Saturday, February 16, 2008

Then What?: Sermon John :3:1-17

Dear God, take our minds and think through them; take our hands and feet and work through them; take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire for you. Amen

Have you ever been watching a football, baseball, basketball game and seen someone holding a sign that says John 3:16? Have you seen a bumper sticker on a car, or someone wearing a t-shirt, or a button or a billboard that says John 3:16? This verse is arguably the most famous Bible verse in Christendom. The reason that these people place this verse in such high esteem is that they believe that this is the central message of the Gospel. If you were to ask Christians to recite a verse by memory I would be willing to bet that this would be a top answer. “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.” This seems to encapsulate the message we are trying to convey to the world. That God love the world so much that he gave his Son to the world so that the world might be saved through him. There is God and the Son. The language is that of sacrifice, God “gave” his Son to the world, although the word could also be translated into “sent”. And this sacrifice gives those who believe everlasting life. We know this verse and its meaning… or do we?

I want us to look today closely at this encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. I want us to look at it microscopically looking at three particular phrases within this text and see how it might affect our view of the text as a whole specifically that famous John 3:16. I want us to look at the phrase “born from above”, the phrase “God so loved”, and the phrase “everlasting life”. Perhaps by looking at some of the parts we can gain a greater perspective of the whole, not just in these verse but in the gospel message altogether.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that “one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” The good ole King James Bible uses the words “born again.” This is the version that I think we are most familiar with. This phrase “born again” has become a mainstay in Christianity in the last 25 years. The political news people love to talk about the “born again” Christian constituency and how their vote can sway the elections one way or another. Now when people talk about “born again” Christians they are usually speaking about a specific type of Christian. They are referring to a conservative, sometimes non-denominational, sometimes Pentecostal, evangelical, Christian. These people may or may not fall into the United Methodist denomination. For me this sounds like a needless description, “born again” Christian, it is two descriptions of the same thing, like saying a round wheel or an orange, orange. If we are Christians in the first place then we are born again, or born from above. If we are in Christ then we are reborn by and into the Spirit of God.

This phrase has both soteriological and eschatological meaning. I know that those are two big words and basically what that means is that the phrase born again has something to do with our salvation and our new life after this world is gone. The typical meaning of born again has to do with getting saved, which is another word used a lot in conservative Christianity, and getting saved means entrance into Heaven. This is the formula that some call salvation. In these cases we see being “born again” as something that is a one time thing. It is moment in time when a person might come to the altar or in some denominations it is the moment of baptism and then that is it, it’s done and over with, you’re done, you’ve got your ticket, you get into the big show.

Let’s look a little deeper than that. The Greek word that is used in John is anōthen which does mean reborn or born from above or born by the Spirit. This word does not signify a once in a lifetime moment, but a lifelong journey of renewal. The beginning is the moment that you accept the gift of Christ, but the journey goes on from there for a lifetime. This is what in the Methodist tradition is known as Sanctification, a lifetime of dedication, service, and obedience. It also means that we don’t stay spiritual babies, to use the metaphor that Jesus uses. We must grow in our faith; we must mature in our relationship with God. This is what God desires for us, not to stay babies, wailing and flailing about, but to grow everyday a little deeper and stronger in the Lord by the help and grace of God.

We are born again because of Christ. We are born again through the sacrifice of the cross and the Resurrection. This is the mechanics of our salvation. However, there is a deeper meaning behind this. God so loved the world and this is our next phrase to examine. The Greek word for love used here is agape. This shouldn’t be a new word for you all; it should be something that we are familiar with. We have talked about this before. This love is an eternal love. This love comes from God because it is of God. Remember 1 John 4:7 “God is love.” Agape is the love that God is made of, it is the very essence of God. What an amazing thing. This is a powerful love. This kind of love works miracles. This kind of love caused the blind to see and the deaf to hear. This love raised the dead and healed the sick. This is the love that was embodied in the person of Jesus.

This is a radical, transforming love. This love welcomed the outcast, the sinner, and the prostitute. This love transformed lives and continues to transform lives. This is the love that causes us to drop what we are doing and help a neighbor. This is the love that causes us to drive 100 miles to be by the bedside of someone who does not have anyone else. This is also a sacrificial love. It was this love that chose the cross not for glory, but for you and me. It is the love that came down was born away in a manger and died on an old rugged cross, but that could not really kill it, because three days later it raised Christ from the dead. This love will come back and bring peace and renewal to all things in the world. We need to search for this kind of love in our own lives.

Paul describes this kind of love in 1 Corinthians 13. He says that this “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” This is the love that God has for us and that God wants us to have for him and for each other. God did not send his Son only to die upon the Cross, but to be an embodiment of this love. Jesus shows us how to live this kind of love everyday.

The final phrase is “everlasting life”. We all know what this means right, it means getting into heaven and living with Christ for all eternity. I am not going to tell you that this is not the meaning, because I believe that does mean this. However, this is not the only meaning. The Greek word used here is aionion which can also mean life in this age. So this phrase can also mean that God gave his Son so that we can have a renewal in this life as well as the promise of the life to come. What does that mean for us Christians? It means that our everlasting life does begin when we die. It begins now; when we are reborn we gain everlasting life through Christ. We gain blessings from God now in this life as well as the life to come. Remember that when Jesus died on the cross the curtain in the Temple was torn. This symbolizes the fact that we can have a person relationship with God through Christ now and in the life to come. We should not place our faith in a bottle only to be opened on Sunday morning and when we get to Heaven. It means that our lives are blessed beyond words we gain everything through Christ. Everlasting life means that we live in the eternal presence of God now and forever.

Our journey with God has already begun. We have been reborn in the Spirit and if you have not there is no better time that today. We are born again in the Spirit by the love of God and through that love we have everlasting life that doesn’t just start when we die, but is going on right now. When we follow the teachings of Christ, when we do work for the kingdom, when we love others as God loves us, then we will have the everlasting life.

Let us pray…

Grant, O Lord,

That what has been said with our lips we may believe in our hearts,

And that what we believe in our hearts we may practice in our lives;

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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