Sermon: Lent 4 Year B
Right in the middle of our gospel text for today, comes what I think is probably the best known and most quoted bible verses found in the New Testament. It is so well known, that if I were to show you just the chapter number and verse, I bet you could recite it from memory. Ok, here is the chapter and verse, (hold up 3:16 sign), Ready, here we go: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.
Why is this verse so popular?
Why does this single verse carry so much weight?
Well, I think that this text from John has some powerful things to say about God: We hear that God loves the world! We hear that God loved the world, and that this love was shown as the Son of Man, the only Son of God, Jesus Christ was raised on a cross to be a sign for all the world of God’s love and to be healed and forgiven and given life through this action of God.
We hear of a God who desires to save the world, not to condemn it. We hear of a God who gives eternal life, not eternal death!
Another question for you: Has this verse become so popular and well-known that we hardly even notice it anymore? I know that this week, I have been feeling like I am reading this text, one that I have known for a long time, in a new way.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
This week, these words, words I have spoken for years, have suddenly become rather troubling to me. What if I don’t believe, or if I don’t believe well enough? What about all those people who don’t believe? On one level, it might seem like it should be easy enough to believe. But this word, translated as belief, is more than that.
To believe is to have trust, to have faith, to believe, to have confidence in, to have assurance. Wow, suddenly this word believe is more than I thought!
In my time serving God and God’s people, I have been blessed in being present to help people through the rough transition of living to dying. I have known people, people maybe in their eighties or nineties,
people who have been faithful people, express real and terrifying fear that their faith is not going to be enough. It is like they are worried about showing up at the gate of heaven and presenting the ticket, maybe even a ticket of admission with John 3.16 on it, and then being told that the level of their faith was not enough. The price of admission was more than what they had. I make light of this, but believe me, the fear is real.
I think that I would not be exaggerating too much to say that most of us go through periods in our lives when our faith level varies. There are so many times in our life that challenge the very ground that we walk on.
Maybe we have all experienced moments when what we live through silences our faith, or even completely depletes it.
What happens then? What if we were to have to face judgment at those moments?
A number of years ago, I was able to hear Bishop Emerita, April Larson preach on this text. Bishop Larson shared that when she was young, she had this image of drowning in a lake, and having Jesus come up in a life-boat,
ask her if she believed, and if she said yes, he would toss her a life-ring from the safety of the boat, without even getting himself wet.
Bishop Larson realized that that is not the savior she wanted. She wanted a savior, which finding us drowning in the water, would not be content to merely toss us a ring. She wanted a savior willing to jump into the water with us, grab hold of us, and then haul us out of the water with him.
I think, dear friends that this is what our text says. We have a God who loves this world, who gave God’s Son, who brings hope and promise and the reality of eternal life!
We have a God who loves us, in spite of the darkness in our lives, in spite of our doubts!
Maybe we should start the reading of the gospel one verse earlier than we have printed in the bulletin. Jesus says in verse 13, “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” We cannot reach heaven, no matter how faithful we are, no matter how much we believe,
no matter how good we live our lives, on our own. It is only because of this Son of Man, this Jesus, this loving God, that we have life.
The word ‘believe’ is used five times in a short space, so it must be important. But I worry that we read this text, this text we all know so well, emphasizing the wrong parts. I don’t think we are to read it so that the accent falls on what we are to do (read the text accenting that part).
Why don’t we, the next time we read or recite John 3.16,
Reflect on what God has done for us in Jesus Christ? The write of Ephesians can help us out with that:
4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.