“For God So Loved…”

John 3:14-21, March 14th, 2021

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


Fourth Sunday in Lent

Read Statement of Faith

“Hear now these ancient words attributed to the teachings of Jesus in the gospel according to John, chapter three, verses fourteen thru twenty-one.”

John 3:14-21

14 And just as Moses lifted-up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted-up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  16 “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.  17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  18 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.  19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

“Having heard this lesson, this teaching moment, let us consider what it was that Jesus truly wants us to lift-up in our present realities here in the Twenty-First Century!”

“For God So Loved…”

When I was a lot younger, a young lad actually, my dad liked to take all of us, me, my mom, my three sisters, and my two brothers, camping.  Dad liked to take us on vacation and travel around the country, on his summer vacation, while keeping the costs down low by camping in a one room tent along the way.  It was a big tent, heavy too, not one of these fancy new ones with two or three rooms that are available now.  We had a gas stove and a lantern.  We did go to some fantastic places, like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore.  Those were fantastic!  Even after all those years I still remember the majesty and splendor of such places.  We went to a lot more places than that, like driving through Las Vegas in the middle of the night to avoid the heat of the dry desert.  There was no air conditioner in that old Beach Wagon! 

While on one such vacation I remember seeing two baby black bears… they were so cute.  Mom always remembered keeping a lookout for the momma bear; thankfully, we never got to see her!  Did see one rip apart a family’s tent and car looking for food.  Yes sir, some fantastic memories from the eyes of the eight-year lad I was.  I saw the geyser, Old Faithful, in Yellowstone, erupting into the sky.  As an adult I came to realize it goes up less than it did in my mind’s eye as a child.  The vacationing high points are great but there were a few down sides to such an adventure.  Like the time dad pulled the car off into a field with one to two feet of tall grass.  By the time we put the tent up we realized that the mosquitoes had won, so we repacked the car and moved on.  Then there were those dark black nights when you couldn’t see the stars and the gas lantern was the one and only light.  Flashlights get overused and are always needing new batteries.  That night, apparently, mine was not working… if I actually had a flashlight.  This is a really old memory.  Dad turned off the gas lantern to conserve on fuel.  It was as black as night darkness can be.  The only thing I could see was my brother’s eyes before he fell asleep.  I peered into the darkness of night knowing everyone else was fast asleep.  I sure did miss the light.

Today, as a mature adult I realize the ‘light’ I was seeking was not yet part of my understanding.  In the darkness that night, even as a child… so long ago, I felt alone, and I was frightened.  Larry Broding sheds some light on this conversation through a rhetorical question about being in the dark.  “Have you ever been in the ‘dark’ about something?”  As a child I was clearly in the dark about my fears.  He goes on to ask, “What happened when a ‘light’ was thrown on the subject?”  In this analogy, it was many years before I came to understand the ‘light’ of God in my life.  In hindsight, I can see that the young lad of my youth had no awareness of God’s presences as I do now.  A great deal of life has been lived and lessons learned, and now I can say that there were many stumbling blocks along my personal journey of faith.  My journey has not been unlike a lot of young lads that had to live into their futures before becoming aware of the transforming power of God’s Love, God’s Light, and God’s Grace.  I was taught the right lessons through my church as a lad and the church of my teen years.  Yet, I, like so many, missed the part about having a personal relationship with my Creator God.  I was “in the dark” about that!

As our journeys of faith move ever forward and into our future, we are given many opportunities to come to know God more personally.  Some never make the choice to invite God into their lives.  Others are afraid to let God in, as they were wrongly taught that God would not accept them as they are.  This is categorically not true.  God’s love is unconditional, endless, and unlimited.  It is understandable that some get lost in the writings contained in the Old Testament, where early believers did not have a clear grasp on the boundless love of God.  Their endless stories of how they turned away from the out-stretched arms of God’s warm embrace and choose instead, the sins of humankinds ceaseless self-centered ego driven desires as an alternative, are disheartening but true!  And yes, in the ancient understandings of God the writer needed to speak of God’s judgement and wrath.  But me and you, we do not live in Old Testament times!  We have the birth of Jesus and all the testimonies to his being the Messiah, the Savior of humankind.  Without a doubt, we now have a choice!  Knowing this, knowing the accountings and stories, we can seek out a relationship with the very Son of God, thereby allowing us to know more fully the fullness of God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace.  If you have come this far then surely you too can have the opportunity to know the Light of God in your life!

