For God So Loved the World

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 10th

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear one of the most popular verses in all of Scripture. We see “John 3:16” on all kinds of signs in all kinds of places from bumper stickers to banners at sporting events to barns along Nanticoke Road. John 3:16, “For 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.”

It is often quoted and prominently displayed in many places and spaces because for many it is our Christian faith in a nutshell. But it is a risk to attempt to put into one sentence the depth and breadth of God, the epic story of God’s relationship with humankind, and the incredible life, death and resurrection story of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

In the Gospel reading for today, John takes the old story and uses it as a kind of parable of Jesus. He says: “The serpent was lifted up; people looked at it; and their hearts were turned to God; and by the power of that God in whom they trusted they were healed. Even so, Jesus was lifted up; and when human beings turn their thoughts to Him, and believe in Him, they too will find eternal life and salvation.”

The word “lifted up” in Greek is same word used in two different places in Scripture: It is used to mean the lifting up of Christ upon the cross. And, it is used to mean the lifting-up of Christ into His glory at the time of His Ascension into heaven. This double lifting-up in Jesus’ life – the lifting-up upon the cross and the lifting-up into glory are inextricably connected. The one could not have happened without the other. For Jesus, the Cross was the way to glory; had He refused the Cross, had He evaded it, had He taken steps to escape it, there would have been no glory for Him. 

It is the same for us. We can, if we like, choose the easy way; we can if we like, refuse the cross that every Christian has to bear; but if we do, we risk losing the glory. And although the crosses we must bear from time to time can feel too much for us, we know that the One Who loves us and gave His life for us, is walking with us. That we do not walk this way alone. That the way of the crosses we bear was first trod by Christ Himself and our faith in Him and His presence in our lives will give us the strength, courage and wisdom to endure. 

“For 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.” 

How are we to think of what it means to have eternal life? 

We know that eternal life is to live with God in His heavenly kingdom forevermore but it is also way of life here on earth as well. Life eternal is the very life of God Himself made manifest in His Son Jesus Christ who dwells within us. When Christ lives in our hearts and we allow Christ to have His way in our lives; things change for us and we begin to see the world differently and we begin to encounter others with different eyes because we see them in the light of Christ.

First, eternal life on earth means we have peace in our relationship with God. We can sit in prayer and confess our sins and believe that the God who made us, the God Who loves us is the God Who has the power to not only forgive us but to make us new. We have a peace in the knowing and the belief that nothing we do can separate us from the love of our God. We believe in our lives and in our hearts that God is in fact everything Jesus says He is. So, when the crosses we bear seem too heavy to carry or the forces of evil tell us we are not worthy, Christ Peace in us reminds us otherwise. Eterna life is peace with God.

Second, eternal life for us here on earth is peace in our relationships with one another. If we have been forgiven, then we must forgive. It enables us to see others as God sees them. It helps us to see that we are all part of Christ Church here on earth; part of one great family joined together in Love. And that Love is the Love of Christ. We are all connected one to another. We are individuals unique in our own design and creation yet the same – all connected in our common bond of love of God made possible through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Third, eternal life for us is: Peace with life. If God is our Father, God is working all things together for our good. No tear falls from our eyes that escapes God’s knowing. No injury we sustain goes without God’s watchful eye. We may not understand why things happen to us or why pain and suffering come to us but because we believe in the Words that Jesus taught and lived, we find peace despite the suffering. We can find hope when all seems lost because our faith in Christ becomes the Hand that stays us in the storms.

Lastly, eternal life gives us peace with ourselves. When we come face to face with our sins and our weaknesses, the forces of our temptations, and the tasks and demands of our lives, we can be more frightening to ourselves than anyone or anything else in the world. But eternal life means that we face the deepest darkest part of ourselves with God. We face our truth – in our goodness and all our weaknesses and sins – with a God Who loves us, the God Who made us, and Who walks with us. Eternal life means peace with ourselves. 

This Sunday marks the half-way point of this season of Lent. It is a good time to reflect on how our journey has progressed so far – are the spiritual exercises that we adopted yielding transformation and growth in our relationship with Christ? Have the behaviors we have abstained from engaging-in opened-up for us new pathways of seeing and walking closer with Christ? How can our progress over the first half of the Season of Lent inform the second half so that we arrive on Easter Sunday with more peace-filled and joy-filled hearts?

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son so that we might have that peace and that love that surpasses all understanding; so that we may have eternal life!

Amen.

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    St. Philip's Episcopal Church

    6457 Quantico Road
    Quantico, MD 21856

    Mailing Address
    PO Box 92
    Quantico, MD 21856

    St. Philip's is a proud member of the Episcopal Diocese of Easton