A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John:
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. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’
Here ends the reading.
Today is mothering Sunday – when we reflect and show appreciation for all the love given to us by our mothers or those who have been like mothers to us. If you’re anything like me, there was always one dreaded sentence that you never wished to hear uttered by any parent or guardian. ‘I’m not angry with what you’ve done – I’m just disappointed’. I’ll give you a moment to think of your own particular crime, obviously this is just hypothetical for me – I never done anything wrong going up.
What made that phrase so dreaded – so effective – was the fact that it came not from a place of anger – which you could maybe defend yourself against, getting angry yourself in the process – but it came from a place of love. Love which has been given by a parent, but not responded to and not returned by whatever bad behavior has gone on. Love that rendered you defenseless. Love that made you not only accountable to your parent, but accountable to yourself in a way that was far more uncomfortable than anything anger could ever produce.
Often when we hear about being judged – whether by a human being or even by God, we automatically start thinking about anger instead of love. But what I want to suggest is that, the judgement talked about in the bible is most often that of love – like that love of a mother or parent. When John in today’s gospel spoke about love and judgement, he wasn’t mentioning two things that came into the world – but one thing: the overwhelming love of God we meet in Jesus Christ, but for some – that love was experienced as judgement and for others, it felt like joy.
For some people that love feels so overwhelming, so free, so unconditionally generous, that they grasp hold of it and respond by trusting it and gain eternal life. For others, they hear about this overwhelming love of God and they feel ashamed or unworthy and retreat. This love may feel far worst than any anger or any condemnation that could have been given by God because it feels like that mother saying I’m disappointed, not angry. Some people cannot accept and receive love, whether human or divine because God’s selfless love holds a mirror up to ourselves and reveals how little we love ourselves, love others, or love God in that way. That’s real judgement, the judgement of love and so some people, like Adam in the Garden after the first sin, want to hide from love; hide from God and hide from their true selves.
The good news is exactly what John says: God’s loving intention, your mother or parent’s intention, was never to condemn or reject you. It was always to restore the relationship; heal the wounds and help you to ultimately feel loved and valued. Voices on TV or in popular books often call us to simply love ourselves more without reference to anyone else; but we know fine well that much of how we feel about ourselves depends on how much love we’re received from parents or guardians and others around us. God knew that we needed more than self-love, we needed unconditional love not just from within but from outside ourselves, and that’s exactly what we receive in Jesus Christ. God loves you enough to give his Son for you and your eternal worth and value is based on his love for you rather than anyone else’s. May you embrace God’s love instead of hiding from it and move on to delight in him as he delights in you, not only now, but for the eternity he has made you for.
Heavenly Father, you so loved us that you sacrificed your only Son, giving up your joy as a parent, that we might become your children – now and forever.
We thank you for those who have been good parents, guardians and friends to us; for all who have nourished our development; grown us as human beings; showed us love unconditionally. Help us to return that love, without shying away from it, giving it freely as we have received it in Christ.
We pray for the many health care workers, who pour out their lives – day after day – out of concern for others. Please grant them strength in their vocation; success in their endeavors and the knowledge that they are loved by you and by all of us throughout the country who admire their sacrifice and service.
Restore those who feel alone or in distress at this time, reassuring them that your love crossed the distance of time and eternity, to be close to them in Jesus. Help us your church to be a place where the only judgement is that of unconditional love, which makes anyone and everyone feel valued. Help Kevin our Bishop and all who labour with him, whether lay or ordained, in this great task of sharing your love with the world.
All of these prayers we ask in the name of your Son, our saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.