Sunday, March 20, 2011

"God So Loved..." - A Sermon for Lent II A - 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 may have eternal life.
This is perhaps one of the most well-known passages in the entire bible.  We have all heard it before – people put the reference on license plates, we have all seen folks on TV cameras at various sporting events with signs that read “John 3:16.”  Martin Luther called this passage “the Gospel in a nutshell.”  And indeed it is a profound and beautiful passage which confronts us with both a truth about God and a promise from God and that is this: the love that God has for God’s creation – the love which God has for us is so incomprehensible, so immense, so overwhelming, so inexplicable that even our language, our words are insufficient to describe and express the depth of God’s love of all of God’s creation and all of God’s children.
For God so loved the world that….. God chose to be born in Jesus of a human mother, into a specific community, into specific time and he lived a life as we do – he experienced human emotions, he experienced all that the human experience has to offer.  Jesus spent this time teaching and healing and loving us – he spent this time calling us to follow his way of love of God and others.
For God so loved the world that….. God sent the Son to suffer for us – to be tortured physically and to be lifted up and crucified on a cross, like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.  He suffered death, he was buried and entombed for us all.  This love of God’s is completely self-giving.  Through Jesus, God dies for us on a cross.
For God so loved the world that….. The cross is not the end of the story – for in three days God raises Jesus from the dead and in this way defeats all of the powers of death – the power of illness, loss, grief, torment, anguish, grief, loss, alienation – all of these which are such a real part of human life have been entered into and defeated so that we can now proclaim that these representatives of death do not have the last word.  Rather the last word is with the risen Jesus and that word is life – eternal life.
Now, when Jesus talks about Eternal Life in the Gospel of John, what does he mean?  When I was in college, many years ago, I was a part of a Christian fellowship group that I remember spent a lot of time talking about eternal life.  But when we talked about it then it seems as though it was always something off in the distant future, something that was still to be attained like some kind of a prize that would be awarded at the end of our earthly life.  Since those days I have come to understand that when John talks about Eternal Life he is talking about something which is God’s gift to us now!  God gives to us the gift of eternal life when we are baptized into Jesus death and resurrection and this gift is recalled and renewed each day as we encounter the presence and grace of the living Christ.  Eternal Life begins now – it is not something far off to be attained in the future – it is NOW.  Salvation begins NOW!
To speak of Eternal Life and Salvation only in futuristic terms is really a denial of God’s love and power to transform and direct our daily lives.  To think of Eternal Life and Salvation as a kind of future award which I get when I die is kind of like the image of a man drowning in the middle of a deep lake.  There he is thrashing around and trying to keep his head above water.  Off on the shore stands another man with a life preserver and this man calls out to the drowning man – “Swim to shore and I will get you the life preserver!”  Well, that’s not going to do a lot of good, is it?  The odds are that the man in the lake will drown before he even gets to shore.  He needs the life preserver – now – while he is in the middle of the lake struggling.
God’s promise of salvation is getting that life preserver now – and if I can push the illustration a little farther – it is Jesus who swims out to bring it to us.
For God so loved the world that….. God has called us to let our lights so shine – so that the light of God’s love and grace – the light of the gift of eternal life might shine forth – illuminating the dark corners of injustice, self-centeredness, hatred, fear, abuse and violence; illuminating the dark corners of sickness and loss and alienation; and illuminating the faces we encounter so that we might recognize all those faces as brothers and sisters to be loved and brought into community in grace and not as the faces of strangers to be feared and avoided.
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.

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