Lent II, Year A
The Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations") — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
"Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
"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.
"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Desire will be redeemed. Even mimesis will be redeemed. Even Satan will be redeemed (shades of Origen or Irenaus?).
Kosmos is a term the FG uses to connote the reality structured by the violent Logos. And it is said that God loves all of the kosmos, that of which we are and have become. We are loved in spite of our broken perceptions. It is in and through this brokenness that God reveals God’s self, on a Roman cross outside the holy city of Jerusalem. We humans create the Monster, the mechanism of violence and God redefines the meaning of the center, the victim, the scapegoat. Lies are revealed and the truth is known. This love, the agape of the Abba knows no limits or boundaries, it encompasses all and everything. This God loves her creation more than herself. This God demonstrates the extent of that love in giving up his only child to us humans.
If we are to see the reign of God, we most be born again (or from above, whichever way you choose to translate anothen ). If we are to enter into the reign of God, we will enter in both as flesh and spirit.
In John’s Gospel, we see the Word become flesh in order to save flesh. Yes, John is very clear that “it is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is useless,” (6:63) because the flesh, intractably bent by mimesis cannot lead itself out of the cycle of violence and death, but that does not mean that the reign of God is a “spiritual” reality that excludes the flesh. This kind of dualism, the rejection of “flesh” for the “spirit,” so typical of the gnosticism against which John wrote, is also at the heart of the scapegoating process, the substitution of the victim for the mimetic double.
The dividing of the world into light and dark is the result of the projection of our own darkness (we all have both) onto the other. And this division of the world into one where we must chose either light or dark, flesh or spirit, places us inevitably, intractably, in the dark. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night because he is in that darkness, because he hears Jesus speak of the birth from above that re-unites spirit and flesh. But Nicodemus, hears Jesus speak of a birth that replaces one life with another, in other words, a substitution of one life for another.
By the time that this piece goes up on Preaching Peace, we will all have seen the Superbowl and the ubiquitous “John 3:16” sign that will probably pop up. Unfortunately the person holding that sign will probably be unable to quote John 3:17, where we learn that God’s purpose is to save the world, the entire “kosmos,” not only those who believe, to the exclusion of all others. God’s rejection of.. no… God’s redemption of our murderous way of preventing the war of all against all, the “scapegoat” (God enters into our scapegoating process as scapegoat to undo it!) is what we are to believe in. Not the resurrection, but the “lifting up” of Jesus (3:15). Jesus links this “saving” (the movement from dark into light) to the image of the crucifixion alone.
This is why we can have no enemies, even, or most especially those bound by the scapegoating process, by Satan. Every exercise of the scapegoating process is a part of the process God chose to use for our salvation. We will not be delivered fully from the cycle until the entire kosmos is redeemed, but in the mean time, we allow our evil to be brought into the light, we don’t insist that darkness and light be forever separate, that flesh and spirit remain forever at war in us. Perhaps, as we cease to do violence to ourselves, we will also find it less satisfying to do violence to others.
Note the sheer number of Johannine ‘double-words’ in this brief discourse.
Hupsao (exalt/lift up)
The hermeneutic of the Johannine ‘double-words’ is meant to help us read the text on two levels. The distinction between these levels has been drawn in largely temporal sequence, there was the world of Jesus and then there was the world of the Johannine community. J.L. Martyn’s great thesis suggests this, and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of the fact that for the Johannine community, these double words are indicators of a greater dialectic, the kosmos structured a la the violent Logos of a Heraclitus, and the revelation of God within that kosmos with a Logos of his own. Where scholars find dualism in the Johannine literature we find the dialectic of the redemption of all things (panta 1.3).
What will you preach this weekend? Will you preach that your hearers are saved by their beliefs? Or that we have to chose light, and not darkness?
Or will you preach the Gospel? That the kosmos, in all of its light and darkness, its flesh and spirit, are precious to God? As God redeemed the Cross by being “lifted up” God also redeemed our flesh by becoming flesh, redeemed our evil purposes by bringing them into the light, not by destroying them.
It could be tempting here to go some Eastern/New Age route, Yin and Yang as necessary parts of a whole. Not a road we’d suggest. What Jesus promises here is not that we need evil and good to make up a whole world, or that evil is not evil but just some part of reality that we “don’t understand.” No. God intends to redeem the flesh, redeem our evil.
The good news is that our broken flesh will be made whole. Our twisted desire, which leads us frustration and violence, will be set right, set on its proper object. We will not have our mimetic desire taken away from us (our flesh) but we will imitate another desire, the desire that Jesus had for the Father.