GOSPEL LESSON John 6:28-40
EPISTLE LESSON Romans 10:1-13
SERMON: “God Never Said . . .”
As we begin this morning, grab a pen or pencil – take the pencil from the pew rack if you don’t have one handy. Just for fun, mark on your bulletin once for each of the following verses you believe come from the Bible:
1. "God won't give us more than we can bear"
2. "The lion shall lie down with the lamb."
3. How about this one: "Spare the rod, spoil the child."
4. "God helps those who help themselves."
5. "Money is the root of all evil."
6. “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
So, how many marks did you make? 6? Fewer? 0? Let’s check.
1. "God won't give us more than we can bear"
That is a misquote of 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it”
It seems like an encouraging thing to tell people that God won't give us more than we can bear, but you know... sometimes maybe people are going through more tragedy and pain than they are able to handle. I think of the horrific things that happen to people because of the sin of others or sickness, etc., and I just wouldn't be able to tell them that they should be able to handle it.
What God says is that he will not allow us to be tempted without giving us a way to escape sinning. Quite different.
2. "The lion shall lie down with the lamb."
This is one of the most misquoted scriptures from the Bible. There are a couple of Bible verses similar to this quote. The Bible verse that is probably being referenced is this:
"The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them." -Isaiah 11:6
3. "Spare the rod, spoil the child."
Actually, this exact Bible verse is nowhere in the Bible. But it is a close paraphrase. There are many similar Bible verses which say essentially the same thing. -Proverbs 13:24 says "He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently". (I imagine that was in anticipation of the ‘permissive parenting’ debacle)
4. "God helps those who help themselves."
Many people incorrectly reference this popular saying as a verse in the Bible. But the Bible verse doesn't exist. This saying comes to us by way of Benjamin Franklin.
5. "Money is the root of all evil."
Actually, 1 Timothy 6: 7-10 states, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil".
What is the difference? Well, actually there is a huge difference. Money itself is not inherently evil. Money in the hands of the right person may be used to do all sorts of good. It is the 'love of money' that is the problem. A love of money can cause a person to be greedy, power seeking, and negligent of other areas of his or her life.
6. “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
That one is the trick question. This verse from Matthew 7:1 may not typically be “misquoted,” Because it is there. This verse tends to be quoted out of context to mean we should never judge anyone. The Bible doesn’t tell us we shouldn’t judge anyone (or anything). Indeed, 1 Corinthians 2:15 says the exact opposite: “But he that is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.” These verses don’t contradict each other – they complement each other. Matthew 7 is talking about hypocrites who are guilty of doing the same or worse than what they condemn others for, without repenting or judging themselves first. I Corinthians points out that a spiritual judge is one who correctly judges yet is himself innocent.
If you marked 0 or 1 – you are a fine biblical scholar! If you thought more than that came from the Bible, don’t feel bad. A great many people think the Bible says those things.
There are lots of quotations that people think come from the Bible that don’t. Here are a few more – for your amusement.
Close to 30 years ago, before I ever went to seminary, I remember an evening when I was at the church practicing an organ/piano duet with a very special lady. Evy was probably in her early 50’s at the time. She had played the organ in worship since she was 17 (which means she was in worship just about every week). Her parents were great church members and “pillars of the community.” When we finished practicing, she said she had a question for me, and I knew it wasn’t a music question because her talent and experience far outstripped mine.
“Helen,” she asked, “do you believe that you have to know the date and time when you were saved?”
In all my years I’ve never known anyone who was more faithful, more kind, more generous, more loving. I told her that I supposed some people might be able to identify the exact date, time, and circumstances. I wondered why she was asking me this.
Someone from another church in town had told her that if she didn’t know the date she was saved, then she wasn’t really ‘saved.’ Evy had been in church since before she was born. She had been baptized as an infant, gone to Sunday school and been confirmed. All her life she had believed in Jesus and she couldn’t name a specific date or time when she had come to faith in Christ. And she was troubled by the notion that one has to know the exact date, because she didn’t.
I told her I can’t remember not being able to read music. I started piano lessons when I was 5. Just because I can’t remember learning to read music doesn’t mean I can’t read music.
Some of us recoil at the “E-word,” you know – “Evangelism.”
There are a lot of reasons for that, but for some of us it’s because we have been hurt or offended by some (well-meaning, perhaps) person who gets in our face and tells us that if we haven’t met certain criteria, we’re not saved. But God never said that you must know the exact date. What does God’s word say?
The Gospel of John emphasizes the importance of belief. Get those pencils out again, please. Listen to the following passages, and mark down the number of times they mention anything about knowing the date you were saved.
John 3:15 Whoever believes in Him (the Son of Man) should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:36 He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life . . .
John 5:24 (quoting Jesus): “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.
John 6:35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
John 11:25-26 Jesus said to her (Martha), “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
John 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
There are more, but you get the idea.
