Posts Tagged ‘john 3:16’

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.

What if Jesus Was Serious About That Whole Love Your Neighbor Thing?

As a pastor, I do quite a bit of writing; weekly sermons, notes for classes, monthly newsletter articles.  In working on my article for November, it struck me that this might be something to share with all of you out there in the world.

I write this article shortly before Reformation Sunday, the last weekend of October. In celebration of the Reformation, our scripture lessons supersede the texts regularly assigned for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost. Had we gone with that set of scripture passages, the Gospel for October 26th would have been Matthew 22:34-46. I had to chuckle when I realized that, as it is a passage that I’ve run into more than once recently.

Recently the combined Confirmation/Adult Forum class discussed the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert in the 40 years between the Exodus and entering the Promised Land. Within that discussion, we looked at Deuteronomy 6:4-5, commonly known to the Jewish faith as the Shema. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” As the class talked about this passage and its importance, we also recognized that Jesus himself passed this vital Jewish command onto us, and this happens in the passage from Matthew 22.

When challenged by the religious elite to pick out the most important law, Jesus responded back with this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the command of our Lord, to first love Him, and then to love everyone else as well. But perhaps this is easier said than done.

We live in a trying time, and perhaps in those moments when we pick up a newspaper or visit a news website or turn on the nightly news report, we see too much negativity in the world to even begin to think about love. We are dealing with fear and paranoia over Ebola, videos and reports of ISIS beheading Christians and threating to attack the United States, and the ever present tension/conflict between Israel and Palestine. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account the constant barrage of attack ads on TV and the radio as we creep up on Election Day on the 4th.

With all of this staring us in the face day after day, perhaps we find ourselves feeling a little cynical about that whole “loving our neighbor” thing, and rather than loving God, we throw exasperated questions in the heavenly direction, “Where are you on all this stuff?”

But it is precisely these times that we must cling to those two commandments…love the Lord with all you’ve got, recognizing that maybe today “all you’ve got” isn’t as strong as it was last week, nor is it as strong as it will be a year from now. And at the same time loving our neighbors…all of them, and I don’t just mean the people that live around the corner from you.

In times like this, I find it helpful to return to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” And funny enough…that means all of it. The world includes all of the people in constant conflict with one another. It includes the politicians cutting each other down to try and grab one more vote. And the world includes you and me, even in those times when the negativity present in life gets the better of us.

Interestingly enough, when we think about all that conflict going on “out there,” the fighting and the battling, and the terrorism and the atrocities happening all over the world, we begin to realize that despite our differences, we’re fighting a simple family squabble. Jesus’ commands remind us of our connection with the Jewish faith which traces all the way back to Abraham. And if we look back at the story, we realize that he was also the father of Ishmael, considered to be the patriarch of the Arab nation, what we would call Islam today.

And so, if all the conflict and tension in the world really can be sifted down into a family squabble, then maybe it’s time we all start taking Jesus’ command to love our neighbors seriously…because everyone out there is our brother or sister. What might happen if everyone started believing that, and seeing one another as God see each and every one of us; as beloved children of God.

In Christ
Pastor Scott

John tries to answer a question from yesterday

Today’s lectionary reading is back to John, this time in chapter 3:31-36.

Now, my first thought on this text is that it seems very intentionally aimed at Christ the King Sunday, which is of course tomorrow. This is apparent from the opening verse, “the one who comes from above is above all.” Clearly this is talking about Jesus because who else (humanity-wise here) other than Jesus came down from Heaven? While this is an important point for John to make, I’m really reminded of a fairly central theme that emerges through John’s gospel.

Little side disclaimer, a lot of my personal train of thought when it comes to John is shaped by one of my seminary professors…Karoline Lewis. I’ve been in class with Karoline twice, for both my 1st and 2nd year preaching classes…see her Luther Seminary profile here. You need to be in class for about 1 lecture with her before you find out that her PhD focus was John’s gospel, and her influence has come in very handy for me many a time before.  okay…side disclaimer finished.

Getting back to John 3, or at least John in general. A theme emerges throughout the gospel of light and darkness. Jesus is the light in the darkness of the world. Light is life, darkness is death. Darkness is death because sin is death…and sin and darkness are inter-linked. Now, take into account that I’m really generalizing here, but in a nutshell, for John sin boils down to a very simple thing.

Sin is disbelief in Jesus as the savior of the world. Period. Those that believe are in the light (of Christ) and those that don’t believe are still in darkness. Stop page…end of story right there.

Now, this is very black and white and it is supported here in this portion of chapter 3. Verse 36 spells it out very clearly. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” Pretty cut and dry here for John.

Now, as I read that, I’m reminded of the reflection from yesterday from 1 Corinthians and my mental wrestling match with whether or not the entire world IS saved through Christ. While I still believe that Christ IS capable of the salvation of every man woman and child for all time, when I read this passage from John it does seem that there will be a distinction. Although everyone can be saved (John 3:16, just a few short verses before this passage), not everyone WILL be saved.

Interestingly enough, at my church we are on our way through a year long trip through the Biblical narrative, no small feat I can tell you that much, and we’re “living” through the Old Testament right now. Been there since September and will be for several more months. Sometimes the Old Testament is hard to digest. It seems that God has a much more judgmental, wrathful, vengeful nature and that is difficult to reconcile with what we read in John 3:16. For God so loved the world…well if He loves it so much than why is He so prone to judgment against the world?

Well, sin is still an afront to God. That’s the long and short of it. God will not tolerate sin. That judgment that was so evident in the Old Testament is still there, but Christ received it. That’s what makes him the savior. Salvation from God’s wrath is what he achieves for us. It’s nothing we do. We don’t earn it ourselves (and yes that’s a very Lutheran perspective talking), but it is a free gift.

God’s grace is a wonderful thing…it comes through Christ…the light in the darkness…believe it my friends. Believe that it is yours today.