April 19, 2021
The Easter 4B Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for John 10:11-18 from the Lectionary Gospel; Acts 4:5-12 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 23 from the Lectionary Psalms; and 1 John 3:16-24 from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: Lectionary Epistle: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 106 (Lord’s Day 40)
Author: Scott Hoezee
Those of you who are familiar with art may recall a funny habit that many Medieval painters practiced for quite a long time in Europe, and particularly in Germany. Artists such as Lukas Cranach and others painted many depictions of biblical scenes but they did so with the curious twist of dressing the biblical characters in the contemporary garb of the Middle Ages. Whether it is the scene in the Bethlehem stable or the one below of Christ blessing the little children, you see the characters arrayed not in whatever people actually wore in the Middle East in the first century but the attire of Medieval Europe.
But this mixing up of the old with the new and the past with the current must also have caused some eyebrows to be raised. Can you imagine what most conservative Christians today would say if some artist painted a portrait depicting Joseph in a pair of Gap jeans, Mary wearing Ralph Lauren blouse, and the magi in snappy suits from Armani?! There would almost surely be an outcry. You should not import the holy, sacred images of Scripture into a contemporary setting like that. It creates confusion, doesn’t seem terribly respectful. And anyway we perhaps risk “losing” something of the original presentation by mixing it up with the trappings of our modern world.
But in a real way, can we even avoid looking at the old through the lens of what is current? In this Eastertide lection from the Year B Common Lectionary we arrive at the most famous metaphor for Jesus in the Bible: the good shepherd. We have all likely seen one form or another of this particular image depicted countless times in most of the churches we have ever visited, on greeting cards, in artwork, and in many more places besides.
The odd thing, though, is that although the world still has shepherds in it, the experience of being with a shepherd is as foreign to most of us as being with a real cowboy in Idaho or with some Eskimo fishermen in Alaska. We know that such people exist, but we don’t have much to do with them and so their jobs and lifestyles don’t loom terribly large on our mental horizon most days. We know far more about teachers, lawyers, doctors, business people, and accountants than we do about shepherds.
But although the imagery seems outdated, has humanity in the modern world really outgrown its need for someone to love us fiercely and forever the way only a truly good shepherd can? In our quiet and secret moments, we yearn for someone stronger and wiser to take care of us. As Neal Plantinga once wrote, those of us who were raised in solid and good homes carry around with us the memory of how delicious it was to be tucked into our cozy beds at night without worries that would threaten our rest. Kids go to bed without fretting about whether ice will back up under the shingles, or whether the forecasted heavy weather will turn violent, or whether the bills can be paid, or whether someone at the IRS might just find that one tax deduction a bit too creative. No, as children we wriggled drowsily in our beds awash in the knowledge that someone else was in charge and so we happily allowed ourselves to slip over the edge of slumber the way only a child can, with literally no cares to make our minds too busy to sleep.
We adults carry that memory in our sub-conscious and we yearn for something like it again. Indeed, we pine for it even more acutely because now we know what it is like to live without that security. Now we know what it’s like to wait for results from the pathology lab. Now we know what it’s like to watch a deadly storm roar ever closer on the TV’s radar scope. Now maybe we’ve gone through the pain of having to bid first grandparents and then parents and finally even friends a final goodbye.
Has our need for a good shepherd really faded just because our familiarity with sheep and shepherds is not as acute as was perhaps true for the people who first heard these words spoken by Jesus? Hardly. We still live in a dangerous world. Wolves abound. We will never come to a day when we will not need someone who will care for us no matter what. We need someone who can see every wolf that runs our way and who will get killed himself rather than abandon any one of us sheep as statistically insignificant. We need someone with the vision and the wisdom to lead us safely through the landmine-pocked landscapes of life in a world which is as bewildering as this one often proves to be.
Unless you really think that it is easy to see your way clearly through the multiple ethical quagmires that technology and genetic engineering are creating, then you need to be led around by someone vastly smarter than you. Unless you really think that you on your own can resolve the toughest questions of justice which confront us today, then you need a shepherd you can trust to lead you along toward that better day when justice will roll down live a mighty river and flood every street and back alley of this creation.
So go ahead and put modern clothing on Jesus the Good Shepherd. But however we choose to update the imagery, we cannot deny that today as much as ever, everybody needs a shepherd.