How many times did any of these verses mention knowing the date you were saved? If you said zero, you’re right. When scripture gives assurance of salvation, it’s about a belief, not a date.
Are there people who can name an exact date? Certainly. And it may be a blessing for them that they are able to do so. There are biblical examples of individuals who came to faith at a particular time and under memorable circumstances. Doubting Thomas in the upper room is one. The Apostle Paul himself is another example. We can read about his experience on the road to Damascus in the Book of Acts. The Ethiopian Eunuch is another person who could describe a specific time and events. Some of you may know, if not the calendar date, at least the situation, your approximate age at the time, the event during which you began to trust in Jesus Christ. Some cannot.
Not all “conversions” are especially dramatic. For many people who have been raised by Christian parents and come to worship all their lives, it’s not about a particular date. It’s rarely a sudden event: bam! One moment I didn’t believe and then all of a sudden I did. – For many people it’s a gradual process – we grow not only in Christ-like behavior, but in our belief. For some people the gospel is as easy to believe as it is to believe that they got out of bed this morning. For others it’s a life-long search, a cerebral reasoning process and an experiential growth in faith.
When I look at the world around me, from the countless varieties of birds and insects, plants and animals, planets, moons and stars, the myriad of colors, I get the impression that God is a God of infinite variety. We do not all have to come to faith in Christ by the same path. The Apostle Paul could have told everyone they needed to make a pilgrimage down the road to Damascus and encounter the living Lord. But he didn’t. In Romans 10 Paul said it simply and clearly: 9If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
It’s the Who and the How, not the when or the where that count. God never said you had to know the date.
HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Deuteronomy 6:1-12
EPISTLE LESSON Galatians 3:1-14
Two humorous observations from Bill Cosby's book, Fatherhood. He writes: Now that my father is a grandfather, he just can't wait to give money to my kids. But when I was his kid and I asked him for fifty cents, he would tell me the story of his life. How he got up at 5 A.M. when he was seven years old and walked twenty-three miles to milk ninety cows. And the farmer for whom he worked had no bucket, so he had to squirt the milk into his little hand and then walk eight miles to the nearest can. All for 5 cents a month. The result was that I never got my 50 cents.
But now he tells my children every time he comes into the house: "Well, let's see how much money old Granddad has got for his wonderful kids." And the minute they take money out of his hands I call them over to me and I snatch it away from them. Because that is MY money.
The other story that Cosby tells that I like is the difference between Mother's Day and Father's Day. He insists that Mother's Day is a much bigger deal because Mothers are more organized. Mothers say to their children: Now here is a list of what I want. Go get the money from your father and you surprise me on Mother's Day. You do that for me.
For Father's Day I give each of my five kids $20 so that they can go out and by me a present--a total of $100. They go to the store and buy two packages of underwear, each of which costs $5 and contains three shorts. They tear them open and each kid wraps up one pair, the sixth going to the Salvation Army. Therefore, on Father's Day I am walking around with new underwear and my kid's are walking around with $90 worth of my change in their pockets.
Technically we could argue that Father's Day is not a religious holiday; but it is nonetheless important for us to recognize it.
I read a story this week about a young man who wished all his life to hear his father say, “I love you.” His father had died in World War II when this man was only three years old. Although his mother had assured him many times as he was growing up that his father loved him, her affirmations never quite filled the emptiness he felt.
Then one day when he was helping his mother move, she handed him an old army picture of his dad. But the picture and frame slipped out of his hands and the glass shattered all over the floor. As he picked up the pieces, he noticed a piece of paper stuck behind the photo. It was a letter from his father. Knowing that he might die in the war, he had written a letter to his three-year old son and hidden it behind the picture. His letter expressed all his love for his son. Now, at the age of 40, this man finally received what he had longed for all his life: his father’s love.
Have you ever been going through a difficult time in your life and opened your Bible looking for encouragement? This passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians might fall out:
“For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male nor female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
If there’s anything I would like people to know about our faith and the scripture it’s that there is a lot of love and encouragement here. What more could you look for than to know that you are a beloved child of God? You don’t have to be or do or meet any man-made criteria to be a child of God.
The first church I served after seminary was in a small town, downstate Illinois. I grew up in Hyde Park, Chicago – the University of Chicago area. It is one of the longest term, successfully integrated neighborhoods in the country. People from all over the world come for the educational and research opportunities, the exceptional medical services at U of C hospitals and the many cultural and historical offerings of the city. People in Hyde Park expect to meet and work and socialize with people who were born and grew up in other communities, other parts of the country, other cultures and places around the world. So for me it was something of a cultural shock to discover that the sentiment in that small town with about 3200 residents about 50 miles east of St. Louis, with little to offer had an attitude that said “if you weren’t conceived here, you will never belong.” If you were not born and raised in that town, if your parents and grandparents weren’t from there, you were a second-class citizen.
