Some people never get lost. No matter where they are, they have a built-in sense of direction that allows them to find their way. Others however, get lost easily! Following directions doesn’t help much. Over and over they ask, “Say again,” and then after further instruction, after writing directions down, and even after viewing the “highlighted route” showing where to go, they make the wrong turn and get lost. Even using a GPS is not always helpful.
We all get spiritually lost. Time and time again we make the wrong turn, and we sin. And then along comes another Lent and we try to improve our spiritual travel. We always start out with the best of intentions but within a short time, we lose our Lenten zeal and we find ourselves lost again. We know we still have time to get back on track---it’s not Easter yet! There is still time to improve our spiritual sense of direction, so we ask ourselves, how well have we done this Lent?
Our gospel reminds us that: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” This short passage is perhaps the most frequently quoted of all Scripture verses. We have found it displayed on banners and signs at various athletic events, on bumper stickers and t-shirts, and quoted in various print materials. Within this short verse exists the very essence of the Gospel. God gave us Jesus! He is the divine word in flesh and blood, in time and space, and on the cross. We ponder the message and the messenger…God so loved us that he gave us his Son! It is a powerful reminder that we are loved, that we are forgiven, and that the basis of God’s being is love.
This gospel passage also reminds us that it is God who initiates that loving call. Often our view of God is clouded by human images of a stern, angry or unforgiving father who is anything but loving. We may even think that the gentle, loving and forgiving Jesus was responsible for changing God’s attitude toward us from condemnation to forgiveness. Wrong! Our Father’s love for Jesus is also extended to us. We can’t earn it because it’s a free gift. Yet it is this short text that reminds us that it is with God that it all started, loving us and showing us his love through his Son Jesus. Scripture scholar William Barkley reminded us: “God yearns over us and woos us into love.”
Scripture scholarship poignantly states God’s love in this way: “Everything that happens between God and his Son Jesus on earth is simply the unfolding in history of what happens between God and his Son Jesus in heaven. And through the humanization of Jesus, you and I are swept up into that divine love affair.” That divine love affair embraces the whole world, not just the United States, not just good people, not just those who love him, but everyone. Those who love him and those who never think of him, and even those who reject him, are all included in the vast expanse of his love. As Augustine put it: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.”
Confronted with this image of God’s love, we realize how often we stumble over our feeble attempts to love and forgive. During this Lent, we have more chances to reach out in love to all the “others” in our world, especially those whom we find difficult to love. Could it be that through our attempts to love, we embrace the messages that have been sent again and again by our compassionate God? Could it be that finally this Lent we get the message and continue our life journeys without getting lost?
----Deacon Wilson Shierk