The Gospel of John is oddly devoid of the much-loved parables of Jesus that make up such a significant portion of the Synoptic Gospels. Maybe by the time John set his gospel down in writing he figured the world did not need a third or fourth re-tread of some of those great stories Jesus used to tell. Instead John took note of another tendency Jesus had when speaking: his use of the “I Am” phrase. Ever the theologian, John knew full well the resonances that phrase carries for those familiar with the divine Name as it first emerged in Exodus 3: “Tell that ‘I Am’ sent you” is what Yahweh told to Moses when he inquired after the divine moniker. And so every time Jesus opened his mouth to start a sentence with the Greek phrase Ego eimi, theologically astute people know the weight and import of those words on Jesus’ lips.
Maybe one way to liven up a sermon on a passage / an image as overly familiar to many people as the Good Shepherd would be to take a broader perspective on John’s Gospel and all those many places where Jesus utters an “I Am” saying. After all, in the course of John Jesus will claim to be a door, a shepherd, a loaf of bread, a road, a light, a grapevine, and a resurrection.
That’s not a typical way people speak.
Years ago on the news program 60 Minutes the singer Paul Simon said that not long after Simon & Garfunkel released the iconic song Mrs. Robinson with its refrain “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you,” DiMaggio himself contacted Simon to express bafflement as to what that line could possibly mean. After all, DiMaggio had not gone anywhere—why, he was a spokesman for Mr. Coffee now! “He had not yet,” Simon told Ed Bradley, “begun to think of himself as a metaphor.”
Great observation. But then, who does think of him- or herself metaphorically? Wouldn’t we wonder about a co-worker who was known regularly to spout lines like “I am the antibody that protects my family from the virus of secularism” or “I am the oil that keeps our company’s pistons well-lubed”? Who talks that way?
Jesus did. And as C.S. Lewis once observed, a man who spouts such lines as “I am the Light” and “I am a Gate” is either the single most important person you might ever meet or a man as nuts as someone who walks around claiming to be a poached egg. Christians find John 10 to be so meaningful because we’ve opted to believe what also Peter said in Acts 4 (another lection assigned for this Year B Sunday in Eastertide): Jesus is now so vital, that only by his name can a person be saved.
Because that is true, all those otherwise odd “I Am” sayings in John turn out to be not so odd after all.
Author: Stan Mast
Until now, the story of early Christianity has been all good, very good, in fact. Pentecost has filled the infant church with the Holy Spirit. Peter has preached the first Christian sermon with the crucified and risen Christ at the very center, and the result was spectacular—3000 converts in one day! Then came the first recorded miracle, the healing of a man who had never walked in his 40 years of living, which led to a stampede in the direction of Peter and John. That became the occasion for Peter’s second sermon, another Christ centered message that expanded on the world changing effects of Christ’s death and resurrection. That resulted in 2000 more coming to Christ. What a beginning! It was all good.
But then the inevitable happened. The hubbub around the cripple and Peter’s second sermon drew the attention of the power structure of the Temple. “The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees… were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” Here is the first sign of opposition to the preaching of the Easter Gospel.
It wouldn’t be the last, which makes this a very relevant text for our post-Christian pluralistic society. In fact, I see three gnarly contemporary issues that must be confronted in this text: speaking truth to power, word versus deed evangelism, and the offense of the gospel’s particularity.
This is the first time power confronted the church and the church responded by speaking truth to that power. That power was the Supreme Court of Judaism. After imprisoning Peter and John overnight in order to marshal their forces, the rulers (the priests whose family pedigree earned them a place in the Sanhedrin), the elders (men of social prominence), and the teachers of the law (for whom education was their ticket to the table)—all the powers that were, summoned Peter and John and began to question them.
This was a very dangerous situation. These were the very people who had killed Jesus. They thought they had put a stop to that blaspheming traitor who threatened their nation and their leadership. Now these rubes were stirring things up by talking about a risen Jesus. The people in power were threatened by that message.
