The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s101g15  Fourth Sunday in Lent  15/3/2015

‘God so loved the world ..’  John 3:16

God didn’t hate the world so much that he orchestrated the brutal death of his only son to give the divine the justification to condemn everyone else, those who don’t believe this, to eternal damnation!   I certainly don’t believe this - no matter how often conservative evangelicals regurgitate: ‘No one comes to the Father but by me’.  (1)  Psychopaths and IS jihadists orchestrate brutal deaths, not any god worth worshipping.

Recently I was reminded of one of my pet hates about the Anglican Church: ‘as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen’. (2)   It is the concept that the Church ‘militant here on earth’ will eventually prevail, and some mythical past paradisiacal state will be restored and we will be seen to have won; waited on by God at the heavenly banqueting table with all the unbelievers forced to look on in envy and despair. (3)

If we have this theology, that we have been, are and always will be right and everyone else is wrong, then we have to allow that others, people who worship God by a different name or don’t worship at all, may justifiably believe that they are right and we are wrong.   It’s called doing unto others as we would have others do unto us. (4)   There is no caveat restricting this to apply only to straight Anglicans of my particular variety!

And if personal infallibility is the central core of our theology, as well as everyone else’s, then this is a recipe for continuing divisions and hatred, and personal infallibility of every hue deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

So much of early church history was concerned with the full inclusion of Gentiles into the Church.   St Paul’s words about adoption are all about the mechanism of this inclusion. (5)   The whole of his letter to the Romans is about this - even those couple of verses in the first chapter said to be about same gender intimacy. (6)   And step by painful step, Peter is brought to the house of Cornelius, to bring him to the same realisation. (7)   They were each taught in no uncertain terms that God so loved the world .. including Gentiles.

Some time ago I heard a member of the clergy speak about the politics of a parish all focussing on the rectory / vicarage / parsonage / presbytery, and its effect on clergy families.   Who is right and who is wrong; who is more important in the parish and who is less; who is indispensable and therefore has to get their own way?!   And somehow the words: ‘God so loved the world’ seem very remote!

It doesn’t matter how ‘welcoming’ a parish is, if our welcome is only to make others into faithful replicas of ourselves or, failing that, devoted supporters of our own personal ministry - how is this church any different from any other organisation in society; sacred or secular?   Again how does this demonstrate that central truth, that: ‘God so loved the world’.

This is more true on the corporate level, for our own personal efforts will ever be for naught while the church corporate is seen as self-serving.   I have observed that those who take the bible so literally, often quoting this passage frequently, seem to be especially condemnatory of others who don’t!   They have turned this into ‘God so loved straight, bible-believing, baptised, confirmed, communicant, tithing Anglicans’; especially those who like choral / modern music (like me); those who like liturgy / speaking in tongues (like me); those who are regular attendees of my particular fellowship / prayer group / bible study - I mean the list of possible qualifications is endless!   I am not surprised if the world wonders if God actually loves the world - when it only hears condemnation and criticism of anyone and everyone who doesn’t measure up?

When does the world hear those words of St Paul: ‘Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another?   It is before their own lord that they stand or fall.   And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.’ (8)   Well, perhaps if they happen to attend worship on the 24th Ordinary Sunday, the one between 11 and 17 September in year A, and even then only if the whole reading is used rather than a shortened one.   I suspect that the Church needs to reflect on these words rather more frequently than once every three years!   The world might sit up and take notice if the church was heard to proclaim this more insistently than John 14:6.   Indeed of course, no one comes to the Father condemning others to eternal damnation - which is what the opposite of ‘by me’ means.

How can a congregation which is essentially a mono-culture claim to be christian?   Sometimes liberals despair that the conservative evangelical congregations thrive because they offer a corporate infallible message and so, by osmosis a personal infallibility, yet diversity is an indisputable characteristic of the world - the very world which God so loves!

So for me it is the conservative evangelical who doesn’t actually believe that ‘God .. loves the world’ even though they endlessly proclaim it.  It is the secular humanist who ‘believes’ even though they may not believe in a god but includes and affirm all others by their actions because they believe that this is what God would want if he or she existed.

1.  John 14:6
3.  Psalm 23:5
4.  Matthew 7:12
5.  Romans 8:15 Galatians 4:5
6.  Romans 1:26-27
7.  Acts 9:32-11:5
8.  Romans 14.4