The Journey: Bedtime Stories

January 28, 2018
John 3:1-21
Lindsay Small

When I was in 8th grade, our art class got in trouble.
I don’t remember why. I just remember that our art teacher, Mrs. Paganelli, was really mad. I mean, really mad.
And so she made us write the word “art” the entire class period. It wasn’t for a purpose. We didn’t collage it or mod podge it on canvas when we were done. We just had to write ‘Art’ for 50 minutes straight. So that’s what we did…of course, a few of my classmates thought it was hilarious to add an ‘f’ to the beginning of the word…
Now up to that point, I hadn’t thought that “art” was that strange of a word.
But after writing it about 40 times, I started to think it was one of the silliest looking words in the world.
When something is familiar to us…it doesn’t often get noticed.
But when we take a concentrated look…a repetitive look…we notice things we had not noticed before.
Our text for today includes quite arguably the most familiar Bible verse in history.
It’s been tattooed on arms, held up at all manner of sporting events, posted on billboards, adorns on jewelry…it has become a part of our vocabulary.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life.”
And no wonder, Martin Luther called it the gospel in a nutshell…the gospel in 24 to 27 words (depending on your translation).
I would venture to guess that we’ve all heard this verse before.
Many of us memorized it in Sunday School.
Many of us know it by poster board.
And perhaps we know it so well that we haven’t given it a second, or third thought in a long time…
So we’re just going to write John 3:16 over and over again for the next 50 minutes…
Of course…the problem with pulling any one verse out of any one passage is that you miss what is happening around it…and this verse is no exception. Its so unfortunate that they don’t make poster board big enough to hold the entire passage…

