4 Lent B
In this passage Jesus is explaining his radical teaching to Nicodemus a member of the jewish of religious elite; in the middle of that discourse, He exclaims, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son that those who believe in him will have everlasting life.” Since that time that sentence has reverberated down through history.
John 3:16 is arguably the most well known and influential Bible verse in the New Testament; Martin luther called it “the Gospel in a nutshell. We see John 3:16 on bumper stickers and on cardboard signs at football games. But I wonder if we could think about it a bit more deeply than reading a bumper sticker or laughing when we see it on TV at a football game, we could begin to grasp its profound meaning especially for our own lives. What Jesus articulates in this statement is that God is fundamentally a God of love; and more, this love is the logic by which the kingdom of God runs, and that God’s love trumps everything else, even justice, in the end. But the question I would pose for us this morning is can be really believe this? Can we really accept it? Aren’t there conditions? Isn’t the real truth that God loves me as long as I behave, as long as we tow the line; I mean really isn’t God an accountant, keeping track of who is naughty or nice as the secular Christmas song tells us; And what about the judgment Jesus talks about; those who choose to walk in darkness; will Jesus continue to love that poor young man who shot those 17 people at the High School in Florida on Valentine’s Day;? what about those do don’t believe where are they in all this? Does God love them? The answer of course that even though at some level we refuse to believe it or don’t want to believe it, God’s love is unconditional period. God hasn’t just loved the world in the past. God does love. God will love forever. Always.
The next verse is key; God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Period. Period. Moreover the judgement to come is not punishment but simply the crisis that befalls those who will not come out of darkness for fear of the light. For those who chose to turn away from love. It is not judgment as punishment, but judgment as tragedy, as loss. Even then, God comes to love to redeem such loss, turn such tragedy into victory and demonstrate true love through vulnerability and sacrifice. When we sinful creatures betrayed our Creator, God sent the Redeemer to give us a human scale window into his boundless love. This is the meaning of the cross.
This kind of self sacrificing love is frightening to our world-because it requires us to trust nothing but God; The World says our security is about success, achievement, living a good life; Yet we cannot secure our destiny or save our lives by those means. Only God can do that. Only love can do
that. And its frightening to be so utterly dependent on God. Seems totally counter intuitive. Furthermore God’s love has nothing to do with our reciprocity. God’s love is not transactional. There is no need to bargain. C. S. Lewis once wrote, “God who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that he may love and perfect them.” There never was and never will be a quid pro quo for Creation and Salvation. God is not keeping a balance sheet. God simply delights in loving us. It is who God is. God’s love is tenacious. An English poet once called God, ‘the hound of heaven.’God’s love will continue to chase after us, seeking to hold onto us
and redeem us all the days of our lives whether we like it or not-no matter what failings we have in in our moral lives.
I think if we took John 3:16 more seriously, we might also come to realize that our relationship with God is the one relationship we cannot screw up. We can deepen it, draw closer to it, even walk away from it, but we cannot screw it up. Because God created it, His love is never ending. That love will
win in the end. And that is the radical nature of God’s grace. Amen.