So, they questioned Peter and John. Their question centered not on the fact of that miracle of healing, but on “the power or name” by which the apostles did it. The powers never did argue about whether the miracle occurred; everyone knew the cripple and there he stood in their midst. Their concern was with how it got done, and particularly what it had to do with this Jesus. In fact, they knew the answer to their question; they just needed to hear it in court, so they could legally get these troublemakers out of the way.
How does Peter respond? He speaks truth to power. In our day that often means challenging things like racism with calls for social injustice or confronting abuses of governmental power with reminders that we are a government “of the people.” Those are important words to speak. But that’s now how Peter speaks truth to power. He speaks the simple Gospel.
Well, it wasn’t so simple. He starts with the basic historical facts: “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you today.”
That was confrontational enough, but then he took it a step further when he asserts that their rejection of Jesus was the fulfilment of a major Old Testament prophecy (Psalm 118:22. Jesus is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone or cornerstone.” With the Temple in the background, Peter says, in effect, you men are in charge of the Temple and the religion it represents. But you have rejected the one who is the very capstone of the whole religion.
If that wasn’t enough of a punch in the nose and a kick in the gut, Peter goes on to make a claim that has offended and saved millions: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
I will deal with that last universal/particular claim later, but for now let’s focus on the way Peter spoke truth to power. He boldly proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was asked how “did you do this?” But he deflected attention away from himself and focused it entirely on Jesus. Rather than being cowed by the powers that be, he challenged their power, named their sin, and proclaimed how they could be saved.
While the church definitely has a role to play in confronting the powers of our age when they are guilty of injustice and unrighteousness, Peter shows us that naming sin and challenging power are not enough. Until and unless we preach Christ this boldly and clearly, we won’t change the world as deeply as it needs to be changed. But, out of fear of opposition or offending, we have often not spoken Gospel truth to power.
Instead, we have substituted good deeds for speaking the Gospel. Everyone knows the famous dictum attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. “Always preach the Gospel and when necessary, use words.” Peter and John show us that, while good deeds are necessary, so is the preaching of the Gospel.
It was a good deed, “an act of kindness shown to a cripple,” that drew both an amazed crowd and an angry Sanhedrin.” That miracle gained the Gospel a hearing. Doing acts of kindness (and we might add, justice) are an absolutely crucial part of the church’s ministry to the world, even as it was part of Christ’s ministry. Loving our neighbor as ourselves is essential to Christian discipleship.
But we cannot make disciples unless we “teach them everything I have commanded you (Matt. 28:19).” Deeds without explanatory words will leave the attention focused on us; “how did you do this?” It is always “necessary to use words,” for “how shall they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have never heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:14).”
Many of us hesitate to “preach” because we’re not preachers (and even many of us preachers hesitate to speak truth to power when we are out of our pulpits). We aren’t comfortable; we are intimidated into silence; we don’t know what to say. Peter’s example is very helpful in three obvious ways. First, he was “filled with the Holy Spirit (verse 8).” Second, he spoke simply of Jesus—his death and his resurrection and his power to save. While his sermons to inquiring crowds were complex and detailed, his words in a threatening situation were simple and direct. And, third, he “had been with Jesus (verse 13).” We don’t have to choose between “acts of kindness” and speaking boldly of Jesus. Both are essential to making disciples.
But often we are silent these days not because we are afraid of persecution, but because we don’t want to offend people of other faiths or no faith. I mean, it’s one thing to say that Jesus is my Savior and Lord. It’s quite another to say, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Gabriel Fackre puts it well: “How dare we declare the ‘scandal of particularity’ when we need to get along with the variety of religions on our doorstep? When there is so much good in people of other religion or even no faith?”
It was one thing for Peter to confront the Sanhedrin with their sin in rejecting and crucifying their own Christ. At least he wasn’t rejecting their whole religion. But how can we tell people that, however beautiful and helpful and true some elements of their religion may be, there is only one Savior and his name is Jesus? This concern about sounding arrogant and negative and narrow has silenced the church in many places. Or at least it has reduced our conversation with other religions to interfaith dialogue in place of Gospel proclamation.
How shall we preach this today? Some have moved in the direction of an accommodating pluralism which sees Peter’s words as time and culture bound. He was speaking metaphorically in a situation of high stress, staking out the claims of the infant church in strong terms that don’t fit in our situation. Others, pointing out that the church back then was enmeshed in a culture as pluralistic as ours, maintain that we must speak with the sharp particularism of Peter. He was speaking not metaphorically, but metaphysically. Jesus actually is the only Savior, for everyone.
