This past Tuesday morning, I was supposed to be in the city for a meeting at the Diocesan Center.
But I couldn’t get there. Not the way I thought I would, anyway.
When I tried to turn onto Sheridan Road from Evanston, it was blocked. So I turned another way, couldn’t get through to the main roads by that route, either. There were police officers everywhere, it seemed, and helicopters pulsed the air overhead. Every place in Edgewater was jammed up. I tried to keep going and turning where I could, gave thanks for the fact that Siri has a better sense of direction than I do. I wondered and wondered again what was going on.
Eventually, I learned, as you likely know, that it was a bomb threat. It was a bomb threat against children at the Jewish Day School…a bomb threat against the teachers and staff who serve there…a threat against everybody in that neighborhood and in this city who expected to be able to go about their everyday lives on a Tuesday morning.
We don’t know much about Abram in the time before God calls to him in today’s first lesson. The twelfth chapter in the book of Genesis picks up after a long genealogy that includes explanations of who lived where and for how long, who their children were, and so on, all the way down to Abram. So we know Abram has family, and we know he lives in a place called Haran, which, it turns out means “crossroads.”
And we know that God tells Abram to leave all that.
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” God says.
To the land that I will show you?!
“I will bless you…so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the ones who curse you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
“So,” the text tells us, “Abram went.”
Nicodemus goes to Jesus at night, in today’s gospel reading. The time of day matters, in John’s gospel. Maybe it’s because Nicodemus is a Pharisee, and so he approaches Jesus on the sly in the hope that no one will see him go. Maybe it’s about the symbolic confusion of darkness, as opposed to the clarity of light. Or maybe it’s as simple as the fact that evening is the traditional time to study Torah. Whatever the reason, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. And what follows is a conversation that involves Nicodemus – who is clearly a smart guy – basically saying, “I don’t understand what you’re talking about. How can this be?” …And it involves Jesus says a series of things in response that are perhaps not super-helpful in moving Nicodemus toward that understanding he seeks.
After that comes this well-known and frequently-memorized verse, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” That verse is followed by another, not-so-well-known or well-memorized verse: “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.”
So we have the first reading, in which God calls an unknown and imperfect man named Abram, standing at a crossroads, who will be known as Abraham and celebrated as the father of faith. God calls him to give up what he knows in favor of the blessing that God promises.
And we have a gospel story between a smart Pharisee and the Savior, in which Nicodemus asks: “What are you about?” and Jesus responds: “Love. God’s insistent love for you and for the whole world.”
Even though John 3:16 can get used to generalize, or as a litmus test about who’s in and who’s out, God’s story of love is always particular. “For God so loved the world…” happens person by person by person. God loves Adam when he breathes the first breath into him. And God loves Eve and Adam, offering them clothes as protection when they have to leave the Garden. God loves Noah, and his family, and all those animals as they board the boat. God loves David, the youngest son out taking care of the sheep, who will become a great king. God loves Mary, who says Yes. And God loves Martha, who fusses over dinner. God loves the disciples as they come, one by one, to follow Jesus. God loves the paralyzed man by the pool with nobody to help him in. And God loves the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. God loves Peter, even as he swears an oath and says for the third time before dawn: “I do not know the man.” And God loves Mary Magdalene, who stands confused at the tomb, until she hears Jesus say her name.
God loves them all. God blesses them as a blessing.
And so I hold these passages, and the lessons that they have for us. I claim their authority for a world that needs to know right know that God’s repetitive and insistent message is not condemnation, but love…that God’s pervading promise is blessing and salvation.
I hold these passages in trust that God’s story of love is every bit as particular right now as it is throughout the stories of the Bible. Because if it is, then “For God so loved the world…” means that God loves the refugee dad doing everything he knows how to do, to help his family survive as strangers in a new life. It means that God loves the lesbian student who is living into her identity. It means God loves the woman who was shamed by a judge in court. It means God loves the man who used to get by doing construction work, and can’t anymore. It means God loves the Lakota Sioux chief who chants today, right now, even, in front of the Washington Monument.
“For God so loved the world…” has to mean, this week, that God loves every single child who had to leave their classroom at the Jewish Day School in Edgewater on Tuesday morning, and that God loves every single officer who ensured their safe return.
“I will bless those who bless you,” God says. “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
People of St. Augustine’s Church, I call you to live as the theologians you are.
I call you to look for the God Sightings in your lives that show forth divine and insistent actions of blessing and love.
I call you to claim those moments, and witness them to a world that knows too much of condemnation and terror and isolation and sneering cynicism.
In your words and in your actions, I call you to proclaim release from those things we know too much, from all that would separate us from one another and from God. I call you to insist on God’s promise, with us and for us.
Because God so loves the world. Because in you all the earth will be blessed.
 Donald P. Olson “Genesis: Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Volume 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. 52.
 Thanks to Karoline Lewis for her column this week that framed the idea for much of this sermon: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=4835