Welcome to worship for this 2nd Sunday in Lent, March 5, 2023!
The bulletin can be found here. We have another new hymn from the ACS book this week, and so the music for it will be in this bulletin, along with the order and words of the liturgy, the other hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the sermon in full. All the words (and new music) will be on your screen and the sermon is on this page below the video as well.
For a fuller worship experience, you’re invited to light a candle in your space to remind you of our connection through the Spirit and light of Christ, and the candle can be extinguished near the end of the service with the altar candles after the sending hymn, to symbolise our prayers ascending to God. You are also invited to participate in communion with something small to eat and drink prepared and ready to consume at the appropriate time during the service. Further instruction will be given then.
May God’s gracious welcome and love flow through your hearts and lives, this day and always!
God of all wonders, we come before you seeking understanding and the new life that you offer through your Word, and by the power of your Spirit you graciously grant it to us. Illumine our hearts and minds this day, that we might see and believe the eternal life found in you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
With the pandemic, we got a lot of catch phrases that I don’t remember hearing before. Things like “social distancing”, “contact tracing”, and “bubbles”. We learned all these medical terms like “droplets”, “asymptomatic”, and “P.P.E.” We heard things coined like “fake news”, “alternative facts”, and “mainstream media”. But I think one of the phrases that scares me the most didn’t really start during the pandemic I don’t think, but it for sure gained a lot of traction because of it. This phrase scares me because it’s like no one is safe from it, anyone could get caught up in it, and it was a generally slippery slope once you’re affected by it. And no, it isn’t “speaking moistly”, but it’s this “cancel culture” that we find ourselves in now.
Basically the cancel culture gives society the right to exclude, chastise, basically cancel anyone who doesn’t fit the very specific mold that was set by society. While the punishments for someone cancelled wouldn’t be anything serious like jail time unless they did something actually illegal, but it was more like a social shaming, a open ousting, and a total ruin of reputation. Being cancelled usually led to internet infamy, loss of employment and likely any prospect of future employment, and just a seemingly permanent labelling as an awful person.
Getting cancelled is scary.
But you might be thinking, “you’re a pastor, you can’t get cancelled. You have to do something wrong or immoral or tweet something reprehensible, there’s no way a pastor could do that, is there?” Um… well, I might need to plead the 5th on that one (and yes, I know we’re in Canada and we don’t have the 5th here, but I’m pleading it anyway because I’m not sure what the Canadian equivalent is. Yes, I’m stalling).
The fact of the matter is, I have skeletons in my closet too. I was young and dumb at a point in my life as well. I’ve exercised poor judgement, made bad decisions, and said some pretty tone deaf and colour blind things. I’ve done these things, and I like will continue to mess up. And now I get that I’ve completely defeated the purpose of pleading the 5th, but there you go.
So now that you have my incriminating confession, should I be cancelled now? Should I be driven out of my job as a pastor, role as a father, and position in society? Do I need to be condemned for my sin?
That’s what this cancel culture demands these days, isn’t it? Cancelling those who did something that shouldn’t have been done? Since the before the pandemic we’ve seen politicians being cancelled for appearing racist, we’ve seen celebrities being cancelled for taking advantage of their celebrity-ness, and unfortunately we have seen clergy being cancelled for doing something immoral. But now it seems like just being associated with something that might press the hot topic button is grounds for being cancelled.
Now, I’m not at all saying that what these people have done is ok, nor am I condoning the notion that we should be able to do whatever we please without consequence or repercussion, but what I am wondering about on this 2nd Sunday in Lent is if this cancel culture that we find ourselves in really the only appropriate response to people’s transgressions? Is it within our rights as fellow humans on this planet to cancel others because we don’t like or disagree with what they’ve done and said or even who they are? And what does Jesus say about it all?
Well, nothing specifically, mostly because the term “cancel culture” wasn’t even a thing yet, but we can get an idea from Jesus’ teachings. Take today’s gospel lesson for example, as with many of these colourful characters we get in John’s gospel, we’re pretty familiar with Nicodemus. We’re familiar with his seemingly pompous attitudes of “knowing” this and that. We’re familiar with his inability to understand what Jesus means by being born from above. We’re familiar with his coming to Jesus at night for a whole variety of speculated reasons but I think perhaps the most likely reason judging from the context is that Nicodemus here didn’t want to be cancelled by being seen galivanting with the so-called enemy.
We’re also familiar with Jesus’ on-again/off-again relationship with these Pharisees, how they might think they’re right all the time but Jesus continually just puts them in their place through absolutely ingenious ways. Being seen to be on Jesus’ side wouldn’t have been a good look for a Pharisee in those days, as Jesus broke pretty much every mold that they’ve made for themselves and each other, molds that they held very dear and near to their hearts, molds that were thought to make them righteous, faithful, and the pietistic marvels that they saw themselves as. No, being seen with Jesus would have gotten him cancelled for sure.
And this attitude of the Pharisees that I just described, doesn’t it seem kind of familiar? Sure, we in the church who follow Jesus frown upon it because we know that Jesus didn’t like it, but how often are these attitudes adopted in our lives or in the lives of those that we look up to? This attitude of “I’m right so you’re wrong and deserve to be cancelled”? This attitude of drawing hard and fast lines between opinions, viewpoints, and paradigms? This attitude of exclusion, segregation, and condemnation?
Yup, it’s this cancel culture that we’re in. And I should be clear, I’m not saying that the cancel culture is a liberal thing or a conservative thing, it isn’t a religious thing or a political thing, and it certainly isn’t an exclusively “woke” thing. But in my opinion, it’s a self-righteous thing, it’s a hate thing, it’s a sin thing. And the fact of the matter is, we all have sin. We all might not have cancelled someone out of our lives or participated in ruining someone because of what they’ve done, but I think we can say that we all have sin. We might not have boycotted someone because of their beliefs or past tweets, but I think we’ve all made assumptions about others and put labels on them because of what we’ve heard about them. We might not have condemned others because of our disagreement with them, but I’m pretty sure we probably really really wanted to.
But even in our self-righteousness, Jesus humbles us with grace and mercy and shows us how we’ve been redeemed by God’s own doing. Even in our hate, Jesus reveals to us through the resurrection how much we are loved and cherished by God. Even in our condemning of others, Jesus proclaims that we are saved.
“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.”
Hear that? God didn’t send the Son to condemn, exclude, or cancel, but instead so the world can be saved. Reminds me of a meme I saw, “If Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, I doubt he sent you.”
Right? Who made us the morality police? Who said we’re the authorities on what is right and wrong? Who gave us the right to cancel and condemn? Well, no one. Not God at least. We just gave it to ourselves, just like how the Pharisees did.
And so what should we do then? Cancel those who cancel? Condemn those who condemn? Hate those who hate? It’s like it just turns into a vicious cycle of exclusion and self-righteousness. But I think the answer is in that first part of that very famous passage I just quoted, about God loving the world. And maybe we should follow that example. Love the world as God loves the world. See the world as redeemed as we see ourselves as redeemed. Don’t condemn the world as even Jesus wasn’t here to condemn, but to save. So let us see the life brought into the world by the Spirit. See the joy that comes from God’s gracious forgiveness. See the love shown to us by Jesus, this non-condemning, saving, welcoming and inclusive love.
So let’s let go of the pressures of managing the world. Let’s let go of the self-given responsibility to fix the world. Let’s let go need to cancel and condemn, and embrace the grace and mercy given to us all by a benevolent God, maker of heaven and earth.
In this season of Lent, may we see God’s love for this world, changing us by grace, redeeming us by mercy, and giving us life through the reforming birth from above. Thanks be to God. Amen.