Saturday, March 15, 2014

For God So Loved The World

John 3:1-17
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
  “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
    “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

            John 3:16 may well be the single most familiar verse in the Bible.  “For God so loved the world that he gave only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

            There is a restaurant chain throughout California and the other Western states.  In-N-Out Burger.  Inside the bottom rim of their paper cups you can find printed the words of John 3:16. 

            Forever 21 is a chain of clothing stores with locations throughout the world.  At the bottom of their shopping bags you can find the words of John 3:16.
            Tim Tebow is known as a Heisman Trophy-winning football quarterback who played for the University of Florida and was later with the Denver Broncos.  You know the way football players black out the area below their eyes as a way of reducing the glare of sunshine?  Tebow often used his eye black to spell out the reference “John 3:16.”

            At many sporting events, you will see someone holding up a poster that simply reads, “John 3:16.”

            This text has become so much a part of popular culture, that it is no surprise that it has been parodied by comedians.  In a Family Guy Episode, Chris Griffin makes a John 3:16 sign for a Boston Red Sox game, and one of the characters, Brian, does not know what that means, so he looks it up and – according to that television episode - it says, “And the Lord said, ‘Go Red Sox.’” 

            Well, of course that is NOT what it says. 

            John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.

            In the 2011 Super Bowl, one of the great ads was about John 3:16.  It was a well done commercial showing a group of men and women viewing a televised football game in a living room. As the crowd cheers a play on the field, the camera focuses in on a player with the Scripture reference “John 3:16” written over the black under his eyes. When one of the group asks his buddy what the phrase means, someone reaches for a cell phone and says, “I’ll look it up,” as the ad fades to the phrase, “A Message of Hope.”

            What a simple message.  I dare say that many non-Christians and people not well versed in the Bible would have been prompted to finally look up to see what that phrase meant – John 3:16.  For God so loved the world…

This ad was controversial at the time, and more than one person said it was offensive because it was viewed as an exclusive statement – meaning some people get left out. 

But it is not in itself exclusive. It is, perhaps, the most inclusive statement of all time – “For God so loved the world” – and that means everyone. 

It becomes exclusive when we decide to reject it. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that – whosoever believes in him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”

I am sad to say that many wonderful people have indeed chosen to exclude themselves from God’s love.

And that brings us to the question we should be asking about this verse. In the past, God was often seen as vengeful and terrible, but today it is generally accepted that “if there is a God, he would be a loving God.” 

The question for us is NOT, does God love us – the question is – so what?

What do we do with this information?

What is our response to “God so loved the world that he gave his son…”

First – we need to believe.

So here I am, preaching to the choir – both literally and figuratively.  You are probably here today because you believe.  But not necessarily.  You may have come here this morning because you have recently become open to this good news.  Or you may be here against your will – your wife made you come or your parents made you come. 

You need to believe and accept that God loved the world so much that he gave his son for us – for you - and for our salvation. 

On August 30, 2005 Coast Guard Lieutenant Iain McConnell was ordered to fly his helicopter to New Orleans and to keep that machine flying around the clock for what would turn out to be a heroic rescue effort. None of his crew were prepared for what they were about to see in the aftermath of a terrible hurricane. They were ahead of every news crew in the nation. The entire city of New Orleans was under water. On their first three missions that day they saved 89 people, three dogs and two cats.

On the fourth mission, despite twelve different flights to New Orleans, he and his crew were able to save no one. None! These people all refused to board the helicopter. Instead they told the Coast Guard to bring them food and water. Yet they were warned that this was extremely dangerous. The waters were not going to go away soon. Sadly, many of those people refused to believe there was danger.  Their helicopter ride to salvation was viewed as robbing them of their opportunity to stay with their homes to salvage their property.  Many of them died because of their refusal to be rescued.

In our Gospel lesson today we come face to face with the Son of God and with the greatest rescue effort of all time.

So what do we do with this John 3:16 passage?  We start by believing it and accepting it.

Second – it is not enough to believe – we also have to live it.  For John, to believe was to live it out.  In the book of James, we read, “Faith without works is dead.”

In the Presbyterian Church we do not often talk about saving souls, we talk about making disciples.  Making disciples is about saving one’s soul, but in more ways than one – it is not just about the after life, it is about the present life – the here and now.  Being a Christian should make a difference in how you live.

And again, I may be preaching to the choir – most of us are here because we are trying our best to live out the Gospel. 

I’ll tell you where we fall short –

We fall short in our third response to John 3:16.

We need to believe it, we need to live it – but we also need to share it!

And how many of us are sharing the Good News?

On the front of the bulletin each week there is a list of seven marks of discipleship.  We are very good about service in this church.  We did a great job a couple of weeks ago raising money for a school in Haiti. 

We are good about enjoying spiritual friendships.  If there is a dinner, we show up and enjoy the food and fellowship.

We are good at coming to worship, reading the Bible, praying – but…

When it comes to sharing the Good News of the Gospel?  Not happening.  Or at least, not happening enough.

We live in an age in which we share so much – we go online and write reviews about the restaurants we visit.  We post comments on Facebook about politics.  We tell our hair stylist deep, dark secrets. 

If we have good news about a new pizza place – we share it.
If we have an opinion about a politician – we share it.
If we like a new television show, book or movie – we share it.
If we go to a great ball game – we share it.
If we go to a lousy ball game – we share it.

But when it comes to the greatest news of hope for all people – we are silent.

It’s time for us to post it on Facebook, tweet it on Twitter, put it on our bumper stickers – but for better than that – to tell people face to face.

It’s time for us to find times and ways to tell others – “I’m loved by God and so are you – wouldn’t you like to experience that love?

I mean, if we can’t keep good pizzas, movies and books to ourselves – why is it that we try to keep Christ to ourselves?

Now at this point I have to share with you that the other day I was at home, enjoying a day off, and even though I woke up early, there I am 11:30 in the morning and I’m still in my PJs. 

The doorbell rings and I go answer it and find two Jehovah Witnesses looking me in the eye with the expectation that they are going to save me from the fires of hell – or whatever it is that think I need.

I have to wonder, is there a household in this country where anyone welcomes a knock at the door with an excited shout – “the Jehovah Witnesses are here!  The Jehovah Witnesses are here!  Yippeee!”

I don’t think so.

Now, these people were very courteous and gracious and when I politely thanked them and suggested their time would be best spent finding someone else to talk to, they happily went on their way. 

But we all know that there are ways that have become very common ways of sharing our faith that more often than not produce a negative response.  Door to door evangelism is one.  Handing out tracts and pamphlets produce only one thing – lots of trash on the streets. 

Are those methods EVER helpful?  Yes. 

But is this the way we are likely to share the Good News effectively? 

Maybe not.

In Matthew’s Gospel, we read, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” 

St. Francis of Assisi may have been the first to say, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” 

            We need to practice what we believe – and for John, when he said “whosoever believed” he meant believe and live it out.

            It is okay to share our faith in conversation.  We can do this without badgering people – just work it into the conversation.  Let people know you go to church, read your Bible, pray for others.  I love seeing people post on Facebook comments about what is happening in our church – or with those friends who don’t come to this church – to see what is happening in their churches. 

Don’t keep your faith a secret – let your light shine. 

And live out your faith.  Let them see your faith not only with words, but more importantly, with actions.

Because in the end, whatever words we share, without having the actions that should correspond with those words, become hypocrisy. 

We don’t agonize how to share our opinion about our favorite restaurant – we just do it. 

We don’t agonize how to share our passion for a certain basketball team – we just do it.

Let’s not agonize how to share the good news with others – let’s just do it. 

Copyright 2014, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved. 
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