Alan Brehm, a theologian I often quote, speaks to us about faith.  “Our faith, our truth, our convictions are meant to be put into practice in our lives.  But that’s not something you learn to do like riding a bike: once you learn it you’ve got it.  It’s more like learning a musical instrument: we’re always learning how to practice faith in real life.”  I have talked about learning how to ride a bicycle.  Once you get up on it and get the peddles going – well, soon after most of us master the art and never forget how.  True, as we grow older, we may become unable to ride because of our aging process… but fundamentally, once we learn to ride – it is a skill we can count on.  Alan Brehm is telling us our faith journeys are not like learning to ride a bike.  Rather, our faith journey is more like learning to play an instrument.  For you golfers out there you could contrast this with learning to play golf.   If you take a few years off from the sport and then start playing again, you will remember some of the basics – like this takes practice!   If you want to be good at golf or playing an instrument you need to keep playing and practicing.  I have often heard faith compared to the tide, it ebbs and flows.  The tide comes and the tide goes out.  The point of all these illustrations boils down to the fact – our faith lives are something we need to keep practicing even when the tide is out.  If we throw in the towel and give up because life isn’t going the way we think it ought, we oftentimes give up or lose our faith! 

“And just as Moses lifted-up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted-up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” /John 3:14 &15/ In the scriptures when the Israelites were out on the desert, many were dying due to the deadly serpents, so Moses prayed to God about it.  God told Moses to lift-up a serpent on a stick and all who were bitten might look upon it and live.  Likewise, Jesus was prophesying that he would be lifted-up and all who believed in him would have eternal life.  That’s the beauty of living in the shadow of the New Testament, we all already know the story, even if your faith has grown dim because of your human plight.  Jesus was born and all signs since his birth point to his being the Son of God.  The agony of the story is his betrayal and then his execution by crucifixion.  We retell the story every year so that we can be reminded of how Jesus lived his human life and then gave it up for us!  That’s sacrifice!  That’s true love, for God loves us so much and still does that Jesus was willing to die for our humanness and give us a second chance… as many times as it takes for us to come to believe!  Verse sixteen of our scripture lesson is often referred to as the sign of victory.  John three Sixteen it the crux of our understanding of Christianity.  It is also the passage that draws the most criticism from other world religions – as it clearly suggests it is the only way to heaven.  I am still young in my faith journey… yet, I have come to believe that God’s grace is bigger than my narrow understanding of this passage.  Knowing how the scriptures, as they now are written got to us, I am not going to condemn others based on one sentence.  Rather, I lift-up this passage as a challenge to all practicing Christians to examine their own faith journey and leave the judgement up to God in heaven!  Jesus is quoted as saying: “You that are without sin – cast the first stone!” /John 8:7adapted/

How does this lesson help us solve the problem of fear for the young lad I once was?  Is it truly as simple as through my faith I have come to believe in the promises of God?  And now I can, and I shall see that the ‘Light’ of God has cast out the darkness and fear with it”!?  I am no longer afraid of the darkness of life.  Yet, I am still human, and I still have moments of doubt and fear.  Nonetheless, so long as I, so long as we, you, and I, continue to practice our faith we shall continue to grow stronger in our faith in that which we cannot see.  Through our understanding of the Christ story, we have come to believe that the “Light” the “Love” of God can overcome the ‘darkness’, the ‘sinfulness’ of humanity.  This is the critical message of our scripture lesson today.  “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” /John 3:19-21/ As a lad I had not come to know God and alone in the darkness I was fearful.  But, when I came of age and accepted the ‘Love” of God into my life, I began to take responsibility for my personal faith and my relationship with God as I have come to know God.  As a practicing Christian I know God through my personal Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Have you come to know God’s love?

Amen.

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