John 3:16

May I speak in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Amen.

……………

My friend Luci has a problem.

Surprisingly often,

She finds herself using words to mean

The exact opposite

Of their actual meaning.

She’s not off by a little bit.

She’s 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

She uses the word levity – humour, lightness, laughter,

When she means gravity – weight, importance, dignity.

She uses the word dearth, which means scarcity,

To signify abundance.

For whatever reason,

Most people seem content to let her languish in her misapprehension –

I don’t know if they don’t want to be rude,

Or if they aren’t that confident themselves that they understand these words –

But she’ll go for years using them incorrectly until someone,

Usually her mom,

Lets her know.

As is common among folks who’ve held wrong beliefs for some time,

She doesn’t immediately accept this correction.

No, she digs in her heels,

Until provided with incontrovertible proof

That she’s been using these words wrong.

………..

I thought about my friend Luci this week

As I looked at John’s Gospel.

We all know this verse, right?

The most famous verse

Of all the famous verses

In Scripture.

John 3:16 is what we see splashed on placards at baseball games

In Twitter bios.

It is,

As Lutheran pastor John Stevens says,

The Gospel in miniature.

It sums up the whole of our faith:

“God so loved the world

That he gave his only Son,

So that everyone who believes in him

May not perish

But have eternal life.”

God.

SO LOVED

The world that he gave us

His only Son

His very self

So that EVERYONE who believes in him

May not perish

But have eternal life.

What an extraordinary truth.

What an incredible gift.

God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – let’s be clear

That we are talking about the whole Trinity here, not just the Father –

God so loved us.

Sinful us.

Who have stoned and murdered the prophets who came before.

Who have consistently turned away from the Law God has given us

To show us how to live in a just and merciful society.

Who have chosen self and greed

Over God and love every time

Still loved us

So much

That he was willing to die on a cross

To pay the price it would take

To bear the cost himself

Instead of putting it on us

To serve as a ransom

For many.

So that everyone who believes in him –

The traditional translation here is a bad one, it would be better to say

Trusts him –

May not perish, but have eternal life.

This is Good News!

Extraordinary news.

The kind of news no other God on the block

Was promising in those days – or, really, in any days.

The idols of the world promise us many things:

Wealth

Youth

Popularity

But no one ever has or ever could

Promise eternal life

Not because we’ve earned it,

But because we trust Jesus.

This is the heart of the Gospel,

Our sure and certain hope.

And yet.

Too many people have seemed to use this verse, in my experience,

To mean its exact opposite.

When I see a poster with John 3:16 written on it,

I don’t think of God’s lifegiving grace,

I think of the protestors outside the abortion clinic I walked past in Connecticut,

Shouting at the women walking in

(And, often, women walking past like me)

Words of judgment and condemnation.

When someone puts this verse in their Twitter bio

I don’t expect them to recognize me

As their fellow sinner given redemption by Jesus

I expect them to send threatening tweets

Calling me names

Because I am an ordained woman.

This verse,

This extraordinary verse

That conveys God’s unconditional love and devotion

Even to a people who have rejected him over and over

Has been so twisted to mean

The opposite of its actual meaning.

And just like my friend Luci,

When I tell them they’re interpreting it incorrectly,

They don’t respond very well.

They dig in their heels.

They focus on the part that hasn’t been translated into English well,

Declaring that the important bit is the believing in Jesus part,

Not the God so loving the world part.

Responding to this extraordinary evidence of God’s love

With further exclusion

And cordoning off themselves as somehow better

Than the rest of the world that God loves.

But we can’t do that.

Because if we keep reading,

We hear Jesus continue:

“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.”

Jesus is very, very clear.

God condemns the darkness,

And the deeds practiced in darkness

Because people knew they were evil.

But God does not condemn the world.

God LOVES the world.

God died

So that the world might be saved.

We who follow him

Are called to love that world

That messy, sinful, broken world,

Full of people practicing evil deeds,

Stoning the prophets

And breaking the Law

As much as God does.

It will be costly to do so.

It cost Jesus his life.

But Jesus was willing to pay that price

To not condemn the world.

To not set up barriers of exclusivity

Around who is righteous

And who is not.

Instead, he gathered up all of us

Everyone

The whole world

And declared that through him

That world shall be saved.

When we twist this Gospel,

When we use it condemn rather than to save,

We are not loving the world

As God did.

And so today I am reclaiming this verse.

I am putting those who would use it to condemn God’s beloved on notice

And telling them to back off.

Because whatever meaning they think it has is wrong.

They don’t get to take the heart of the Gospel from us

And use it to hurt instead of to heal.

God so loved the world

And through his grace

Because of this first love he had toward us

So will we.

Amen.

 

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