It begins with a late night visit…

“Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness…wanting the disguise of night so he wouldn’t have to hear about it from his Pharisee friends. But I also believe that he wants Jesus to himself…without the crowds that had already begun following him around…
He clearly has questions weighing on his mind…and it seems as though they are not just his own, after all, he says, “We know that you are a teacher…”
So obviously a prior conversation with his Pharisee posse has occurred…they have come to the conclusion that Jesus is a teacher sent from God. He goes on to call Jesus “Rabbi.”
He shows respect from the very beginning…and his questions are curious…not crafty or interrogating.
What proceeds from there is a Q and A session that must have lasted well into the night.
We get the highlights…but clearly this is a conversation that lasts for quite a long time.
But why go to Jesus in the first place? Nicodemus seemingly gained no earthy
good by seeking out Jesus…
He was a trained rabbi, a Pharisee…respected and revered. He had learned the right answer to all of life’s questions from an early age…verses from Torah that he had to repeat over and over and over again…for a lot longer than 50 minutes…
But something must have been nagging at him…
And his curiosity could not contain him. And so he goes to Jesus…
What was Nicodemus looking for?
Despite his knowledge, his status, his position…there was something one of his repeated answers had not covered…
…and so question after question he tries to get at what he’s missing.
Jesus’ answers are perplexing and confusing…even for us today. Adults being born all over again, snakes being lifted up…this was not the linear teaching Nicodemus was used to…
And then Jesus speaks these words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him, shall not perish but have eternal life.”
It is amazing to think of the first time these words were spoken…given that they’ve been repeated over and over in nearly every language since then.
If the Gospel can be summed up in one verse, than I think the one verse can be summed up in three words:
God so loved.
That’s what its all about.
That is the gospel.
That is what Nicodemus was looking for: A GOD WHO LOVES.
God so loved that he pours forth sacrifice, grace, and forgiveness.
God so loved that it is limitless…no borders, boundaries, or distinctions.
God so loved THE WORLD…that he gave his only son.
God so loved…and everything pours forth from there.
A message worth repeating over and over again…
We don’t know Nick’s immediate response…John doesn’t give us that information. But he doesn’t record another question after these verses.
Perhaps for the time being, his questions had been answered.
In no way how he thought they would be…
I wonder if the idea of a loving God had been missing from his education.
I wonder if the emphasis had been on characteristics of God that were more legalistic and judgmental.
And so to hear of a loving God was quite remarkable.
And maybe its not just remarkable for Nicodemus…but for you and me as well…
We know God is loving. But until we’ve written it on our hearts…over and over again…I wonder if we’ve really let it sink in.
We might feel as though God’s love is reserved for the really good people we know…or for us when we’re having a good day…or maybe we feel like God used to love us…but now we’ve fallen out of God’s love.
One of the most difficult directions to imagine God’s love pointing…is at us.
But if John tells us anything…it’s that God loves…from an Upper Class Pharisee to the Samaritan Woman we’ll consider next week…and everywhere in between.
We’re in that in between, aren’t we? Somewhere between a noble religious type and a scandalous outcast.
And so when Jesus says, “God so loves THE WORLD…” He means God loves all of it.
I was helping out in a preaching class at Western Seminary this past week, and the students were introducing themselves to me by saying their name and the preaching culture they grew up in. One of the student said: “All of the preacher’s points started with the same letter…and there was a lot about damnation.”
That was the message that had repeated over and over at his church.
We are preaching to our children…whether you’re standing where I am, teaching Sunday School, serving our kids with special needs, or handing them a cup of water after the service.
And I long for our kids…old and young…to go out into the world knowing down to their very core that GOD LOVES THEM.
God so loved.
God so loved.
God so loved.
And everything else follows…
What are we preaching? What message are we repeating?
And so our response to God is to respond in kind. To love God with all our heart, mind, and strength. And to love our neighbors as ourselves.
God tells us over and over again in scripture that he loves us…and therefore we are to love one another.
God so loved…and that’s our call as well.
To love our children, our parents, our siblings…our friends…and even those for whom it is hard to love.
A few nights ago I was having a conversation with Kyle about some people in my life who have been hurtful over the past few weeks…totally removed from Fellowship by the way. And I must confess to you I was speaking about a few of these individuals in a less than charitable way…
Kyle said, I’m going to write them and tell them we love them and are thinking of them…
My response, “Well make sure you use the singular pronoun. I want nothing to do with that…Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go work on my sermon about God’s love.”
Just terrible of me…
Kyle said gently…”Lindsay, you taught me how to love. You taught me to say it often. Don’t forget your love.”
Ugh…I hate it when he’s right.
I’m sure you haven’t spoken ill of anyone this week. Just me. But on the off chance you did…can we remember together that we are to love?
Because God so loved.
The invitation for us is to do the same…
There are tremendous hurts that we hold…even in this room. There are questions that we’d like to ask Jesus on dark night… about why bad things happen…about why we hurt…
And many of these questions will go unanswered this side of heaven.
But I do know that God so loved to the world…that he gave us his son…
…and so entering into a relationship with Christ is one that leads to life, and not
death.
That is the answer to so many of our questions.
Loving God and Loving the World is a life’s work.
But we do it because it was Christ’s life work…and its good and hard work.
We don’t hear of Nicodemus after this conversation for many more chapters…
But he appears in John once again in chapter 19…after Jesus had been crucified…
John tells us that he brought, “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”
Nicodemus came to Jesus again, this time surrounded by the darkness of death.
Somewhere in the darkness of that night with Jesus, Nicodemus was transformed. He had opened himself up to a loving God, even when that love wasn’t what he was expecting, even when that love didn’t make any sense to him. And here he was…in an incredibly loving and compassionate act…caring for Jesus’ body…
I wonder if the words Jesus had spoke to him that night were ringing in his ears…
“For God so loved the world…that he gave his only son…and so I will believe in him, and have eternal life.”
I wonder if this became a phrase the Nicodemus repeated over and over again…
It certainly is a message worth repeating.
For God so loved the world…
For God so loved you…
For God so loved me…
…that he gave his only son.
Throughout life’s sunny days dark nights,…may this truth be one that repeats over and over again.
And may we never lose its wonder and beauty…
Amen

Renee Krueger