Sermon, Lent 4B, Sunday March 11, 2018.
16 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
LIKE IT OR NOT
Benjamin did not want to go to bed. But his Dad said he had to go to bed. Six year old Benjamin was upset at this decision of his Dad. Benjamin said, “Dad, I hate you.” Benjamin’s father, exercising the kind of parental wisdom you would hope for, replied, “Ben, I’m sorry you feel that way, but I love you.”
Benjamin’s response to such gracious words surprised his dad: “Don’t say that!”, said young Ben. “I’m sorry Benjamin, but it’s true. I love you.” “Don’t,” Ben protested, “Don’t say that again!” At which point Ben’s dad said, “Benjamin, I love you…like it or not!”
“I love you, like it or not”. Is that what the most famous bible text in the world says to rebellious, ungrateful, unaware, immature and self-orientated people like little Ben; like me, like you? I think so.
16 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him
God the Father of all creation made a decision to love us. He decided, he acted, he gave, he spoke it into the world through John.
For many people, this is a most loved word of God. Luther called it the gospel in a nutshell. It has adorned many a billboard, t-shirt, cup, pen, church sign. It says it all. It speaks of pure grace. – undeserved, unearned, unmerited self-sacrificing love given to flawed human beings…… and we love it. And so we should. It is the very best decision, the best news, the best love.
But could it also be a word from God that challenges us to our very core? I mean, why was Benjamin protesting his father’s loving decision re bed time? Because Ben realized he could not control his father’s love and twist it to his advantage. Indeed, in the face of such love there is no bargaining and, ultimately, no control whatsoever.
If Ben’s dad had said that if he ate all his vegetables he could stay up, or agreed that Ben could stay up later this night if he went to bed earlier the next, then Benjamin would have exercised some measure of control over the situation and, indeed, over his dad.
But in the face of unconditional love Ben was powerless. So are we who are on the receiving end of God’s love in Jesus. God has done this. God has loved the unlovely, restored the broken, set free the bound, like it or not.
Sure, perhaps we can choose to accept God’s decision or not, perhaps we can run away from his decision to love us, but we cannot influence it, manipulate it, or control it. In the face of this kind of love, we are powerless. And only when we’ve died to all of our delusions of actually being in control of God or this world or our lives do we realize that such loss of perceived freedom and power is actually life.
God’s love, you see, is tenacious. And so, 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. He has proven to be like this in my life. How about yours? How about now?
Maybe this loved verse when heard fully and pondered deeply might scare us for two reasons.
- It renders us powerless
- It lays claim to us.
If God truly loves me and is present with me not to condemn me but to love me and save me from darkness within and without, and this is all his decision, will and action for me, then my life truly is in his hands and not in mine! I am rendered powerless. All we can do is receive this love of Jesus, not earn it, shape it, decide it, win it. – only receive.
I love this and yet I don’t love this. I want to do something for this love so I can say at least in part “I did this!”. But in this all-encompassing complete decision to love me with a self-sacrificing and vulnerable love, Jesus does it all. As a result, I cannot boast in my winning, our gaining, our earning, our working for it. There is no glory in this love for me, only my heavenly Father who loves me gets all glory and thanks.
This is hard for us who live with one foot in a world literally hell-bent on accumulating and exercising power as a way to try and control what happens. This world seems to have little time for sacrifice and vulnerability. It operates more on “might makes right”. And we are schooled in this from our youngest years.
I ponder the gun issue in the US and here again raising its head with proposals to soften the gun laws in Tasmania. I ponder this when I consider history – Fascism, Socialism, power-hungry people squashing the vulnerable with raw power. I see this in a person doing the very same thing in a marriage or a friendship or acquaintance. I see this in the words of hate and judgements cast over whole groups of people by some other group…..
But our God does not operate this way. He does not squash the vulnerable with his majestic and awesome power. He serves the vulnerable and powerless in self-sacrificing love. He willingly gives up his loved Son to my violence, fear, darkness and death – all for the light of me. He gets the praise. “His is the glory, risen and conquering Son!”
I am led to give up my striving for self-righteous status and admit my own vulnerability and powerlessness to control my life and simply receive his life which is a whole lot better anyway!
We also might be scared in hearing this loved word because it calls me to something that does not come naturally to me. This act of God, “like it or not”, places his Call on our life? This way of self-sacrifice for others and even willing vulnerability with others – putting ourselves in harms way for the love of others battling in darkness challenges me to the core.
If he loves me and does not condemn me when he could or even should, then trusting this decision to love me means being the same in my everyday life – withholding condemnation when it is warranted and giving of myself when it is undeserved by someone.
So, this famous bible text is the good news of the will of God, the love of God that brings light into any darkness and it is all his decision, his love, his making. I might be challenged because I can only receive it and not earn it. I might be challenged because I sense the ay God’s love calls me to love.
But, friend, this gospel in a nutshell above all says this: God’s love is a tenacious love that we cannot manipulate or control or earn or make happen. It just is, whether we ‘like it or not’. And guess what this means.
Precisely because this relationship with God is founded on his decision and will in Jesus, it is also the one relationship we cannot screw up. Because God created it, God maintains it, and God will bring it to a good end, all through the power of God’s vulnerable, sacrificial, and ever so tenacious love.
May this Word today cut through our illusions in order to heal and bring us to death that we might taste real life.
When did you first become aware of this most famous bible verse (John 3:16)? Is it the ‘gospel in a nutshell’ or you or are there other key bible verses that are that for you?
Remember that this was first spoken to Nicodemus. He is a well educated and pious man of God, but he can sense there is something very special about Jesus. yet, most see that Nicodemus cannot bring himself to declare a real interest in Jesus, so he plays it safe and comes at night, – alone and under cover of darkness.
Do you know a person like that or has this been you at some stage – wanting to ask questions and draw close to Jesus but afraid to do so for fear of what others might say or what Jesus might say!? How would sum up Jesus’ approach to the questioning Nicodemus?
I suggested that this famous verse is also challenging because it shows us that we cannot control God’s love. God decides to send jesus. God maps out the plan for the greatest act of love the world has ever seen as Jesus hangs on that cross for the life of the world. This means that I as a person cannot control God or manipulate him, as that little guy Benjamin found out when it came to his own dad’s unconditional love.
It is easy to try and manipulate God. Share/reflect on how this occurs in your life and how you see others doing this.
I suggested other challenging thing about this kind of love on show by God is that is places a call on our lives. Because we are loved like this we are called to love like this. How do you struggle with this calling?
The gospel of John is full of ‘light and darkness’ language and this passage is no exception. Nicodemus comes in the darkness to the Light! How do you think you “love the darkness instead of light” in your life, as John declares that we do? How do you see people you know doing this?
Share/Reflect on a time when you were scared to let the Lord expose your darkness and what happens when you allowed this to happen?
Nicodemus turns up later in the gospel. In John 19:39 he is mentioned as the one who takes Jesus’ broken and bloodied body down from the cross and prepares it for burial in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. It seems that he was eventually more willing to be seen as a person with a personal attachment and commitment to Jesus.
Spirit of Jesus, enlighten my heart and mind by your new birth and the hope it gives me for living so I am light in the darkness I live in within myself and among others.