God So Loved

March 11th, 2014

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

I have trouble with memorization. Give me a verbal grocery list, and I will ask you to write it down. (My spouse has offered even to pin it to my shirt!) When I was in community and university theatre, the other actors knew that I would have my lines down eventually, emphasis on “eventually."

Indeed, it was not until sometime in college that I knew my social security number by heart, and only then due to the university’s practice of tracking everything by a student’s social security number. Now with the very real issue of identity theft, organizations do not use your SSN and give you a different set of numbers to identify your files. Worst of all, this means you now have yet another number to remember and forget and remember and forget.

Yet, I can stand before a congregation and recite a verse of scripture. How? When all manner of things, including even other verses of scripture, seem to defy memory, I can recall this verse without pause. I suppose it has to do in part with repetition. I eventually got my SSN down. I eventually memorized my lines by opening night.

Over the years, the verse known as “John 3:16” was impressed upon me by repetition, through children and youth education, sermons, music, church newsletters, you name it. It is a verse taken to heart by the congregations of my childhood. In turn, it became a verse that I carry with me throughout the journey of life. Indeed, this one verse of scripture speaks for so much of Christian beliefs, summing up the way Christians understand God and explains why we share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. These words are for everyone to know and take to heart.

Go back to the most famous verse of New Testament scripture and ponder these words carefully. The world God deeply loves is a place of great brokenness, fractured by human sin and great sorrow. God sends his one and only Son to be the salvation of the world, though some will not choose to take the Gospel at its word. According to John’s gospel, the world is a place where things are a bit grim, in need of a light to find its way out of the shadows that otherwise overwhelm. John’s prologue celebrates what God is bringing about in Jesus’ life and ministry, claiming, “the true light was coming into the world, meant for everyone” (John 1:9, paraphrased).

Such a love for the world means that not one of us is beyond redemption and not one of us is without hope. Taking this to heart, we are free to see the world with new eyes, less jaded or resigned to “fate” and more empowered and liberated to love our neighbors and ourselves in more life-giving, abundant ways. It is a word that we help the wee ones learn in Sunday school, the word informing our proclamation, and the word driving churches in word and deed alike. By doing so, we bring God’s promise fully to the world.

The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann wisely observes,

For if God has raised the persecuted, forsaken, assailed Jesus, who was executed by the power-holders of this world, then he brings the future to the persecuted, forsaken, and damned of this earth. Christ’s resurrection is the promise of a new future for the godless and God-forsaken people, and not least for the dead. (A Broad Place, Fortress Press, 2008, p. 103)

In too many places in the world are where the persecuted, forsaken, and damned live in fear, destitution, and marginalization.

In too many churches are people taught these powerful words of Gospel and given too little encouragement to go out into the midst of the world, showing the sign of the crucified One through their words and actions.

When we choose to live as children in the fullness of Christ’s incarnate ways, we cast that light further into the world, bringing hope, empowerment, and grace where there might otherwise be none. “John 3:16” goes from lips to heart to hands and feet. In doing so, the Crucified One is seen lifted up in the midst of the world.

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