"God's Love" A sermon by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on John 3:16. ______________________________________________________________________
For most Christians, today's gospel is one of the--if not THE most familiar passages of the New Testament. Many of us memorized it in Sunday School. I've read, or heard those words spoken, or have spoken them myself thousands of times. Martin Luther once said that John 3:16 captured the entire essence of the Gospel, thus he referred to it as: "The Gospel in miniature."
This passage has been the source of inspiration for countless Christian preachers, teachers, musicians and artists down through the ages. It might be called the banner passage of Christianity, since it often is displayed in public places on signs, billboards, and flags. Even though it is a familiar passage to us all, and we may tend to rattle off those words without giving them much thought--nevertheless, there remains something very deep, holy, compelling, and powerful in those words: "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."
These words, when they have been heard or read for the first time, have made a tremendous impact on people's lives. They are life-giving and life-changing words for many people. Listen to the testimony of the following two stories.
The first story was shared with me by the Rev. Randy Mohr, and comes from the work of the Bible Society. "Bible Society colporteurs were giving out New Testaments in an area of Africa. The pages were high quality rice paper. One man admitted he'd only use the pages to roll cigarettes. 'But first read each page, then have a smoke,' said the Bible Society representative. Later the man said, 'I read every page up until John 3:16--then I couldn't smoke anymore!' How's that for a new twist on why you should read the Bible? We ought to tell our health ministers about this--it might revolutionize Bible reading!"
The second story, also told by the Bible Society, comes from India. "Dr. Shastri lives in Shapur in the Betul district of North India. He earned his doctorate in literature in the Hindu Vedic Scriptures. He was a staunch Hindu and spent all his energies propagating Hinduism. He addressed public meetings and spoke against Christianity."
"One night after speaking in a village, he stayed in a friend's home. He couldn't sleep so he looked for something to read. He found nothing, but in the rubbish bin he noticed a small booklet which he picked up and began to read. It was the Gospel of John. When he reached the third chapter he was so amazed at the words of Jesus that there and then he decided to follow Christ."
"Because he is so highly educated in the Vedic scriptures, he is often asked by Hindu priests to speak at special meetings, especially festivals and weddings. He begins by explaining the Veda to the people and then tells them of his conversion to Christianity, portraying Jesus as the fulfilment of the Veda search for truth."
This story demonstrates the saving power of the Gospel message, which, as the passage emphasizes, is meant for all peoples of the world.
The Greek word for love here is AGAPE. The word is written in the form of a superlative, it makes the point that this love of God is the most supreme, most unlimited, highest, and greatest act of love. It is an all-inclusive love--that's why we Christians can believe in universal salvation--with the qualifier that it is universal for all who believe in Jesus Christ.
Many Christian poets and hymn writers have picked up on this awe-inspiring theme of God's supreme, unlimited, all-inclusive love. Two of my favourites are Isaac Watts and Samuel Crossman. Watts, after reflecting upon the sacrificial love of God, in his hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," concludes by focusing on the believer's response to this agape-love, when he says: "Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all!" In other words, because God in Christ has given his all for each one of us, we, too, are able to give our all for God by way of response.
Samuel Crossman, in his hymn, "My Song Is Love Unkown," picks up on the all-inclusive nature of God's love, when he says: "Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be." Here Crossman is at his best, by making the point that even the most unlovable people become lovely--ARE MADE LOVELY through the sacrificial love of Christ on the cross. Of course, "the loveless" for Crossman REFERS TO EVERYONE IN THEIR SINFUL CONDITION IN NEED OF GOD'S LOVE--INCLUDING YOU AND ME. All of us are sinners, unworthy of God's love--yet, the Good News is that God loves us anyhow, making us lovely in order that we might go out and share this love with everyone through our words and deeds.
James Hewett tells the following story. "One night very late in the evening Don McKenzie was called to the hospital. As he was walking down the semidark hall, with no people around, a man suddenly ran out of one of the patient rooms. He ran up to Don McKenzie who had never seen him before--and he said to him with joy in his face, 'She's going to make it. She's better. She is going to make it,' and then he made his way on down the hall. McKenzie has not seen the man since. He does not know who the man was talking about. McKenzie assumed it was someone very near and dear to him, and he had just received good news. He could not wait to share it. He did not even have to know the person with whom he shared it; it just flowed from him because he had received good news, and good news is to be shared."
God wants us to share the Good News of Christ's saving love with the world. We, too, can share this wonderful message with enthusiasm, because it is a life-changing and life-giving message. As we share God's love, like that man in the hospital shared his good news, who knows what impact it will have on people's lives. It may very well make all the difference in someone's life--like it did for Dr. Shastri in India, like it did for that man in Africa.
This Lenten season, our gospel reminds us of the power and scope of Christ's sacrificial love on the cross. It's a love that has saved each one of us; it's a love that is longing to reach out to everyone in this world. Will we be so moved and convinced of God's love that we cannot keep it to ourselves--we just have to share it with the world? I hope and pray that we will!