JOHN 3:11-21 (NIV) - I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."
When I was younger I use to skip school now and then. It was quite a production.
I had to be careful - I did not want certain people to see me wandering around the suburb while I was supposed to be in school.
I took sides streets instead of main ones and I went into the kind of stores and places where my parents or my sister would not normally go.
While I took these precautions all the time I was sneaking around, I would wonder if the teachers would call home, or whether or not I could forge a note the next day that would convince the teachers I had been sick.
It was a lot of hard work playing hooky, but at the time, as I wandered the streets, I thought it was worth it.
Later on, however, it didn't seem to work out so well - I would say that one out of three times I skipped school I was caught that same day.
I don't know how it happened, but somehow my mother would find out what I had been up to.
She claimed to have secret sources of information, and well she might have, because that which I hid was exposed, and that which I tried to conceal ended up being known, often immediately - and if not then, later, when my report card came out with its list of days absent from school glaring up from the bottom of the last page.
In those moments of discovery I realized, often painfully so, that all the work I gone through, all the attempts to hide and conceal my actions just so I could have a bit of fun, was not worth it.
I imagine that in one way or another all of you have had similar experiences either as children - or even now as adults.
You have done something wrong, whether deliberately, or by mistake, and have then gone to considerable lengths to conceal the fact.
And then, lo and behold, you were nailed - you were found out - you were caught, and you wished then with all your heart two things: you wished that you hadn't been caught, and you wished you hadn't done what you did.
Something always seems to mess up our secret pleasures, something always seems to happen to us when we do wrong, and it happens to us whether or not we are caught right away or not.
Jesus speaks to this situation in today's gospel reading. There we find these words: Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come to the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done through God.
The lesson is clear here, but it bears repeating because we are a people who continually test the truths of God, we continually turn from what we know is right in the hope that somehow it might not be true in our particular case.
How often my friends have we come to hate the light of God, just a little bit, how often have we come to fear it, because we know that it exposes us for what we are?
How often have we become angry when we have had heard the truth about ourselves uttered by another person, angry at the fact that we have been found out or pinned down as it were, and angry at the messenger who spoke that truth.
What one of us has not experienced the anger of those who try to hide from the truth that we knew?
As members of a family or of a group of children we can most likely recall the dire consequences with which a possible speaker of truth was threatened; the words used to threaten are almost always the same: "IF YOU TELL ON ME I WILL GET YOU!"
What I am saying here in a light way, is in fact something that is quite serious.
When we get wrapped up in evil, in sin, the light, or the truth, becomes hateful to us; it becomes hateful because it can expose our duplicity, our hardness of heart, our lack of desire to change or be obedient to God.
In fact the light of God, the truth of God, becomes so hateful to some that they would rather hurt others than admit their errors, they would rather get at others than be exposed, they would rather hide within themselves, than try to change.
So it was that the prophets of Israel were rejected by the people, and so it was too that Jesus died, not just for our sins, but also because of them.
Each one of us - as a Christian - feels the pain of sin, there is a sense in which each one of us hangs on the cross with Jesus and bears the costs of the world's darkness.
And there is a sense too in which each one of us, as a sinner, as a person who avoids the light out of shame and guilt, helps to drive the nails through our Lord's hands and feet.
This truth, in fact, is part of the gospel, part of the good news of Jesus Christ - each of us has had a part in crucifying our Lord, each of us has fallen short, each of us has chosen darkness, but God - in his love for us - still reaches out God, still forgives us, God still calls us to him through the very Jesus we tried to kill, God still calls us to the light of his presence.
Thank God for that - for without that love, without that forgiveness, without that call to come to the light, we would all, quite rightly, be doomed to spend eternity in darkness - and the darkness is very dark indeed
You know - I always regretted the times I skipped school - even when it didn't hurt my rear end, - even when I was not caught, it created a wall between me and my parents, and when I was caught, it made them unhappy. We grieve God also!
