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Num. 21:4-9; Ps.107:1-3,17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

A reminder that our practise in the sermons during Lent is to ask questions that we can consider together as you are comfortable. For those online, the question is on the screen. And if there is something you would like to share, you can post it on the website and those helping with the livestream will let us know so your responses can be heard as well. To give you a chance to think about the question we will consider in a few moments, it is, “What are ways we can lift up God’s loving, not condemning, the world, for neighbours and communities in our time?”

           We had the privilege recently to see a wonderful play, “As Above” at the Belfry Theatre by a brilliant local playwright, Christine Quintana, who also acted in the play that evening. Commissioned by the Belfry and making its debut in Victoria, the play centres on the life of a woman, Jo, a former botanical researcher, eight years sober and trying to rebuild her life and relationships she lost, with her sister, her estranged daughter, and a newfound companion, Rick. With intelligent and truthful dialogue, heartfelt and moving interactions, all wonderfully portrayed by the three gifted actors on a well-designed set with tree rings and a greenhouse like structure, we witnessed the interconnectedness of relationships, both human and the ecosystems of plants and trees so significant to Jo. As we watch her presenting information as a volunteer at the horticultural centre on plant and tree relationships, and each time beginning with a land acknowledgement reminding us of Indigenous understandings of interconnectedness, we feel the truth of this with Jo, in the plants and trees, and in connection to those close to her, and everyone and everything, in one great ecosystem of connection and interdependence. All life, everything connected, in life and in death, for the wellbeing, for the love of the world.

           Thinking about the gospel reading of God so loving the world that God gave the beloved Jesus… not to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Jesus, I wonder if we sense and witness God’s saving love in everything being connected. To the question, “What are ways we can lift up God’s loving, not condemning, the world, in our time?” Is it in witnessing and working to lift-up this interconnectedness of all of us, and of everything, the plants, trees, creatures, everything? And resisting anything that works to divide us from one another and all creation. Is it forming and reforming relationships across barriers that seem more entrenched, more impermeable in our time, reaching out and responding to neighbours and the earth in need as we are able, in collaboration and willingness to receive help ourselves, and with and for the wellbeing of the planet, for God so loves this world.

           We received an urgent call from Hospice just over a week ago, asking if a minister could meet with an individual awaiting medically assisted death within an hour. They had some questions and were asking if it was possible to see someone. After processing this for a few moments in the office together, and who could possibly go quickly, I went and met with this individual and their family. Their question was simple, but very real and present. “Am I going to hell for doing this or for things I have done in my life?” My short answer was simply, “No. I do not believe God condemns us to hell.” Not directly quoting Bible verses like those we hear today, “For God so loved the world…” or “by grace you have been saved…” I shared their message in other simple words, that God loves us and this world, that Jesus came not to condemn, but save us, and this is God’s doing, God’s grace, not dependent on us. There were tears and prayers of blessing and commending this individual to God and heartfelt thanks in the short time we had together. And then it was time to leave, as a doctor and nurse arrived, and other necessary information and conversations needed to happen.

And in other moments, less critical but as significant, what possibilities and circumstances are there for us to witness to God’s love for this world and each person in it, and that Jesus came not to condemn, but to save us and all creation. The possibilities of giving attention and intention to as many encounters with people as possible, to take an extra few seconds to greet or thank people, making eye contact and acknowledging them positively and wishing them a good day or morning or evening and expressing appreciation, especially anyone who has provided some kind of service, from the hospital to the neighbourhood corner store, walking the dog, sitting and visiting, in conversation, or with family and loved ones. And the frequent response, a smile or similar gesture or word in return, moments of appreciation and compassion, of kindness and goodwill, together. And to recognize and confess when I am impatient, crabby, tired, and less than kind as well, and to give space and understanding for the pain and struggles of others, often in less privileged spaces than my own. To see every human encounter as an opportunity to share something of God’s love for this world and everyone and everything in it, not to condemn, but love and give thanks, interconnected and interdependent that we all are, and everything is, together.

And like Pastor Lyndon’s conversations and presence and speaking yesterday at the weekly march for a ceasefire in Gaza, with Muslim, Jewish and Christian voices, including others from this and neighbouring congregations, calling all sides in the war to negotiate a ceasefire, to end the killing of tens of thousands, to see the return of hostages, to imagine, as impossible as it may seem, but like the name of a local Jewish group states, “If not now, when?” that we stand together for a Holy Land where all people can live and thrive in peace.

And so also efforts for Truth and Reconciliation on these lands, and accountability for the continuing use and abuse of colonial powers in military style policing of Indigenous peoples like the Wet'suwet'en defending their lands and people and the future, like so many other Indigenous communities with them. Standing together for greater justice and accountability, lasting peace and equity and inclusion for the thriving of all people, sharing God’s love for this world and everyone and everything in it, that Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save it, interconnected and interdependent that we all are, and everything is, together.

And for the earth and all its creatures, of which we are but one, the most dependent and destructive of all creatures, but with the capacity to change and instead love this world as God does, not to condemn it to ever increasing heating and pollution and depletion, but connected and interdependent with the earth, to live in greater harmony and balance and love for the mutual thriving of all creation, together.

And so our question, with words and signs lifted-up for us this morning, in God’s so loving the world, in the cross of Christ Jesus, not to condemn the world, but to save it, not by our own doing, but by grace we are saved through faith, to look upon this love of God for all and live… What are ways we can lift up God’s loving, not condemning, the world, for neighbours and communities in our time? I invite you to share a thought or possibility… and to talk about this together…       

           Thank you for your considering and imagining this together… and let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.