Gen. 12:1-4a/Ps. 121/Rom. 4:1-5, 13-17/John 3:1-17
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
This may very well be the Bible’s most quotable quote, the most memorized in Sunday school classes—the most often cited verse in the stands at baseball games. God so loved the world: the kosmos, as it says in Greek. God so loved the cosmos.
There’s a strain of religious piety that thinks of the world as something negative, something fallen, something to overcome, something to get away from to somewhere better. One of the Lent prayers asks God to help us overcome the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. But here it says God so loved the world. God, who spoke the cosmos into existence and pronounced it not just good, but very good (Gen. 1)—this God, this creator God so loved the cosmos. God’s love is extreme love.
God is love, the scriptures tell us, and we are commanded to love one another. The Bible has lots of commandments and many of them are excellent. But in these words from John we may hear not a commandment, but an invitation: an invitation to join God in God’s love for the world, God’s extreme love for the cosmos. God’s extreme love for the cosmos he speaks into existence even now.
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” [Elizabeth Barrett Browning] There are so many ways to love the world. How about geology? Or astronomy or astrophysics or particle physics or chemistry (organic) or chemistry (inorganic)? How about biology, genetics, sociology, psychology, economics—we could go on and on. We usually call these “disciplines” or “sciences”. But they might also be thought of as ways of loving, ways of loving the cosmos God has created.
Take a mountain. It may be beautiful, just as it is, from a purely aesthetic point of view. But that mountain has a great story to tell about how it got there: a great and luminous story starting with the Big Bang, I suppose. The geology way of loving inquires into the life of that mountain. How the thin crust of the earth is moved by the molten inner core (shifting of tectonic plates), how that surface has been defined by what has lived and died on it, what winds and waters have moved across it, how the accumulations of layers of the earth’s surface are metamorphosed by intense pressure and heat when thrust beneath the surface. This is a great and luminous story. Luminous of the processes that brought the mountain to its current form; luminous of mind of the maker, the mind of the poet who spoke the natural processes into existence. Geology is the art of loving the earth and telling the story of that love.
Or, take the night sky–beautiful in its own right from a purely aesthetic point of view. But even one small star has a great story to tell about how it got there, a great and luminous story starting with the Big Bang (maybe before the Big Bang?) The astrophysics way of loving inquires into the life of that star. The dispersion of matter and energy into space, the coalescence into spheres of combusting matter sweeping through space in company with millions of other spheres in great wheels called galaxies. Even a little star has a big story to tell, a great and luminous story. Astrophysics is the art of loving the stars and telling their story.
Chemistry the art of loving the processes of change in molecular structure. Biology is the art of loving the processes that animate living things. Psychology the art of loving the workings of the human mind. Anthropology, sociology: more arts of loving. Economics: would that be the art of loving the processes whereby value is created among human beings and how we are caught up in these processes?
The more we look, the more questions we ask, the more great and luminous stories there are to tell. Even the marble under our feet has a great and luminous story to tell. Even the speck of dirt on my shoe. So many great and luminous stories to tell. And all of them stories about the Poet who speaks these things into existence.
And what about meteorology: would that be love of the wind? The wind that moves warmth and moisture over the surface of this amazing sphere of matter? And what about the wind that blows where it chooses, we don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going. The wind that breathed over the face of the earth in creation. The wind, the breath, the Spirit that permeates everything that is, breathing through it like a breeze through a screen door. Well, now we’re in different territory…
For God so loved the world. With an extreme love. God is love. God has commanded us to love one another. A most excellent commandment. And, today, we hear an invitation, a most gracious invitation to yet more love. God invites us to yet more love—there’s always room for more love. God invites us to share his love for the cosmos he has created. And, especially, this good earth: to love, to cherish and to protect it.
I am increasingly amazed that there should be anything at all. Amazed that there is something and not nothing, as Leibniz put it. And that what is should be so magnificent. I am increasingly in awe of the natural processes that shape the cosmos we live in and renew it: day by day, year by year, millennium by millennium, aeon by aeon. I am in awe of these natural processes in which we human beings are so magnificently imbedded. Even though theses processes will cause my death sooner or later.
But that is where Easter comes in. And that is a sermon for another day, another great and luminous day. The day we hear of God’s infinitely expansive love. A love which even now is expanding into realms we can only begin to dream of.
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