctional family systems that keep us protecting one or two persons in the family who are behaving badly? We don’t point out that getting drunk and showing up to the family event is wrong. We don’t want to remove ourselves from the family we grew up in, so we stay in and participate in the system of darkness.
I had the pleasure for four years of being a minister to students in an environment where people were welcomed with open arms and a loving spirit. The ministry grew exponentially. Did I agree with everything that everyone did? Was everyone’s life in accordance with the Gospel? Uh, no. That was not the point. The point was to know that God loves us and that the proper response to that love is to try to love him back. The point was to know that God loves us in our imperfection and our response to that is to try to love others in their imperfection.
It is one thing to believe that homosexual behavior is wrong or that gay marriage is a fabrication, but it is another to treat a person who is gay as if they are an abomination. It is one thing to believe that adultery or fornication are wrong, but it is another thing altogether to treat an adulterer or a fornicator as if they don’t deserve to live. It is one thing to believe that lying is wrong, it is another thing altogether to be cruel to someone who lies to you.
I am not advocating that we condone sin, but I am asking the question if what God wants is for us to be harsh, like the leaders of the Jews were harsh to our Savior. I am asking the question of whether or not we can indeed catch more flies with vinegar than we can with honey. Kindness is not against firmness, but treating another human being like they are a waste and are disposable is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Does God want us to be holy? Yes. Does God want us to follow his laws? Yes. But how does God want these lightbulbs to go on in our hearts and our heads? Does he want the condemnatory tone? There are times, yes, but not all the time. The best way to bring people into relationship with God is through your relationship with them. This is the way of Jesus. It accepts the person for who they are and models a different lifestyle that sheds light on the Truth.
I love the way of the Amish and Mennonites in this regard. On October 2, 2006, when Charles Roberts entered their New Hope School outside Lancaster, PA and killed ten innocent girls and himself with a weapon that the Amish do not believe in, their response was stunning. The Amish went to the home of his parents to grieve with them in their mutual and tragic loss. That is a Gospel response. It is a response that sheds light on the darkness of hate, of gun violence, and of the brutality that can be demonstrated by our culture.
What Nicodemus cannot understand is that God is a God of all people, those who follow him and those who don’t. His love is for all people, but he will not force anyone to follow. This is the failure of all coercive religious movements. The Gospel is kindness. It will be forever. The Gospel is not coercion. It never will be. In what ways can you reflect the loving and kind nature of the Gospel in your life this week? What words do you have to say that will shed light and let the actions of all stand on their own for what they are? Amen.
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