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12.14.14 Christ God’s Love John 3:1-21 Sermon Summary

by on December 15, 2014

At the heart of all divinely inspired religion is a question of an intensely personal and spiritual nature. Christianity’s answer is summarized by today’s Gospel reading.

Summary Points

  • Some of the questions we humans seem to be asking
  • How fear drives us to the fundamental question of humanity
  • How God answers that question and deals with our fears
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

Love

One of the virtues of religion is that it offers adherents answers to basic questions of identity, purpose, and meaning. Many of us are distracted from such questions by busyness, worries, or guilt. Nonetheless, God seeks to answer our deepest questions through religion.

When you look at our behavior as humans, you will find some other questions we seem to trying to answer. For example, we never tire of exploration—geographically, in space, by knowledge. The question might be, How far can we extend ourselves? Or consider our accumulation of things—material or intellectual. The question might be, How much can I possess? Or take our acts of kindness and generosity; How can I make the world a better place?

These questions do drive us, but they only reflect the fundamental question of humanity which is, Why would God be interested in me? Today’s readings suggest that we ask this question out of four fears, fears that God overcomes in Jesus Christ.

The first fear arises from the question of Psalm 8. Given how grand creation is, why would God be interested in me? “When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars—what are human beings that you are mindful of them?” (3-4). It is a question arising out of the fear that we are unimportant.

Ironically, Job asks the same question out of a different fear. He is in the midst of great suffering and asks, Why is God so interested in me? “What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment? Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you?” (Job 7:17-20)

Or if you prefer the more terse and popular version: “I know, I know, we are your chosen people, but once in a while, can’t you choose someone else?” (Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof) This is a question that arises out of the fear of annihilation.

John 3 reveals two more fears. Jesus makes reference to Moses and the ancient Israelites in the wilderness. In response to their complaints, God sent a plague of poisonous serpents through the camp. When the people identified their sin, God offered salvation through a statue of a serpent. Jesus says God makes the same offer through him. The first reason from John 3 that we ask, Why would God be interested in me, is out of the fear of condemnation.

The second reason is a fear arising out of our confusion. Nicodemus is full of question: “How do you do these signs? How can one be born anew? How can these things be?” Jesus illustrates our lack of knowledge with the metaphor of the wind and the Spirit—we see their effects but don’t know their origins or destinations. We don’t understand, and so we can’t imagine why God would be interested in us.

These four fears lead us to the fundamental question of humanity: Why would God be interested in me? I am unimportant. I am weak in the face of overwhelming powers. I am unworthy of God’s attention. I don’t understand enough. Why would God be interested in me?

And the answer? Because God loves you. The biblical narrative is summarized by Genesis 1 and John 1. God created us in love through his spoken Word. And God redeemed us in love through his incarnate Word. “God so loved the world”—not just Nicodemus, not just the Jews, not just the religious—“the world, that he gave his Son.”

Karl Barth, who died this past week in 1968, the greatest theologian since Thomas Aquinas, said God is the One who loves in freedom. God is absolutely free, and yet chooses to love us. God’s love is free from conditions, which means we can’t earn it. And it is free from obstacles, which means we can’t lose it. This love is revealed to us in Jesus Christ. And God’s love is perfect.

The same community that produced the Gospel of John wrote 1 John 4:8 which says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” Though we fear we are unimportant, or we could be annihilated, though we fear condemnation, or have fear because of our confusion, God loves us. Because of this love, we can move beyond these fears to the fundamental question of our existence—the question God has already answered in love.

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” This Christmas, believe and be saved.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • As you examine your own behaviors, what do they suggest about the questions that drive you? How do these questions relate to the fundamental spiritual question?
  • How do the four fears of unimportance, annihilation, condemnation, and confusion show up in your life? How do they keep you from asking the spiritual question?
  • Some people find the answer to the spiritual question too simple. Theologians like Nicodemus are especially tempted to complicate things. How do you feel about the answer that God freely loves you, unconditionally and without obstacles?
  • If you believe in God’s love for you, what difference does it make in how you view and treat yourself and others?
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