In the Galatian Christian community, there was evidently a faction that kept insisting that the primarily Gentile Galatians must follow the Jewish law if they wished to be truly Christian. If they didn’t enter into the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic Law, they were second-class Christians, they would never fully belong. So Paul says to them in no uncertain terms: nonsense!
“Have you taken leave of your senses?” he asks. “Something crazy has happened, for it's obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the cross was certainly set before you clearly enough.
2-4 “Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God's Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren't smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it?”
You are a child of God, not because of what you have done, but because of who God is and what God has done.
Dr. Ned Hallowell, author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness believes the first thing we need in our childhood to enjoy our adult years is unconditional love from at least one adult in our lives. This unconditional love gives us self-esteem and encourages us to see the world as a friendly place.
Unconditional love of God – unconditional. We don’t have to be born in a particular place, have a certain pedigree, work at a specific job or profession, or belong to an exclusive country club to be a child of God. You don’t have to be rich – or poor to be loved by God. You don’t have to come from one particular culture, be the Big Man on Campus, the sports hero or the summa cum laude graduate to be loved by God. There’s nothing wrong with being good at sports or academics, or having a great career or standing in the community where you live. But there’s also nothing wrong with not being or doing any of those – at least not in God’s eyes.
If there was anyone well-acquainted with the promises extended to Israel through the law it was the elite-educated, formerly-zealous Pharisee, Paul. Heightened by his obvious emotional attachment to the Galatian Christians, Paul's argument against these Judaizers is both theologically brilliant and emotionally barbed. The Law – while it guides us in ethical behavior, gives us direction in getting along with one another and living lives that reflect God’s will, the Law is not what saves us or makes us lovable.
We all want at some level for our father to love us and approve of us and be proud of us. Some of us are more confident in that than others, as our earthly fathers, even the best of them, are also imperfect human beings. Be confident today of this: You are loved by God unconditionally, you are a much-loved child of God.
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HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Psalm 138
GOSPEL LESSON Mark 3:20-35
SERMON: “Just a Little Bit Crazy”
You may have seen the sign somewhere in an office that says, “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps.” Perhaps it expresses a frustration with the boss or whatever hierarchy there is. Maybe there are workers who post such a sign because of co-workers. I suspect in some places it has to do with the customers. Sometimes I think churches could legitimately post the sign. There is so much going on – there’s Sunday worship, the pumpkin patch “Come Grow with Us” campaign, Christian education programs, and choir and committee, session and deacons’ meetings and weddings and garage sales and – oh yeah, as I began writing this I realized the facilities clean-up day had long since started without me. Then there are + 95 members and friends, each with their own needs, preferences, ideas, agendae and convictions.
While neighbors and friends are taking off for the beach on Sunday mornings, getting ready for a family barbecue, or sitting in their comfy recliners watching the tennis match, here we sit on less than comfortable pews instead of lawn chairs lifting our voices in song and prayer. You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps. According to the scripture text from Mark, this perception may reveal something of what it means to be the church. Mark tells us about the day when even Jesus’ immediate family came to take him away in a straitjacket.
Have you ever been misunderstood? Have you ever been misrepresented? Has anyone ever taken your words and motives and twisted them around and used them against you? If you live long enough in this world you will face that kind of a personal attack.
I can remember instances when people have “ quoted “ me back to myself -- or I should say misquoted -- accusing me of saying things I never said and using what they thought they heard to attack me personally. It’s frustrating, but it has been a good lesson to me. It serves to remind me that God’s servants will be attacked. It affirms my chosen method of preaching from a manuscript that I might be careful about my wording and also have a record of what I actually said.
The earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus was surrounded by constant controversy. Nearly everyone He met misunderstood Him and what He came to this world to do. Many leaders and church “ authorities “ were guilty of misrepresenting His words and His works. The things He did and said in love were used to attack Him in hate!
Anyone here like being criticized?
How do you respond to criticism?
Does being criticized bring you down or fire you up? Do you want to go into hiding or hit back and hit back hard at your critics? Learning how to respond to criticism is a lifetime journey. That’s because critics will be accompanying you from cradle to grave! If you want to “avoid criticism,” said Elbert Hubbard, “do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”
Since this is a big election year there is no shortage of negative, critical remarks flying around the airwaves. Of course all politicians virtuously claim they hate “negative” ads. And, of course, every candidate uses them. The justification for both sides is “Negative ads work.” Surveys allegedly show that those nasty, negative, often highly personal attacks are the most effective way of swaying public opinion. Negativity, bad-mouthing, accusatory honking profoundly changes the way we think and the way we act.
