See the Need, Meet the Need 3-15-15

This sermon is based on John 3:14-21. It features the “mini-gospel” found in verse 16. In the sermon I focus on the unconditional love of God that is expressed in Jesus Christ, and what it really means.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen.
Its funny how certain things stick with you…there are many different times when some random fact or thought or memory that I’ve had stored back in the deep recesses of my brain will come swimming up to the surface…sometimes after years without ever thinking about it.
I never know what it will be, and I don’t know what triggers certain things…but it certainly does happen…now this week, as I was reading through the various scripture passages for the day, I was taken right back to my days working at camp…specifically by our second lesson out of Ephesians.
You see, this reading out of Ephesians features what we called a theme verse. We had different theme verses at camp…one over arching one that covered the entire week…as well as daily theme verses. If you’ve ever been to our summer Bible school program, you’ve heard the kids recite these verses…because the staff members teach them…each and every time.
And now I’ve heard it said that setting something to music is a great way to really engrain it in our memory…and that must be true…because I can still rattle off that theme verse…even after 17 years.
(sing Ephesians 2:8) For it is by grace…you have been saved…through faith…not of ourselves…it is a gift…a gift of God…Ephesians 2….verse 8 chachacha.
And you know what…there must be something about the camp setting that engrains other things in your head as well…and another one that I remember quite vividly described how we as staff members approached our day to day activities…See the need…meet the need.
At first that sounds pretty simple…as well it should…and it basically means that if you spot something that needs to get cleaned up, or fixed…or thrown away…or whatever…you did it…period…there’s a need there and you meet it…call it whatever you want…responsibility, hospitality…whatever…see the need…meet the need. (pause)
And this is where I shift gears and connect into the gospel for the day…admittedly…a little grudgingly…because as I thought about this particular gospel story through the course of this week, I found myself getting a little annoyed by it from a preaching perspective…what to do with? What can I unpack…discuss…highlight?
That’s often the question that I wrestle with as I work with each week’s gospel text…and this week, I sorta had a little bit of a revelation…I really struggle with gospel text’s when there’s no action…perhaps you recall last fall when we went through a series of parables…simple stories without a great deal of action…and all a preacher can do with it is try to puzzle out the theological implications of the passage.
Well, as you may have figured out, I tend to be more reactive in nature…and so for me personally, it’s a little easier to gain insight when there’s actual story with actual action…in short…its easier for me to preach on a passage when something happens…but, unfortunately…today that’s not the case…today…Jesus is talking…and that’s it. There’s no interaction…no back and forth bantering…just Jesus talking…and so…the million dollar question this week…what do we talk about? (pause)
And the crazy part about this is that it shouldn’t be difficult…because this week our gospel features what is likely the single most quoted New Testament verse in existence…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 have eternal life.
We’ve all heard it right? We’re all familiar with it…and so perhaps this should be the week that I constant joke about when I say “Did you hear that? So did I….Amen” and go sit down. But as you know…I’m not gonna do that…I’m not going to just highlight that one well known passage and stop…because the scripture doesn’t stop…it goes on doesn’t it? Even if we really don’t it to.
Because what comes next? (pause) What follows this famous feel good passage? (pause) Discussion about condemnation…judgment…how we hate the light, and cling to the darkness…and that’s the stuff that tends to make us squirm just a little bit.
And why? Well, maybe because we’re Lutherans…and we put so much stock in that notion of grace…that notion of the free gift that frees us from judgment and wrath and destruction…that makes us feel better…so we just focus on that and ignore the tough stuff.
