Broad Brook Congregational Church
Second Sunday in Lent
March 16, 2014
John 3: 1-21
God So Loved The World
In the Literary world we have classics. There are few people, who have not heard of Tom Sawyer, Catch 22, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Romeo and Juliet, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, And the list goes on. Readers and nonreaders alike are aware of the great classics.
Our scripture lesson this morning is a classic. Christians and non-Christians are familiar with this passage. Not only is it familiar but it comes with a whole host of muddled associations. For that reason it is difficult to hear this story in a new light.
For one thing, it has been co-opted by sports fans. There is hardly a game in which John 3:16 is not seen on a sign. I have never quite understood its significance to sports. Perhaps the fans use it to say that God is on the side of their team. I just don’t know!
Then there is the issue of verse 3. “Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”
Our Pentecostal and Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters understand that to mean “born again” in order to be saved. To humans discredit, this passage has been used in some dreadful ways to divide Christians into groups.
The question, “Are you born again?” when asked by an insider, is intended to determine the person’s qualifications for salvation as a believer in Jesus the Christ.
The same question when posed by an outsider, is trying to determine whether the person is a religious zealot.
Holding on to such stereotypes is harmful. Neither picture is accurate nor helpful in building up the body of Christ.
The phrase “born again” does not define us. I hope no one uses it to differentiate us from them. God who wants us all to be one expects works that build up
Not tear apart the body of Christ.
Why are classics definitive?
Songs, texts, or symbols are deemed classic because they hold inherent truths– truths that are applicable in our own time–in our own context. As Congregationalists we do not typically place emphasis on being born again. At least not in the same sense as our Evangelical or Pentecostal brothers and sisters in Christ.
It is common in our church to read the passage As being born anew and has limited connection with being saved.
If we are born anew, can we do it by ourselves?
Who bears us and bears with us today?
We can’t do it ourselves, although we certainly try. We think we don’t need help;
that we are strong enough to do it ours elves. That is when we run into trouble.
We ignore our humanness, our human fallibility.
God is a patient God. God desires a relationship with us. God loves us. God loves the world. We need God!
We are born anew when we confess our sins, when we seek forgiveness. We are born anew through Communion. We are born anew through the Resurrection.
We start each day with a clean slate in God’s eyes. And so we are born anew each and every day. We can’t do any of that on our own. “For God so loved the world”
Love is patient and kind. “Love bear all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends… I Corinthians 13: 4, 7-8.” It is God’s free gift of grace; It is God’s gift of love that bears us and bears with us.
What new insights can be gleaned from our passage?
What about Nicodemus?
Do you identify with Nicodemus?
Have you ever said: “Can I ask a stupid question?” I certainly have. And the response is usually: “There are no stupid questions.”
Perhaps this is said to put us at at ease so that we do not feel silly for asking such a question. But I think there are some stupid questions. And Nicodemus has asked some! But if Nicodemus has, then so can we. His questions really are very funny.
Reading this passage with an ear to humor gives a new perspective.
Jesus has used metaphor and parables through out his ministry. That fact seems to have eluded Nicodemus. He takes Jesus literally and asks; “How is it possible for an adult to be born?” He also asks: “How are such things possible?”
Jesus’ response has underpinnings of humor. “You are a teacher of religion and you don’t understand this?”
Many have heard shame in this response but I hear Jesus’ irony. I agree with Anna Carter Florence who said:”…humor is often a better motivator than shame (Feasting on the Word. Year A Vol.2, pg. 73).”
Hearing it in this way gives us a new standpoint. If Nicodemus is able to stand in front of Jesus and ask funny questions; and if Peter and the other disciples seem to lack understanding at times, then that leaves an opening for our ignorance too.
In our seeking we too are free to ask questions.
So here is a question: If God so loved the world Why do we try to limit God’s love?
Even John is tempted to limit God’s love. Where does John say that the disciples are to love the world?
On the one hand, John’s tunnel vision talks of Christian love as being focused
On Christ and the church. Yet on the other hand, he describes creation as being a focus of God’s love.
“For God so loved the world…” the whole world, all creation, all nations, all ethnicities. What would it mean if we took seriously the notion that God loves the world, loves vast space, and natural energies, and corporate structures, and political power?
If we lived in such a way that God’s love for the world was an integral part of our thinking, how would that effect our corporate structures, our use of political power in relation to the world?
God made us stewards of creation, of the whole world. By limiting our understanding of God’s love We have failed to deeply care for the whole world—for all creation.
“For God so loved the world” God’s love is unconditional! Yet, how often do we attach conditions to it? God loves us if we are righteous, if we are educated, if we meet whatever condition we place on God’s love. We seem to disconnected God and creation. God loves the world in this time and history. God continues to act, love, and be involved with the world.
“For God so loved the world…” Creation continues to be restored and redeemed
because of God’s love. In the Incarnation, God came into the world to save and redeem. God acted in Jesus the Christ because “God so loved the world.”
There is much wisdom in our passage for this morning. It is both paradoxical and mysterious. May we begin to realize the humor, spend time with Nicodemus in our seeking, and share God’s love for creation by putting into service our gifts, talents, and desires. Spend time with this passage. Give it some space to simply BE and to laugh. For God so loved the world!
These are my ponderings for this morning. I offer them to you in the greatest of hope.