That last phrase is important—for everyone. As particular as Peter’s gospel is (“salvation in one else”), there is also a universalism in his claim. This is a Gospel, not just for one nation or people, but for everyone “under heaven.” There is no intent to exclude people in this particular gospel; Peter’s bold message includes everyone who will come to that Savior.
It is worth noting that, whereas other Gospel messages in the New Testament include a call to repentance and faith in Christ, this one does not. Which leads some to suggest that, while no one can be saved apart from this Savior, it may be that God will save people through this Savior, even though they didn’t have faith– either because they had never heard about him or because they weren’t able to believe because of age or mental ability or because they had been so damaged by sin that faith was impossible. This is a whole other question, of course, one best left to God alone.
So, yes, there are difficulties with this message of Peter. But if we ever want to see the church grow and thrive and change the world the way it did back then, we must speak Gospel truth to power, combine good deeds with Gospel proclamation, and dare to say that Jesus is the only Savior there is for anyone and everyone.
I have a cluster of keys in my pocket—keys for two cars, keys for my house, keys for my office, keys that open I know not what. They all look nice; they all function for opening something; they all promise that they will do something helpful for me. But the simple fact is that none of them will open my house except the house key. There is only one key to my house. That may be narrow, but it is the truth. So it is with the only Savior of the whole world.
Author: Scott Hoezee
Psalm 23 is hands down the most famous poem in the Hebrew Psalter. People seem to read their own lives and experiences into this lyric little song. That is quite amazing given how foreign most of the imagery is. Have you ever met a shepherd? Spent any time with sheep? Has your head ever been actually anointed with oil? Have you ever had a feast while your enemies were forced to look on? If the answer to some or all of these questions is “No,” then we have to wonder why this unfamiliar imagery is nonetheless so familiar to us.
Probably it is because what underlies these words is something we all know deep in our bones: the need to be cared for. The need to be watched over. Granted, the George Gershwin ballad “Someone to Watch over Me” is all about romantic love but on a more general level, we know the feeling. “Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost lamb? I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood I know I could, always be good to one who’ll watch over me . . .”
Maybe we feel this need the more acutely because sometimes it feels like there are not many shepherds around. We don’t have shepherds much in the wider society. Today we have managers. But shepherds and managers are not the same.
Whenever Jesus uses the pastoral image of a shepherd for himself (and see this week’s Year B Gospel Lection for such an instance), the point is nearly always the same: as the good shepherd of his sheep, he will risk his life and even temporarily abandon the flock if that’s what it takes to save the one lost sheep. As the true shepherd who loves his sheep, he will let himself be killed rather than see one single sheep harmed. In every image of the flock which Jesus employs, it is always clear that as important as the whole flock is, each individual sheep is as important to him as is the larger collective.
But many folks today don’t think that way at all. Instead we hear about giant corporations that do cost-benefit analyses for their products. They calculate how much risk they can get away with in an effort to pad the bottom line by not having to lay out any extra money for additional safeguards or further costly research & development.
So food companies have been known to let certain products hit the market despite their knowing right up front that there is a slight risk that certain people could well get sick from this food and maybe even die. But if the percentage of people at risk for that is small enough as to be statistically insignificant, then they forge ahead. Politicians often live by polls and so base some pretty big decisions on projected outcomes. Even if some people may be disadvantaged by this or that program cut, if the majority will benefit (and so vote the right way once again at the next election), then those who will be harmed are back-handed aside as statistically irrelevant.
Ours is a world that looks to see how much it can get away with. Ours is a society where the majority rules and the minority had best just learn to live with it. It’s all about the cost-benefit bottom line analysis.
But not so with the shepherd of Psalm 23 nor of Jesus as the good shepherd. A cost-benefit analysis would never cause the shepherd to leave the 99 sheep on their own for a few minutes in favor of finding the one lost lamb. If the shepherd had a risk-management committee, they would never advise him to let the wolf kill the shepherd but would say you could better survive to fight another day even if for the time being the wolf nabbed a sheep or two.