We run and hide from him as Adam and Eve tried to hide in the Garden after eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
And when we cannot hide from him any longer we blame others for our faults, and try to avoid the light of his presence from shining upon us.
What do we think that God wants of us that we should cause Him all this sadness?
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
God did not send Jesus to us to condemn us - but to save us! And although we meant his death for ill, he was raised up on the cross to bring us forgiveness.
And yet so often we run from him, we run from faith in him, we would rather cling to the darkness than come to the light.
I feared being found out by my parents, I would try to avoid it, to put it off. Yet, as I described, it would happen, and they would call me up on the carpet and ask me to explain myself.
You know the surprising thing was - when I was honest, when I confessed; when I took responsibility straight up, and even when I did not - at first anyway, things eventually came out well.
I would have to make some kind of amends, but the fear I experienced before being caught disappeared; the wall between me and my parents, the wall I erected, by avoiding the truth, came down; and the pain and disappointment that they felt would - as I took hold of what they wanted of me, would also vanish.
In my childhood there were laws and rules, things that were expected of me, but there was also love and forgiveness; and the only thing preventing me from experiencing these were my own actions.
My parents were not out to get me - It seems I was out to get myself.
One of the certainties of life is this: It is harder to do evil than to do good. It is harder to live in darkness than walk in the light.
So why do we fool around so much? Why do we allow ourselves to be content with so much unhappiness and pain?
For some it is because of fear. They believe that being open about their mistakes and honest about their inability to resist temptation will make them vulnerable; that confession will lead to punishment and their lives will be ruined...
They have forgotten the lessons of childhood, they have forgotten that there is mercy, and indeed respect and honour given to those who face up to their mistakes: and while there may be some act of atonement needed there is also reconciliation and the lifting of unbearable burdens. Life is improved.
Others live in darkness and hate the light, because they do not believe that there is anything better. They think that the struggle and the pain we experience is all there is to life.
They don't believe in anything but themselves and what they know, and though they feel threatened and insecure, they puff themselves up and strut and caw and proclaim what foolishness faith and love are, as if by saying it much these things will go away.
But they do not - faith, hope and love are eternal, they are the gifts of God and they will not perish, while doubt, and mockery, and hatred and all who live by these, will surely die.
When all is said and done it all boils down to faith, and to the reality to which faith points, the reality of God - the creator of life, the Saviour of the lost and the strength of those who live in hope.
The scripture we heard today said: "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already."
He is condemned my friends because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. He is condemned because he has not believed in the power of truth, the power of goodness, the power of love, He is condemned because he does not believe in God's mercy shown through Jesus Christ.
He is condemned - not because God has condemned him, but because he has not wanted to walk in the light, he has not wanted to walk by love and by faith in the Creator of life and so - because he wants it this way - He is condemned and his suffering has already begun...
But this need not be the end of the story for anyone, there is nothing too bad that God cannot forgive, there is no one too lost that God cannot find them, there is no man too wicked that God cannot transform, and there is no life that God cannot change.
God yearns to do these things, he yearns for us to turn to the light, and to walk towards him.
Like the father in the tale of the prodigal son, God runs down the path to meet us when we desire to come home, God welcomes us with the same joy that a poor man experiences when he finds some coins that he lost, with the same relief and thanksgiving a shepherd feels when he finds the sheep that have strayed.
What fools we can be - we work so hard to make things easy for ourselves, we suffer so much so that we might feel no pain, we spend billions of dollars to win millions, we reject others and complain that we are not loved, we turn, stumble and fall in the darkness and refuse to come to the light that is freely offered to us all.
While Jesus hung on the cross he prayed to God about us, saying: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do"
God heard that pray and answered it when he raised Jesus from the dead.
We do not know what we do, my friends when we walk alone, in fear and in the dark.
Come instead and behold the words and ways of God, he who made the lights of the heavens, will light your path. Harken to him in the words we have heard from Jesus, and see his ways in the actions of the Christ.
Believe and be born anew, come from darkness and enter into the light for God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.