Sunday, March 14, 2021 (Lent 4) – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Ephesians 2:1-10 & John 3:14-21
Remind us of who we are. Remind us of whose we are. Remind us that Love is the center of who you are, and as those created in your image, the center of who we are as well. Love…Love…Love.
John 3:16—For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son so that whosoever believes in the Son may not perish but may have eternal life. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know this verse. I grew up in the church—First United Methodist Church of Mansfield, Pennsylvania—just a little over an hour south of here. This verse must have been something I memorized at a very early age. “For God so loved the world…” At some point in my life, and not necessarily at First Mansfield, I began to understand John 3:16 as a conditional statement—God’s love is reserved for those who believe in Jesus. I am willing to bet that many, many, many people understand John 3:16 in this way. God loves the world, but really only those who believe in Jesus as the Son of God, Savior. Yes, God loves everybody, but eternal life? Well, that is reserved for believers.
This is what happens when we lift a single sentence of scripture off of the pages of the Bible and read it alone, without any of the context that goes along with it. We can decide the sentence means what we want it to mean, what we want others to think it means, or what others have told us it is supposed to mean. “For God so loved the world…so that everyone who believes in the Son may not perish…” Suddenly our faith becomes a task on our “to-do” list and judgment is woven into God’s love. What am I doing this week? Look, (picks up to-do list) I have meetings on Tuesday night to get ready for. I need to do some work preparing for the transition with Pastor Beckie. I need to get some lab work done and pick up a document at the lawyer’s office. Oh, and I have to believe in Jesus, each day, every day. Check, check, check, check, and check. If I don’t check off belief each day I risk eternal life—judgment.
However, if we put John 3:16 back into the Gospel of John, insert it right back in its place in chapter 3, this most famous of lines takes on a much different meaning. John 3:17…
“Indeed, God did NOT send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world, THE WORLD, might be saved through him.”
Hmmm. That conditional clause that is so stressed in verse 16 has vanished…everyone who believes. And just a few sentences later:
“And THIS is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light…”
What happens when we look at John 3:16 from this angle? What happens when we suddenly view the idea of belief with the explanation of running from, hiding from, the Light of the World, OR being willing to stand in the Light fully exposed? Perhaps we begin to realize that the point of John 3:16, the point of this Gospel summary, is that God loves the world…period. WE are the ones who bring judgment into the picture when we become afraid of standing fully exposed before the love of God.
God’s love IS scary. It is intimidating, daunting. As the author of Ephesians reminds us, God’s saving love is not something we can possess or brag about as if we had anything to do with it. We can’t control it. We can’t earn it. We can’t do anything to deserve it. We can’t lose it. Love is the essence of who God is, and God always loves first. Love is God’s default setting. Such love like this is like the bright light of the sun, exposing everyone and everything for who or what it is. It is tremendously difficult to have to face the things we have been hiding from, or to face the things we have been pretending don’t exist. It causes fear and pain and anger even when what is exposed has been causing fear and pain and anger. AND (the Holy And of God)-AND God’s radiant love exposes what CAN be—paths forward filled with life and hope and joy.
We have been exploring quite a bit all the exposed systems in our world that must change in order to realize God’s Dream, God’s Beloved Community—systems of racism and sexism and heterosexism, genderism, ablism, and so on. These are so very important, so critically important. Lives depend on this work of Kin-dom building. Today actually marks one year since Breonna Taylor’s murder while she slept in her bed, and still no justice…no peace. BUT, before we start adding to our to-do list…and missing the heart of John 3:16 yet again… let’s stop for a moment on this 4th Sunday of Lent and simply BE with John 3:16 and the rest of our readings today, Ephesians 2 and John 3. For God so loved the world. That is where the story begins—the story of this world, the story of our church, the story of our lives. God loves. As Kid President said, “You are made from love, to be love, to spread love! Love is louder. Even if hate has a bullhorn, Love is louder. Let your life be loud.”
There is only one thing on our to-do list from God’s perspective—Love. For God so loves, and all that God hopes for us and from us is love. It can be scary, and intimidating, and daunting. This love isn’t something we possess or earn or deserve. We open ourselves to God’s love and become conduits of God’s love in this world. We allow ourselves to be radiant lights of the Light in this world that seeks to hide, afraid to risk exposure.
John 3:16—choose love. Love first, as God loves first. And in the words of Kid President once again, “I am so glad you are here. You are awake. You are awesome. Live like it!” Love.
Let’s proclaim this truth, this belief, together—fully exposed in the light.
Let us proclaim our faith…
We believe God is love—
Unconditional, constant love.
We believe this love exists for all,
choosing each and every one of us,
day after day,
again & again & again.
We believe that God’s love is like a river.
Rivers cannot help but flow toward the sea;
God’s love cannot help but move toward us.
We are swimming in it.
We believe that God loved first.
We believe that God breathed life into dust.
We believe that God said, “This is good,”
and because we believe God loved first,
we strive to build lives that reflect God’s love.
May we begin again here. Amen.