In other words, ours is a world and a society made up of hired hands with very few true shepherds around anymore. We manage risks and outcomes but don’t put our lives on the line to avoid all bad outcomes.
But then, perhaps it’s for that very reason that we could all use a truly Good Shepherd in our lives. Now, maybe, more than ever.
As someone once put it, “God counts by ones.”
Years ago my colleague Neal Plantinga and I heard Rev. John Claypool deliver a sermon at the installation service for Tom Long at Candler Divinity School. At the end of the service Claypool used a benediction we had never heard before (though we have since traced it back to the breastplate of St. Patrick). Neal memorized it on the spot and wrote it down and we have both been using it for years since. I can testify that I regularly have people comment on how rich this blessing is. At my former church people requested that this be the benediction I use at weddings and funerals. And it very much speaks to the sentiments and emotions evoked by Psalm 23:
God go before you to guide you.
God go behind you to protect you.
God go beneath you to support you.
God go beside you to befriend you.
Be not afraid.
And let the blessing of Almighty God:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Descend on you, settle in around you
And make its home in you.
Be not afraid.
Go in peace.
1 John 3:16-24
Author: Scott Hoezee
“Love” is a word everyone knows and everyone understands. Or so we think. But if that is so, why is it that when we are called to preach on “love,” it can feel so daunting? Maybe it’s because we use the same word for so many things. It would not be unusual, for instance, to hear someone say one moment “I love my children” and then ten minutes later declare, “Oh my goodness, I just love pizza!” Really? Same word for your kids as for a slice with pepperoni and sausage?
Or is it more that “love” is so huge a topic in the Christian faith that there is a sense in which every time we preach it is somehow about love? If so, then when we get to a passage that forces us to concentrate on love, we feel like we’ve got nothing to say that we have not already communicated in 100 different sermons already!
There is a sense in which that is true: every sermon is about love. In addition—as we just noted—to being one of those diaphanous, wispy words that everyone uses but no one can fully define, love is also the keynote of the gospel. God is love. Jesus is love. God so loved the world that he sent his only Son. This is my commandment that you love one another. If I speak in the tongues of men and angels but have not love, I am nothing. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. Peter, do you love me? Love your neighbor as yourself. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love. The fruit of the Spirit is love.
Love is huge. Love’s scope and influence are so vast that it plays a role in the entire sweep of the Christian life. This is something the apostle John seemed to sense better than anyone among the New Testament writers. The letter of I John is by no means the longest letter in the New Testament and yet it far and away contains more references to love than any other New Testament book, including the gospels. The word “love” crops up thirty-five times in this brief letter. By comparison the entire book of Romans has “love” only fourteen times. Even with its elegant ode to love in I Corinthians 13, I Corinthians contains the word “love” just sixteen times. But then, John’s gospel also has the word love almost twice as many times as it comes up in any of the other three gospels.
All in all it is clear that John saw love as the #1 defining trait of God and of those who are children of the heavenly Father (as last week’s lection said). Loving one another in imitation of God is, John writes in verse 11 (just prior to where this lection begins), the message we have heard “from the beginning.” Those of you familiar with John’s theology and style know that he liked to use that word “beginning” as a Genesis-like harkening back to the original creation. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God,” is how John famously opened his gospel. This letter likewise opens, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard and which we have seen with our eyes and touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”
And now in this third chapter John says that love is also “from the beginning.” Love was from the beginning because God was in the beginning. Love, in other words, has something to do with the very creation in which we live and of which we are a part. Creation itself sprang from the bubbling overflow of God’s love. Like a shaken-up bottle of champagne, so also God’s love within the Trinity was so effervescent, so richly pressured and full that sooner or later the cork had to explode out and when it did, a river of sparkling love gushed forth and sprayed everywhere.
Creation is that overflow of love. God wanted to share the life and the love he already had so exquisitely among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Greek theologians of the Trinity in the early church liked to talk about what they termed “perichoresis,” which is a Greek word meaning in essence the interpenetrating dance of love shared by the three persons in the Godhead (our word “choreography” spins out of this word). Whereas in the Western tradition of the church we have tended to depict the Trinity as a triangle, the Eastern church has always preferred a circle. The Trinity is like an ever-moving circle of dance in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constantly and forever move in and through one another in perfect bliss, harmony, and self-forgetful joy. The three persons of God are so invested in one another, so interested in one another, so caring of one another that although three persons they form just one God. They’ve been serving each other from all eternity and finding holy joy in that loving co-service.
