A Homily at Wollaston Theological College

19th April, 2023

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Objectively, this verse is the most famous of all Jesus’ quotes.

Probably the most popular bible verse in the world.

And a verse that elicits more than 2 million internet searches month upon month.

And a passage that a preacher is hard pressed to pass over, when it crops up in the gospel reading for the day – especially when she is standing before a group of budding theologians. But pass over it, I will, because I don’t like it much. I don’t like the ease with which it can be taken out of context and used as an exclusionary way of saying ‘I am in’ and ‘you are out’. Because it isn’t the whole message. And because that reading from Acts is so exciting and intriguing

The high priest and the Sadducees are FURIOUS. They had managed to kill Jesus but his message of outrageous love, unconditional grace, and his uncomfortable speaking of truth to power, was still bursting out all over the place. This wasn’t working out how they intended at ALL! So, they’ve arrested this renegade gang of Jesus-followers and thrown them into prison.

That group of repentant tax collectors and fisher-folk and street sleepers are locked up for passing on this God-man’s message and would you look at that! Their Jesus – the one who was no respecter of locked doors – sends his angels to do his bidding. And this angel comes, unlocks the doors, and says ‘go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life’. The day breaks and they enter the temple and go on with their teaching.

The high priests, the elders of Israel, the chief priest, the captain of the prison and the temple police all hot foot it over to the prison. The doors are still locked, but nobody is inside. And someone says, ‘the men you put in prison are in the temple teaching the people’. And they were afraid.

They were afraid. I bet they were! Things are way out of control! That crucifixion really should’ve put paid to the problem and instead it has made things a lot worse. Before there was only one crazy-ass radical preacher man, but now there is 11 and more and they are multiplying and spreading, and the message cannot be contained. And even locked prison cells can’t keep them secured.

And what is it that they are teaching? The angel was very specific. He told them to teach the whole message (not just John 3:16, by the way, but all of it).

What is the whole message?

It is a message of love – God SO loved the world and all its people – all of them – every single one – that God gave. God gave all of God’s self as an incredible act of love. God gave life in place of death, saving grace in place of condemnation; light in place of darkness; truth in place of evil; and unconditional welcome in place of exclusion.

And the ruling powers didn’t like it much. They didn’t like it because corruption needs darkness to be able to function. Power needs the threat of death if it is going to control.  And society needs to be able to say some are in and others are out if it is going to entirely serve itself. So when love and life and light and grace abound – and that is the WHOLE message – nothing more and nothing less – when that message is taught; when it is encountered and known and believed; it is too pure, too real, too much, too revealing and it is terrifying.

Those followers of Jesus believed it so much they were prepared to go to prison for it. And they were prepared to keep on telling people about it when they were released. They were not prepared to be silenced. They couldn’t be silenced. And almost all of them followed their leader to a martyr’s death. And, friends, what that gospel demanded of them, it demands of us. It really does.

Following Jesus is not for the faint hearted. It’s not an easy life that gives us a shiny gold ticket for heaven. It is costly – it demands everything of us – but it is utterly compelling. Because we have seen something already of that life and light and love. We have known something of that truth and grace and freedom from condemnation. At least, we think we have, because that’s why we have said a tentative yes to this call to ordination and beyond.

The whole message demands our whole life; the bits we love and the bits we have condemned. It requires all of us; the bits we like to show off in the light and the bits we prefer to keep hidden in the darkness. The bits of us that are holy and the evil bits. Those true parts and the false parts. God wants it all – because we can’t share the whole message without allowing God to make us whole too. Those disciples had to go through betrayal, abandonment, denial, as well as redemption, healing and restoration.

So will we allow God to do God’s deep work of transformation on us?

Will we willingly step out from the darkness into the light – warts and all?

Because as the angel asked those first disciples, so we are also being asked – tell the whole message, that many may believe and that all may have life. Amen.

1 Comment

  1. katharine elliott says:

    So miss your sermons


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