In a Charlie Brown cartoon, little brother Linus, looking very forlorn, asks big sister Lucy, “Why are you always so anxious to criticize me?” Lucy, looking very self-righteous, replies, “I just think I have a knack for seeing other people’s faults.” Linus turns indignant. “What about your own faults?” he asks. “I have a knack for overlooking them,” says Lucy.
So how do you respond when you are criticized? In his workshop on self-esteem and peak performance Jack Canfield does an effective demonstration on dealing with criticism. He approaches one of the participants and says to her, “You hair is green.” Then he asks her if that bothers her, and she says, “No.”
“Why not?” Canfield asks.
“Because I know it’s not true,” the woman answers.
When you are on the receiving end of criticism, the first question to ask yourself is this: “Is this true?” If you find that the criticism is based in reality and it hurts, then the appropriate response is to figure out what you need to do to change things. If you discover that the criticism is no more based in reality than if someone were to accuse you of having green hair, then there is no pain.
When Jesus’ family said “He’s out of his mind,” he knew that wasn’t true. When the teachers of the law who came from Jerusalem said, He is possessed by Beelzebul!” and “By the prince of demons he is driving out demons,” Jesus knew that wasn’t true.
Knowing an accusation isn’t true doesn’t mean you have to sit back and say nothing. Jesus demonstrated the inaccuracy, the foolishness even, of their charge. He “called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. The Lord not only refuted the allegation against him, he taught another lesson in the process.
“If a house is divided against itself,” he said, “that house
Somewhere I read a true story about a chairman of a certain church committee who stood one Sunday morning before the congregation to present a minor matter of church business for a vote. After the vote, his next agenda item was to lead the congregation in singing several hymns. He confidently presented his project for a vote, fully expecting routine acceptance by the congregation. But to his surprise, the matter failed to win congregational approval. The chairman was so completely rattled by this surprising turn of events that in introducing the next hymn, instead of inviting the group to join him in singing “I Stand All Amazed,” he introduced it as “I Stand All Opposed.”
It was an honest slip of the tongue on his part but that was how he was feeling. He felt that everyone in the church was opposed to him personally. It happens in the church that we will from time to time disagree. But Heaven help the congregation that gets out the barbed wire and begins erecting it down the center aisle of the sanctuary. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
There is a positive message to be learned from here from Jesus that we must keep ourselves alert to the ways God is working in the world. Keep in mind that those who were seeking to discredit Jesus were religious people. They just didn’t expect God to be acting as Jesus said he was acting, so they missed the movement of God in their midst, and in fact, they called it evil. Today God may be speaking to us in ways that are unpopular, or in events that cause us to feel threatened and insecure. We need to exercise careful that we don’t miss the voice of God today just because it happens to be spoken by out of (our) favor lips.
Dr. Eugene Brice tells a delightful but disturbing story about a minister who returned to visit a church he had once served. He ran into Bill, who had been an elder and leader in the church, but who wasn’t around anymore. The pastor asked, “Bill, what happened? You used to be here every time the doors opened.”
“Well, Pastor,” said Bill, “a difference of opinion arose in the church. Some of us couldn’t accept the final decision and we started a church of our own.”
“Is that where you worship now?” asked the pastor.
“No,” answered Bill, “we found that there, too, the people were not faithful and a small group of us began meeting in a rented hall at night.”
“Has that proven satisfactory?” asked the minister.
“No, I can’t say that it has,” Bill responded. “Satan was active even in that fellowship, so my wife and I withdrew and began to worship on Sundays at home by ourselves.”
“Then at last you have found inner peace,” observed the pastor.
“No, I’m afraid we haven’t,” said Bill. “Even my wife began to develop ideas I was not comfortable with, so now she worships in the northeast corner of the living room, and I am in the southwest.”
Have any of you watched the series LOST? The story is about survivors of an airplane crash, stranded on an island. They were so far off course when the plane went down, that there is little hope that they will be found – at least not anytime soon. A few days after the crash, when the bottled water they had managed to salvage was nearly gone, Jack, who is developing into a leadership role discovers a waterfall away from the beach. It is pouring down gallons and gallons of fresh water. As he speaks to the survivors he implores them to help in bringing the water to the people. He says to them that if they don’t want to go, they need to find another way to contribute, because “every man for himself is not going to work.” Jack says something that becomes a motivational motto through the rest of the series: We must either work together or we will die alone.
A house divided against itself cannot stand, whether it is a family, a club, a business, a country or a church. We
must work together or we will die alone.
So what unites us? Discover that and build from there.
Jesus said, “Whoever does God’s will is” his brother and sister and mother. Whoever does God’s will is his family. God’s will is what unites them. They may have blood ties. They may be long time friends. They may hold positions of power in the synagogue or the community. They may have money. They may be attractive, beautiful people. They may be and have all of those things. Still the basic, required criteria for family unity is doing the will of God.
Delia sang it for us a few moments ago: Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness. Then all these other things will fall into place.
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.