SERMON 3/18/12 Lent 4B
“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.” (John 3:16 NRSV) If you watch American football on TV, you will no doubt see the cameras panning the fans seated throughout the stadium. There are some strange fans out there. Some of these folks have their hair, faces, or bare chests painted in the colors of their favorite teams. It is quite a spectacle I guess. There is always one fan in the stands that often is overlooked, but always seem to get the attention of the camera. This participant is not necessarily rooting for a particular sports star I guess, unless you consider for whom it is they are cheering, to be of a divine origin.
No matter if it is football, baseball, or basketball, there always seems to be that one person who is holding up the sign that reads, “John 3:16.” When I was a kid in a small, private Christian school, we had to memorize this verse of scripture. I know it by heart, I can say it without thinking, and I have in the past, overlooked what this verse of scripture really means. We really need to dive into this text and break it a part a little bit to discover what the significance of the words really offers.
“For God so loved the world.” How many of us have had the image of God as the vengeful, angry, “ready to strike you down from on high,” kind of Divine being? That seems to be a distorted image of God. When we consider Jesus Christ, his life, ministry, death and resurrection, the notion of anger, revenge, and destruction, comes in direct conflict with the life of healing, restoration, mercy, grace, reconciliation, and self-giving. For God so loved the world is a proclamation that God adores God’s creation. This is not mere warm and fuzzy feelings toward us creatures. This is a love that is centered in the giving of oneself for the other. Jesus calls us Friends and it is that kind of love for which, God is willing to risk it all for us.
“He gave his only Begotten Son.” The mystery of the Trinity has befuddled theologians for centuries. The church made some “definitive” statements about this mystery many centuries ago, trying to refute what was then known as heretical teachings. What we learned from all this dialogue and debate was that “we believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.” Through the words of the Nicene Creed, we ascent to God’s gift of his only Begotten Son, was in reality, the giving of himself to us. God was in Christ and gave himself to us for the sake of love. A young man had been dating a young woman for a year. Their love grew and finally, he decided to risk it all and reveal to her the love he had in his heart. He told her one night that he loved here. What a great risk to offer oneself to another. The risk of rejection is so high when it comes to love. The young woman could have rebuffed his love. God gave himself to us. God came to walk among us, to reveal love, to fully, once and for all, completely reveal the love for God’s creation. God took a risk on us.
“So that everyone who believes in him.” As I was struggling with one of my classes in seminary, after receiving a less than what I expected grade, I cried on Terri’s shoulder and need her encouragement. She looked at me and said, “I believe in you.” That was a pivotal moment in our relationship. I don’t think she was saying that she believed I had all the answers, that I was going to make an “A” in the class, she was saying, I trust you Eric. I trust that you are doing the best you can do and I am with you on this. Is believing in Jesus an ascent to a particular doctrine, or is believing really a trust that our lives can be filled with ultimate joy, peace, love, and the knowledge of who we really are? When we believe in something, we trust our lives with and to something. Believing in Jesus may not be merely saying a particular prayer at a specific time. It very well may be trusting in the life of the One offered to us. When we trust our lives by following Jesus, we will love neighbor, caring for others, self-giving, externally focused, and willing to take up the cross. I believe is really I trust.
“May not perish but may have eternal life.” There is a lot of talk these days about life after death. The media speculates a great deal about the realm of life beyond death. We Christians rest our hope on the promise of resurrection, which began in and through Jesus Christ Our Lord. The notion of life everlasting sometimes is a little mixed up in all this talk and speculation. In this context, the Gospel writer may well be speaking of eternal life in the realm beyond the grave, but he is also speaking about life, which is without beginning or end, never ceasing, never ending. Perishing thus, is not knowing this depth of love, never experiencing the joy of a love that is so beyond our imagine. Life everlasting is about our ultimate destiny and it is also about here and now. It is this depth of love experienced here and now and in the life to come that we come to know and find ourselves in Christ. It is in losing ourselves, we find ourselves in Christ. When we love so deeply that we face rejection, as Christ did, we open ourselves and become vulnerable. That is where love resides … in our vulnerability. When we stand before God’s throne of grace, and offer ourselves naked and bare, with our life junk before us, we can with peace say, “here I am Lord.” It’s when we come to know life abundantly, when come to know that our junk is taken away, never remembered, forever covered, abounding grace.
Living life abundantly is knowing that God gives us a second chance, a third chance, a millionth chance. He gives us the benefit of the doubt. He waits on the porch like the prodigal’s father. This is not a license to live, however we might choose, simply because it’s all covered by grace. We live in love because we have the gift of knowing that if and when we do mess up, God waits with love to welcome us back. In Christ, we can live life to its most abundant. We can know peace and love to a depth unknown before. “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.” Said another way, “For God’s deep passion and beloved of God’s creation was so great, God risked rejection to demonstrate that love face-to-face. Whomever trusts this great promise so much that it pervades everything in their life, will not die without knowing that love, and they will have a life that is abundant with love, joy, peace, reconciliation, mercy and grace. Grace, it is a free gift, grace. We cannot earn it and we don’t deserve it. We merely hold our hands open and drink deeply from God’s grace the fount that never runs dry.