EPISTLE LESSON II Corinthians 4:13-5:1
GOSPEL LESSON John 3:1-17
SERMON: “What Is ‘Eternal’ Life?”
This passage of scripture, the third chapter of John’s gospel, is probably one of the best known passages. If anyone memorizes just one or two verses of scripture, it is very likely that John 3:16 is one verse they will learn. It’s one of the few that I memorized from the King James Version: “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.” We get it that God, the Creator, loved – and still loves – the world. We may not be able to fully grasp the full magnitude, immeasurable power, or total omniscience and omnipresence of God, but we know what it means to love someone. For God so loved the world . . .
We have a sense of what it is to sacrifice, to give up something for the benefit of someone we love. Last weekend was Memorial Day weekend, in which we remembered and honored those who sacrificed life and limb to protect our country and our freedoms. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. . .
We know what it is to believe in someone, to be sure in our very being that they are real, authentic, honest and sincere, trustworthy. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him . . . should not perish but have eternal life.
We know what it means to perish, to be destroyed, to die, to pass away. . . but what does it mean to have ‘eternal’ life? In the King James Version the word is translated ‘everlasting.’ Eternal – no beginning, no ending. One of the first children’s messages I came across as a seminary student was to explain the concept of eternal. The suggestion was to set up before worship with a piece of yarn that had one end coming in through a window and after going all over the sanctuary going out the door, with the other end out of sight. No beginning, no ending.
A couple of weeks ago I started watching “The Universe” a series of programs about the Sun, the planets, their moons and beyond to the galaxies. It is mind boggling to learn that the galaxy in which we live is about ten billion years old and may have somewhere between 200 and 400 billion stars. And there may be as many as 200 billion galaxies. The universe itself is estimated to be at least 13-1/2 billion years old. How all this universe began is a topic for another day. Just knowing that the creation we live in is that old means that for all practical purposes for us right now – we can’t see the beginning of the string. And although one of the episodes presented the probability of the eventual end of our sun, that is so many millions or billions of years in the future, that we can’t see that end of the string either. Eternal – we can’t see either end.
We earthlings understand time in linear terms of past, present and future. Oddly enough, the most difficult of those to grasp is the present. Think about time. You either
think of the past or the future.
I remember an annoying game we used to play as children. My friend would say, “I’ll bet you can’t touch me.” She didn’t move when I reached out and placed my hand on her arm. “You didn’t touch me; you just touched my arm.” No matter where I placed my hand – I wasn’t able to “touch her.” The present is something like that. The moment you try to catch hold of it, it becomes the past. For all our talk of living in the “here and now,” the present is one time zone we can’t hold on to.
Leonard Sweet reflects on theologian Paul Tillich’s work The Eternal Now, in which Tillich locates God in that “timelessness zone.” He says that “the ‘now moment’ is the eternal moment, a moment without time, a moment beyond time, a moment that contains all past and future moments in one Eternal now moment. In other words, the wholeness of God is found in the Eternal Life of ‘now.’
Someone once asked me, “When Christians come up to me and ask me if I’m saved, what do they mean? Saved from what?”
That’s one of those questions that we probably would get as many answers as we have people in the room. Saved – from the power of death; from destruction; from pun-
ishment for sin. . . Saved – for heaven, for eternal life.
When Jesus promised us the gift of eternal life, he didn’t just mean something that we can look forward to in the future. Eternal life is a gift of living in the NOW that God lives in. Eternal Life is the ability to live the divine time of NOW now.
Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation gives us John 3:16-17 this way:
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.
Eternal life is the gift of wholeness, now. Eternal life is the gift of being able to put the past in the past and living the eternal NOW of God now.
That eternal “now” is possible now because of a specific gift: God “gave his only Son.”
God first gave the Son to the world, to an earthly life.
Then God gave the Son to the cross, to an atoning death.
This atonement makes possible a living At-One-Ment
with God, with self, with others, with all creation. At-One-Ment enables us to live in the moment.
This is the promise of the gospel. This is the promise of John 3:16. Trusting in the atoning death of Christ on the cross brings us the experience of Eternal Life, of life lived with God in the “now.”
That’s not just Tillich. The night before his crucifixion, this is the prayer Jesus raised to his Father: “this is Eternal Life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn.17:3).
This is what Christ offers: wholeness, not just physical wholeness, not just in some unforeseeable future. Physical wholeness, relationship wholeness, emotional wholeness, spiritual wholeness.
Some of you know that I’ve been singing with the Grand Rapids Edelweiss Choir for a little over a year. The choir is a part of the Edelweiss Club which provides community for people of Germanic descent and promotes their culture. We sang yesterday afternoon at Festival – a program of spring songs, many of them love songs. I have found it a challenge to read music and read German at the same time.
Well the second line of the second verse of one of the love songs says, “Sie hat ein roten Mund (She has a red mouth); sollt’ ich sie darauf kussen, mein Herz wurd mir gesund (If I could thereon kiss her, my heart would be . . . gesund). Gesund. Gesundheit – what some of us say when someone sneezes. Gesundheit is healthyness. Gesund = healthy.
Since I’ve been singing with this choir I have delighted in getting to know and sing with a woman originally from Austria. I turn to her for vocabulary help now and then. “If I kiss her, my heart will be healthy ???” I’m thinkin’ I can give up oat bran. . .
“Here it means ‘healed.’” my Austrian-born neighbor explained. Healing.
Eternal Life – may mean an afterlife in heaven, no more pain, no suffering, no sadness.
Here Eternal Life means healing. It is the gift of wholeness. Anglican Bishop Stephen Bayne wrote, “Eucharistic people take their lives and break them and give them in daily fulfillment of what our Lord did and does.
“He took his life in his own hands. This is freedom.
“He broke it --- this is obedience.
“He gave it … this is love.
“And he still does these simple acts at every table and in
every heart that will have its soul and time and eternity meet.”
“This is Eternal Life,” said Christ, “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17: ) That will be true when we die, but not only then. Eternal life is living NOW in God. For this reason Peter was able to proclaim to first century Christians, “The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (I Peter 5:10)
This is what we celebrate when we come to the Table. This is why we call it the joyful feast of the people of God.
Not because it is just another funeral for Jesus.
Not because anyone has earned the right to come.
Not because we want to show off what good little Christians we are.
We come to nourish faith and celebrate Eternal Life, the gift of God’s unconditional love now, at-one-ment with God now, wholeness now.
This is what God is doing among us now.