But here’s the kicker…Jesus doesn’t. As he’s speaking in today’s lesson…laying down some important truth…Jesus sees the need to be honest about the state of the world…and he meets it. He doesn’t sugar coat it…but he speaks with the truth as only God can know it…as only God can understand it. (pause)
And the truth that Jesus is speaking…the truth that is being revealed…it has more to do with the state of the world than the nature of judgment and condemnation…but I fear that sometimes we have the tendency to look at this whole deal from the wrong perspective…and I also fear that many people living in our world today do the same. (pause)
As I was reading through this passage, over and over again this week…my focus kept landing on those words about judgment and condemnation…each and every time…and I don’t really know why that is…maybe its just human nature to focus on the negative…perhaps I’m a closet pessimist…who knows. (pause)
But in many of the conversations that I have with individuals who don’t attend church…who don’t claim any religious affiliation…this very topic seems to be a tripping point…that all Christianity…or religion in general cares about is judging everyone and telling them they’re going to hell. (pause) And how often do we fall into that same trap? Of starting up that mental checklist of our good stuff that we did…or the bad stuff that we avoided just so that we’ve done enough…earned enough brownie points…so that we can avoid our own condemnation? (pause)
It really seems to me…that the human perspective gets caught up on the judging…especially in this set of verses. (pause) Or maybe…that’s just me.
About 2 or 3 weeks ago, I was downstairs with the adult forum during education time…and we were in the midst of discussing the featured gospel lesson for that week. Honestly the passage itself escapes me at the moment, but as we were discussing things…I got overtly analytical…talking through the process of understanding the passage in its context…and the theological implications…and the connections with other passages…in short…I was over thinking it. (pause)
But in the midst of that conversation…two different individuals made comments that really kinda stopped me in my tracks…First off was Judy Pingel who commented that my brain is trained to think along those lines…it’s the pastor thing…and I kind of chuckled at that thought…but then the second person kicked in their opinion…Phil Spencer…who has one of the longest tenures as a member here at Underwood…and when Phil makes a comment in that setting, which he doesn’t always do…I find that it’s a good idea to pay attention. And Phil said this… “I don’t know about all that other stuff…but I do know this. God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” And then he crossed his arms…and just kinda sat back in his chair.
That moment serves a good reminder for me that when we are talking about the gospel…the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…it can be REALLY complicated…while at the same time being EXTREMELY easy. (pause) Many people call this particular verse the mini-gospel, and they do so because this really lines of the truth of the situation. God loves us…so God sent his son…who was God in flesh…so that we can live in eternal relationship with God.
But the million dollar question on a lot of people’s minds…perhaps some of you here today, but more importantly for many people out there…can it really be that simple? It can’t be that simple right? There has to be more to it than that…but what if it really is that simple? What if we have a God who really does love us so much that he’ll sacrifice everything for us? A God who loves us even when we hurt Him…or when we hate Him…or even worse yet…a God who loves us when we flat out ignore him?
Any parent out there knows this cycle…we have moments when our child loves us unconditionally…but at the drop of a hat we hear the words “I HATE YOU!” And I don’t know about you, but the most frustrating thing in the world that my kids can do is ignore me when I know full well they heard what I said. (pause)
And this is what humanity has done…and continues to do with God. At times we show our love and gratitude…usually when things are going pretty well for us…but when things start to get rocky we’re quick to throw blame God’s way…either that or we pretty much forget He’s there…turning our backs and acting like God doesn’t even exist.
That was the state of the world 2000 years ago…and in many ways is still the state of the world today…and why? Well, because as the scripture says…we love our darkness don’t we? But the amazing thing about all this…is not that we have a judgmental God, but rather that we have a God who wanted to do something about it. (pause)
As I mentioned earlier I kept getting caught up on the whole condemnation thing this week…and how it seems at first glance that God’s going to condemn…but the crazy thing is, because of the power of sin in this world…the world stands in a state of already being condemned and we see this because of the presence of death in this world…the Apostle Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death…sin is present…the darkness is present…pain and suffering is present…and that is all evidence of the state the world is in.
And here’s where the love of God comes in…here’s where God sees the need…and meets the need…God didn’t send the son into the world to condemn it…nor the people in it…because they already are…God sent Jesus to free us from it…not because we’ve earned it or because we deserve it…but simply because he loves us that much…and the humbling thing about it…about that crazy love of God…is that there is nothing we can do about it.
God loves us, even when we don’t want him to…the love of God in Christ Jesus is present…and its for you…like it or not. He loves you enough to go to any length for you…even to death on a cross and beyond it…simply so you will begin to understand those three simple words. I…Love…You…and there’s nothing you can do about it. Amen.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Teresa on March 20, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    Great sermon


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: