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Fiery Pit or Bust

John 3:16 – “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.” I can say with almost full certainty that this verse, this singular verse, is the most well-known and widely used scripture from the entire Bible. And to be quite honest, its for good reason. One could argue that the entirety of our faith is placed into this scripture. It shows us the epitome of what love is and how God showed us that love. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” God sent Jesus into this world knowing who and what Jesus would be encountering. God has been dealing with, managing, and basically struggling with humanity since the very beginning. We see just a brief snippet of this from the Book of Numbers in our scriptures today. All throughout the Hebrew Bible the chosen people, the Israelites, are given incredible gifts. Just before this passage in Numbers it speaks about God handing over the Canaanites and giving the Israelites even more land during their conquest of this region. And this is just a piece of all that God gave to these people. Yet, even with all of this, almost immediately after this victory and new land and towns, the Israelites begin complaining about God for having them travel further through the wilderness. God has given them everything and they have the audacity to complain directly about God. Not Moses or their other leaders like before but God directly.

And in the grand scheme of the Hebrew Bible, this is quite common! God had taken a much more hands on approach when engaging with humanity during these texts. Providing for them when they needed care, disciplining them when they fell out of line, which they did, over and over and over again. And yet, even with all of this knowledge. Knowing how people behaved and what their probable actions were going to be, God takes the chance, God puts their faith in Love, and sends Jesus into this dangerous, corrupt, suffering, struggling world.

God shows that they will continually come to the aid of humanity, going to the farthest depths when we are in need. However, there is something different this time around. God behaves differently in their actions with Jesus and throughout the Gospel compared to what we’ve seen through the Hebrew Bible. The essence is the same – people fall away from God, need aid, and even curse God – and in turn God still provides for them. The difference though is really seen when we continue on to verse 17. Just one line after the most quoted scripture.

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world. There are no bronze serpents, no ritualistic sacrifices, no punishments dealt out to the people because they have again strayed from the path God set them on. God sent Jesus into this world simply for the salvation of this prized creation called humanity.

If verse 16 is seen as the epitome of our faith and love of God, then I would argue verse 17 completes the circle and shows us the path forward. Yet we rarely hear this verse being paired with the first. Everywhere we look in Christian spaces we see John 3:16, we see the verse written out, placed on t-shirts, the whole 9 yards. But not John 3:17.

Now in order to get into why that may be and the cautionary tale around how we have engaged with God’s change in behavior, I think it is important to look into the theological theories that stem from God’s method of salvation from these texts. Because, as I alluded to earlier, these two lines represent a major shift in the way in which God interacts with humanity compared to most of the Hebrew Bible.

By sending Jesus to the world, God is made flesh. Fully human and Fully Divine. And as such, God establishes a much more intimate relationship with humanity. I believe during this time, God not only sees a whole new side to humanity but also experiences it. Those old days of coming into a terrible situation and saving the people with a powerful miracle are gone. Jesus comes into this space teaching, living, and growing with humanity. God is establishing, through Jesus, the foundation for everlasting salvation. “Everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life…the world might be saved through him.”

Now what does this “new” method of salvation mean for humanity? As we come closer to Holy Week, closer to Good Friday and the eventual resurrection, I think it is important for us to start to think about the what and why behind this salvation. Our entire journey this Lenten season has been about stripping away that which isn’t us and through that growing into our full, unashamed selves. A major part of that process is wrapped up in our faith. Why do we believe as we believe, why do we do as we do, behave as we behave. Many of us have grown up in this faith or at the very least has

I can’t believe that November is here already! Driving to work during October was amazing. The trees were so bright with their red, orange and yellow leaves. Now, they are almost bare. When I drive past wetlands, there are bright red berries vividly standing out against the faded yellow and browns of the marsh grass. The days have become noticeably shorter and colder. Everything seems to be slowly transforming into winter. November is what I like to call an in between month, a time of ‘almost, but not yet.’ Although, technically, it is still autumn, most of what we associate with autumn, brightly colored leaves, pumpkins, picking apples and the bounty of the summer harvest seem to have passed. However, it is still not winter….yet… Even though the days are shorter and colder and even though it might snow, it is still not winter. Interim time can be a lot like that. It is a time of ‘almost, but not yet.’ Just like November causes us to reflect on what has been, so does interim time. Interim time is a time of waiting, a time for looking back at the past time in the church and a time of planning for the future. It is a time when we feel the fullness of change and a time when we stop and simply be who we are in the moment. Just as November speaks to us of the harvest of the past for which we give thanks, interim time calls us to reflect on all that has been here at West that we are thankful for. Just as November leads us into a time of winter stillness, interim time can seem to drag on and it can seem that nothing is happening. Just as the coming will eventually turn into spring, interim time will, eventually, give rise to newness and new possibilities.  November is a time set aside for reflection on the past. We begin the month with All Saints Day. (Nov. 1) This is a day set aside for memories and thanksgiving for all those who have come before us and have returned to God. On Nov. 11 we celebrate Veterans Day, a day where we remember all those who have served to protect our country. It is also the day when World War  1, ‘the war to end all wars’ ended, and so it is a day where we can stop and imagine peace. Where we can imagine what the world would be like if there were no more wars, no more fighting and killing. November is the time when we stop and give thanks for all that we have, and for all those who came before us. We remember the brave people who set out to make a home in a new land, a home where they could practice their religion without fear of persecution. We look back on the bounty of the year and set a day aside to gather with family and friends in Thanksgiving. It is also a time when, in the midst of enjoying our blessings, we take pause and remember that there are those in our community who are not as fortunate as we are. This is something that this church does very, very well. Here at West there is an awesome food ministry. We not only give people food at Thanksgiving time, but throughout the year.  
In closing, I would like to wish all of you a Happy November! I encourage you to take some time this month, before the Holiday Season kicks into full gear, to sit and reflect on your life. Thinks about all the ways that you have been blessed and give thanks. Think about all the people in your life you have lost and give thanks for them even as you mourn their passing. Think abut all the people affected around the world by war and pray for peace. Think about this church and begin to imagine the future. Most of all, I encourage you to deepen your relationship with God this month. Spend time in personal prayer and reflection on scripture, preparing yourself for the coming of Advent. 
With thanksgiving and a prayer for continued blessings for all of you 
Rhonda 

West Congregational Church
499 North State Street 
Concord, NH 03301

© 2014

About Us:

West Church has been called " the small church with a big heart" We offer a sanctuary of faith for all those who wish to come and worship.

Mission Statement

"To increase love and hope for all through growing faith in Christ"

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