John 3: 1-21 3-12-17 ACCUCC Rev. Tony Clark
…For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life. Here’s the point. God didn’t send His Son into the world to judge it; instead, He is here to rescue a world headed toward certain destruction.
No one who believes in Him has to fear condemnation, yet condemnation is already the reality for everyone who refuses to believe because they reject the name of the only Son of God. Why does God allow for judgment and condemnation? Because the Light, sent from God, pierced through the world’s darkness to expose ill motives, hatred, gossip, greed, violence, and the like. Still some people preferred the darkness over the light because their actions were dark. Some of humankind hated the light. They scampered hurriedly back into the darkness where vices thrive and wickedness flourishes. Those who abandon deceit and embrace what is true, they will enter into the light where it will be clear that all their deeds come from God. (The Voice)
Here we are, at the lighthouse, the place of in between-ness— in between land and water, in between light and shadow, in between salvation and temptation. We stand here with Nicodemus, in between the physical and spiritual, between belonging biologically to a family of people and belonging spiritually to God. We are children of DNA and messy births and dysfunctional families, and we are children of spirit, of wind and the breath of God that blew over the waters at the Creation.
We stand here pondering our existence, and pondering our place in the world; we are fallible, finite, physical beings standing at the face of an infinite Divine energy that is the source of all that we can see, all that we are, all that we can experience.
“How can this be?” ask Nicodemus. How can we be born again, from above? Nicodemus is a literalist who questions the spiritual, poetic side of Jesus. Jesus is portrayed in John’s gospel as a philosopher and poet. In John’s gospel, Jesus gives out mantras and phrases of poetry and beauty like they are Zen koans, calling us out of literalism and into the spiritual realm of metaphor and magic. Nicodemus, representing us all, is a student asking the quantum physics professor, “How can light be both wave and particle? How can color be both physical pigment and narrow bands of light?” Nicodemus is interested in how we can be both physical and spiritual, a question for all of us born human and yet somehow connected to God.
In my own quest for how to be physical and spiritual, I learned that, in many languages, the word “faith” is both a noun and a verb, both an object and an action. Perhaps Nicodemus, if he were here today, might ask out loud, “How can faith be both a noun and a verb?”
Love is both a noun and a verb. Trust is both a noun and verb. Faith, in other languages like the Greek that John wrote in, can be both noun and verb. But in English we have faith—like it is an object to hold or to withhold. Faith, as a noun, can be contained in an urn on the fireplace of our lives. Faith, as a noun, might be a club to which we belong and from which we exclude others, or faith, as a noun, might be a club used to beat someone with. Faith, as a noun, becomes a belief that can be tested against dogma, and can be measured against doctrine, and can be determined to be less than whatever gold standard is created by some human somewhere.
John’s gospel only uses faith as a verb. We do not have faith, a noun which can be used as a weapon or a wall; we are doing, living, being faith.
If faith is a verb, then maybe we could also think of Christ as a verb, living, moving, blowing, as a presence and an action. Christ is the living Word of God; the opening of John’s gospel, just a few chapters before we meet Nicodemus is this, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. …And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” John’s claim is that Jesus Christ is the Word of God, and John tells us “What has come into being in him was life, and life was the light of all people….” The Word of God, born as Jesus Christ, is light, both wave and particle, both noun and verb. The Word of God was born a biological being, Jesus, and somehow also the spirit of God, Christ, that lives and breathes and shines light into shadow. Jesus Christ– both particle and wave, matter and energy, noun and verb.
And you and I are also both matter and energy, pulsing like a wave and solid as particle. We are biologically born of flesh and bone, and we are born from above, born of spirit, born of water. We have faith and we are doing faith. We are love and we are loving. We are loved by God, who so loved the whole world—no exceptions—that God sent us more love, Jesus Christ, who told us to continue loving each other. God so loved the world—no exceptions—not the color of your skin nor the gender of your body nor your sexual orientation nor your country of origin. God loved us all, frail, fragile, finite human beings who, like Nicodemus, ponder our existence and purpose, and maybe even our faith.
When faith is noun, it can be an object that is scarce or rare. When God’s love is a noun, it can be a thing to be held onto and treasured, excluding others from gaining access to it.
However, Faith, like love, as a verb, is an experience that comes when you taste and touch, when you look and hear, and when you live. Faith is knowing, trusting, believing that God is around you and in you, and that God is around and in all the other people, and God is around and in everything in this world that God so loved that God offered us this reminder—Jesus Christ.
And we forget this simple thing. The Word of God, who is love and life and light—became flesh and dwelt among us, to remind us; yet we forget, we have forgotten, we are forgetting what was originally said. 2000 years later and we are still forgetting. We have made a noun what God intended to be a verb. We quantify, count, contain both faith and love, measuring it against a gold standard, and condemning those—sometimes even ourselves– who cannot live up to this human measuring rod. We build walls, we close bathroom doors, we deport others to keep them from getting to our birthright, our blessing that we believe is ours alone.
We have forgotten that all who accept this light and life and love, become children of God. This light, this love is not a noun that we can hold or withhold. It is a verb, a wave, an energy that cannot be contained by walls or bathroom doors or detention centers, and it cannot be withheld by deportation. It cannot be contained by bodies of skin and bone, it cannot be contained by the walls of our ever-pumping hearts. It cannot be held by our hands that slam doors shut or kicked out of this place by our feet. It cannot, because it is not a noun, it is not a commodity in short supply. It is a verb. Love is a verb, acting, moving, flowing with never-ending energy. Faith is a verb, which lives and expresses this love.
Christ is a verb, a wave of energy, who can penetrate walls and doors and detention centers. And God so loved the world that God gave us this verb.
May we live it, and do it as God intended. Amen.
 John 1: 1, 3-4, 14. NRSV.