We recently read John 3: 16 in worship. When you think about John 3: 16 what comes to your mind? Maybe you think of the guy in the rainbow-colored wig sitting between the uprights holding the sign painted with the world’s most famous verse. But when I think of John 3:16, I think of six year-old Benjamin, protesting his bedtime, and I’m reminded of God’s unexpected, surprising grace.
Sometimes I say the phrase “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son to die…..” too often because it loses it’s significance. God did not send Jesus to simply deliver a message, God sent Jesus to die, to die on a cross, to die on a cross for us. This is why, as Martin Luther once said, this verse is “the gospel in a nutshell.”
God never asked for our permission to send Jesus to the cross. In fact, God does not ask us to do anything for our salvation. If you are ever told that you need to do something to earn Gods love you can know that person is lying to you – you do not have to profess Jesus as your personal savior, you do not have to attend a bunch of classes you don’t have to do anything because Gods love is a free gift and it lasts forever.
One of the reasons I love baptisms in the Lutheran Church is because we simply bring children to the baptismal font when they are young, before they can offer their consent we immerse them in God’s love. Some might say, this does not count as a baptism because we do not wait until they are “of age” and can decide for themselves. But that’s the beauty of infant Baptism: God names us and claims us as God’s own, and pledges to be both with us and for us forever. All this whether we are ready, interested, or eager to receive it or not!
I once heard a story from a seminary professor that explained this in a way that I will never forget. The story is about a conversation he was having with a member of his congregation. He said that the member Tom was having a problem putting his six year-old son Benjamin to bed. Frustrated by his father’s refusal to budge, Benjamin finally said, “Daddy, I hate you!”
Tom, somewhat unshaken by this declaration replied, “I’m sorry you feel that way, Ben, but I love you.”
To which Benjamin replied, “Don’t say that!”
Surprised, Tom continued, “Ben, but it’s true – I love you.”
“Don’t say that, Daddy.”
“But I love you, Ben.”
“Stop saying that, Daddy! Stop saying it right now!”
And then it came: “Benjamin, now listen to me: I love you…like it or not!”
Even at six years old, Benjamin realized that in the face of unconditional love he was powerless.
If Tom had been willing to negotiate “I’ll love you if you go to bed nicely” then Benjamin would continue the fight. But once Tom refused to negotiate, refused to make his love for his son conditional on something Benjamin did, then Ben couldn’t do anything but accept or flee that love.
The same is true with us. If God makes God’s love for the world and us conditional, then we, suddenly, have tremendous power. We can negotiate. We can threaten to reject God’s love. We can even tell God to take a hike if we don’t care for God’s terms. But when God just loves us – completely and unconditionally then there is nothing we can do but accept Gods love.
That’s how amazing God’s love is! It is an unexpected, powerful, and all encompassing love. Even when we do not return Gods love God still loves us and cares for us, God still runs toward us and opens Gods arms to embrace us. This is an amazing kind of love.
So when we who have experienced Gods love can then extend that love to others in our life.
God has promised to redeem the world in and through Jesus. Which lends to this idea of freedom. We are free to experiment and struggle and succeed and fail and live and love and die, knowing that in Christ God has already worked to redeem the whole world.
The intensity of God’s love is not just directed towards church people. That the intensity of God’s love is not just directed to your life or my life. The intensity of God’s emotion is for the world. This includes those who you believe are in that circle and out, because God does not have a circle of who is in and out, God loves everyone.
To be honest, I don’t get it. I don’t comprehend or understand grace, that God so loves people who do not love him. I don’t get grace, that God can love people who so deeply reject him.
God in Jesus has made God’s decision and it is for us. Yes, we can run. But we can’t change the fact that God loves us, that God in fact loves the whole world more than we can imagine.
Does that mean we have nothing to do, nothing to contribute to this most important relationship? Definitely not! Once we have been loved this fully, this completely, we can respond in love, honoring God and sharing the news of God’s love for the world with all we meet.
There’s plenty to do. But we are now messengers, witnesses to what God has done for us, not managers. That means we’re now in a position to tell others of God’s profound love for us and all the world, like it or not!