John 3:16 is one of the most well-known scriptures in the Christian tradition, yet often it’s taken out of context, used to condemn and exclude those who don’t believe in the way we think they should, look the way we think they should, or even love in the way we think they should. But I wonder what would happen if we read on down to verse 17 and the words of Christ Jesus that remind us that the love of God for us knows no bounds? How might this transform our understanding of God from one who punishes and subdues to one who welcomes and affirms? The love of God for us is so powerful and strong and mighty that God is willing to go beyond what any of us could even think, do, or imagine: to sacrifice God’s own son, not to condemn, but to bring us closer. Isn’t that amazing?
Scripture tell us there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus and that’s what verse 17 reveals, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus does not condemn. God does not exclude. The God of many names and the God that cannot be named does not oppress nor relegate people to the margins. Not members of the LGBTQ community, not persons with disabilities, not refugees, immigrants, or asylum seekers, not Asians and Asian-Americans blamed for coronavirus. No. God does not exclude. So why do we? God so loved the world that God does not condemn those we seek to exclude. What’s more, as much as we can’t seem to understand it, God does not condemn even those of us who have excluded or harmed others with our actions and deeds. God does not condemn those who have gone astray like the Israelites in our Exodus reading today who have turned away from God’s requirements. Instead God so loved the world that God gives us a chance to get it right, to offer an expansive, inclusive, justice-oriented love.
And so my friends, how might we be invited to get it right in the midst of COVID-19, as coronavirus takes up space in the forefront of our collective imaginations? Who are the ones who have given so extravagantly for us, literally providing for us as a matter of life and death? I think of the migrant farm workers, sanitation workers, transit workers, first responders, healthcare workers, the cleaning crews, grocery workers, and factory workers. I think of the ones many look down upon, the ones whose honest work is disparaged, the ones who are often forgotten. But God so loved the world that God gives us a chance to get it right.
What does it look like, then, to live in solidarity with those who risk their lives for our sake, and not in some ethereal spiritual concept of unity, but in a concrete, day-to-day, tangible sense? What does the Lord require us to give?