So it is no surprise that at some point those three persons decided that so great was this love, so focused was this love on the other, that they wanted an entire universe of others with whom to further share the love. God was under no compulsion to create anything. Yet it is just so like God to want to create, to want to share the love. God’s motivation to create the world is similar to what motivates us to invite as many friends as we can to the wedding of one of our children or to an anniversary celebration: we want to widen the circle of our own love and joy; we want to share the grand event with those who are close to us. Something very like that was what brought about creation in the first place: the love of God within the Trinity bubbled over in a desire to spread the joy around. “Let us create some more creatures so that we can then invite them to our holy party!”
That’s what love does: it naturally makes us take care of one another so that, in the perfect world and in the perfect congregation, you would not have to worry about yourself because everyone else would already be not only worrying about you but taking very good care of you. The thing we all desire is to feel important, valued, worthwhile. In our sin, and so in our lack of love, we try to achieve those positive feelings by isolating ourselves, by putting others down, by competitions through which we can win (and others therefore lose). We puff ourselves up by deflating others through backbiting gossip, the spread of innuendo and the fostering of suspicion as to the motives of our brothers and sisters.
In all of these ways we try to attain what even God wants us to feel, which is a sense of worthwhileness and importance. But God knows that the way of evil and hate will never accomplish that. Only love for one another can grant to each the dignity we deserve as God’s image-bearers. These are things which, in love, we communicate to each other within community but which, without community, we can never feel. When in pride and arrogance we become self-aggrandized, snooty, proud, we saw off the limb we’re sitting on, cutting ourselves off from the very community which, if only it could be filled with love, would become a place of grand mutual affirmation and care.
But the only way that can happen in a still-sinful world requires something else. In the history of the English language, particularly in the King James Version of the Bible, “love” was regularly rendered as “charity.” Today “charity” carries with it a very different meaning, of course, and yet I want to recover one traditional aspect of this word for love by saying that the only way we can love one another with any kind of caring consistency is if we extend toward each other a very charitable attitude.
Today “charity” is a negative word for many. “I don’t want your charity! Just keep your charity! Charity begins at home!” No one wants to feel condescended to, and so it’s not charity anymore but “assistance.” No one wants to be serviced. That may be why some while back in my state the “Department of Social Services” was changed for a while to “Family Independence Agency.” We prefer to look self-sufficient, in need of, if anything, just a little assistance but not of the kind of wholesale charity that suggests inability and dependency.
But if we transfer such attitudes toward the ultimate charitable Giver, God himself, then we can none of us be saved. We need the love of the Father to condescend to us in our weakness, we need God’s charitable attitude toward us or we’re lost. Taking our cues from God, we see that we need each other’s charity, too. No community on earth can exist for long without love. No congregation can stay together, no marriage can survive, no family can be even remotely happy without love: forgiving love, understanding love, compassionate love, patient love, faithful love, gentle love.
In a profound verse in I John 3:24 John asks what is as vital a question as you could think of: how do we know if God really lives in us? John’s answer: we know it by the Spirit God gave us. And that Spirit, it is clear, is the essence of divine love at work in us.
In one of his many canny passages in The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis imagines the demon Screwtape writing the following to his nephew Wormwood, “God really does want to fill the universe with little replicas of himself. We want cattle who can finally become food; he wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, he wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; he is full and flows over. Our Father below [the Devil] has drawn all other beings into himself, [God] wants a world full of beings united to him but still distinct.”
Here Lewis captures not just the essence of God and creation but of love versus hate: love always overflows and expands outward to include others. Love reaches out to others not to snuff their distinctiveness but to embrace them for who they are. But hatred seeks to conquer, to eliminate differences until only a single master race of like individuals is all that remains. Hate seeks to eliminate the other so that the self can be all in all. Hate, John writes, makes you like Cain the murderer. Hate seeks to isolate itself for the sake of nursing of your own ego and, if necessary, hate will kill off others if that is what will create a private world in which you not only keep looking out for good old Number One but in which looking out for Number One is the main event.