This morning, we heard what I believe is one of the most beautifully written passages in the Bible, the prologue to St. John’s Gospel. I am amazed at how poetically he outlines the movement of the creator from the beginning of time to the birth of Jesus. I am awed by how he manages to describe the complex relationship between Jesus and the Father by simply stating, “ In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.” As we listened to our Gospel this morning, it is almost impossible not to get overwhelmed with how every line seems to spin a spider web through both the Old and New Testaments as he connects everything we know about God to Jesus at the center of the web.
This morning, instead of attempting to preach on the whole of this passage, I would like to focus our attention on the following statement. “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
As I read these words, I was immediately transported back to the Garden of Eden, to that moment when Adam and Eve were instructed not to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Even in our earliest stories of the beginning, humanity has recognized that we are autonomous creatures in relationship to God. In essence, we are not made to be mere puppets of the creator, only able to do the will of the Creator. Instead, we have been blessed with the ability to remember and to reason. These gifts are the foundation of independent thought and action. And so, God knew when God placed Adam and Eve in the garden and gave them free reign within Eden that they would have to choose to be obedient to God every moment of every day.
As we leave the garden and journey forward in time, humanity is again faced with a choice. Only this time, the choice takes place in the wilderness of the Sinai and comes as Moses hands down the Law, Torah. It is at the end of reading the Law of God that the people are told, “on this day I give you life and death, blessing and curse, choose life.”
At no time in human history has God ever forced our hand towards obedience. Throughout all of human history, we have been given the opportunity to freely choose to make the will of God part of our lives or not. St. Paul, and many Christian writers since, have referred to this as free will, the freedom to accept or reject the divine within our lives even, as St. John tells us, in our relationship with the Incarnate Word itself.
So many times, after we have witnessed human tragedy caused by human hands, such as the events that have occurred recently in Rochester, Newtown, and Benghazi, clergy are asked where God was. And most times the answer is simple, God was there. God was present before the event, God was present during the event and God is present after the event. And, God was active trying to prevent the devastation, but God does not force God’s will upon the individual. As with Adam and Eve, in all of these cases it is the serpent, who, in a moment of great human weakness, lures us into the darkness and deafens us to the voice of God. For the Word of God, as St. John tell us, is only heard by those who choose to listen.
Our line from St. John does not end with our discussion of free will. He moves on to tell us that those who choose to believe in Jesus receive the power to become Children of God. In this simple line, John tells the reader the requirements for salvation have changed. No longer must one be born a child of Abraham to receive the benefits of Yahweh. No longer must one become imprisoned to the laws of Torah in order to find righteousness. Instead, one is adopted as a child of God simply by trusting in and choosing the Word, the Christ, the light over the darkness of evil.
What this tells us is, through Christ, a level playing field has been established with God and all are offered the resources necessary to find salvation. This statement may also provide us a sense of what divine justice may look like.
At the last two vestry meetings, the vestry and I have focused our attention on the concept of what divine justice may be. I have found these discussions timely given the currant political wrangling over the fiscal cliff. It appears as we look at the debate in congress, the root of the disagreement pertains to what constitutes a just society and how taxation and entitlement programs form the foundation of this justice. The answer to this question is not as simple yes or no. If we live in a society where we believe all human life is sacred and all are entitled to some basic standard of living, then entitlement programs do work and need to be supported. . . as long as they don’t foster dependency. Entitlement programs are part of a system of justice when they foster independence and empower the recipient towards growing into their optimum potential.
In today’s Gospel, John tells us that Jesus has been offered to all people, but to those who choose to believe, the power, or opportunity, to become children of God is granted. What St. John does not say here is that all is said and done at conversion. Instead, he infers that conversion or belief is the first step in a process of transformation that leads us to becoming children of God. Martin Luther, during the fourteenth century, introduced the concept of Sanctification. It is the life-long process of becoming Christ-like.
So often I have heard people tell me they are saved because they have been baptized, as if the waters of Baptism have inoculated them against the fires of damnation. This is contrary to what St. John tells us, for there is no easy fix, no single stop on the road to transformation. And, from John’s perspective, no one fully becomes a child of God.
This is why he does not end the prologue here, instead he adds in the really Good News. To those who choose to believe, grace upon grace is given. In essence, salvation is not won as a prize in this lifetime, instead, to those who choose to believe; who are willing to struggle with the divine will throughout their lives, divine grace is given. And that grace is the assurance that no matter where we are in the journey, or to what point we are on Luther’s scale of sanctification, upon our deaths, a new life in the Heavenly Kingdom is given. It is given to us because, those who choose to believe are given the ability to become children of God.