These are the words of Jesus Christ spoken to Nicodemus early in the ministry of Christ. And they are so powerful to us today because they really summarize the entire gospel and really, the whole Bible. And the threads that you start pulling on those. And then following them and follow them through all of the themes of the scripture.
It speaks of the unconditional love of God, reminding us of the Apostle's words that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." This was to save humanity, that before Christ came. And Christ was sent to be our savior. Not after everybody was doing good or believing right, or doing everything they were supposed to do. Or loving as they were supposed to love or anything else that we associated. But while we were yet sinners, while we yet did not understand. While Nicodemus, who Jesus loved, a great leader in the congregation of the people of God. A leader in the community and a teacher of the law.
Transcript of sermon
Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on May 31, 2021
for Briensburg UMC
But he didn't understand how these things could be. And he came to inquire. And so, God loved the world so much, sinners though we may be, off track that we may be. Everything else we may be, or not be. God loved the world so much, he sent Jesus to be our savior. And a lot of times the emphasis was put on the perishing part, that they should not perish. And that is true. It does say that. And we don't want to perish and God doesn't want us to perish.
But a lot of times people get crossed messages about this, by people almost giving the idea that God wants everybody to perish, unless they can come up to this standard of however they define that standard to be. And so, we have to be careful about that, I think. Is to help people find the correction in that.
God doesn't want anybody to perish, but people were already perishing. That's why God sent Jesus. God doesn't want anybody to perish, but people are perishing already. That's what God wants to save people from. From perishing. To prevent them from perishing. To stop the oppression, and heartache, and the inhumanity. And all the things that we not only read about in history, but even the things that people today don't want taught in history. That everyone is ready to ignore. And even the things that are continuing today, that people often want to be ignored, the oppression and the hurt.
And with it being Memorial Day, I think we have to remember that even just in these days, people are still falling. We had people falling at the Capitol just a few months ago. We have people falling in and around our country and when they take a stand for what is good and right. And they are persecuted for that. And many times, suffer horribly. And oftentimes, lose their life.
And so, in addition to those in official capacities on the battlefield, we have people unofficially standing up for what is right and paying a price as well. And all of these things that we see on the news and all of the things that we oftentimes speak about, that we abhor and that need to be changed.
Humanity was already perishing. That's the point. That it's not that God wants to throw people into that. That's why Christ came to redeem us and prevent people from perishing. And to invite us to share in the glorious inheritance of Christ that is everlasting life. And that's God's will.
St. Peter wrote that it's not God's will that anyone should perish, but it's God's will that everyone should come to repentance. And St. Paul promised that every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. God's will and God's grace calls us to life, eternal life. Out of this sense of perishing, out of this sense of wrath, and of hurt, and heartache, into the light of God's love.
And I was often reminded in talking about this, about Paul on Mars Hill. And the respect that he had for the people who were there, who didn't know God. But now they do know God because he respected them enough to not to just chew them out because they didn't know about God. But instead, to tell them about God, to tell them about Jesus, about Jesus and God's love for them.
And then, many people on that same day believed and became followers of Christ and became blessed by entering into this relationship with God, while others took some time and others maybe didn't for a long time. But what Jesus says to Nicodemus here, "That who so ever believeth in him should not perish." And that word believe is that put our trust and confidence. Whoever does have, and Jesus talked about this a lot of times, faith in his preaching.
And he talked about a mustard seed that if we had just enough faith, just like a mustard seed, we could plant that and it would grow. And then it would become a lot more. But you got to have that little tiny speck of faith first and plant that. And so, today being Trinity Sunday, we speak of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
And we don't really know all about what that means, do we? And we haven't scratched the surface yet. We're still trying to explore them. We have some concepts and some ideas, but some have been all of our lives, being taught that and studying it and discussing it and everything like that. And we're not very deep in that in understanding what all that is.
Or in our relationship, as it's going to be "when we've been there 10,000 years." And as we would like it to be even now. We have to grow into this relationship with God. And in the growing into the relationship, we grow into the understanding of what that relationship is.
And some of the doctrines of the church are not for us to ascribe to, and then prove out. But it's the other way around. The doctrines are given there to point us to beyond themselves, to the love Of God and the truth of Christ.
And so, when somebody doesn't know Christ, they don't have to know all about the doctrines of the church in order to become a Christian. Or in order to even find this life and love and faith. What they need is to take whatever little bit of faith they may have, in whatever their concept of God may be. And understand or feel that God loves them. That God loves them.
And God does not want to destroy them, but loves of them. And when they take that little, tiny seed of faith and plant it in God's love, then the relationship begins in a whole new way. And then that unfolds. And as that grows, as our relationship with God grows, then these other teachings of the church become signposts that lead us and guide us and help us to find our way through. And so, it's not so much about the doctrinal beliefs that we have or the theological perspectives that we have, but it's about the relationship that people have with God, the God who loves us.
In this passage, Jesus talked about being born again. And later, John would define that a little further in his letter. And my favorite verse is verse John four, seven, and eight. "Beloved, let us love one another. For love is from God, and everyone who loves is born of God. Those who do not love, do not know God. For God is love."
So it's not about condemnation, but about salvation and healing of humanity, both collectively and individually. The passage goes on. It goes on the very next verse to say that God did not send his only son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through him, might be saved, healed, made whole.
And so that's an important thing for us not only to know ourselves, but to find ways to communicate that and encourage other people with that. That is know that Christ does not want to condemn them. God, whatever concepts they have, or whatever religion they practice, or whatever faith they may or may not have. If they could know that God loves them, regardless of what else, unconditionally, if people can know that, then they can start to feel that. And they can start to live into that love of God. And then they can grow into that. And this is, we have been growing into it and continuing to grow.
For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we really are God’s children. (Romans 8:16 TLB)
In Paul's letter to the Romans that was read, the passage read, this morning said in the living Bible, "For his holy spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we really are God's children." Can we just help people hear that? I don't know how, all the time. Sometimes people close their ears, but if there's some way that we could help people sense those impressions of the holy spirit, moving in our relationship, in our conversation, in the world in nature. However, they may need to hear and feel the spirit moving and communicating to them.
And then, giving them understanding this, that we are God's children. And when you feel like you're God's children, doesn't that make you feel different? And there's a lot that goes along with it that was read in the reading today. But one of the things that goes along with that, that is important, of the other many important things, is that our creator is our heavenly parent.
Everyone is made in the image of God. God created everybody. God loves everybody. God loves each and every one individually, as well as the world collectively. And so we're invited to call and to address our creator, not as some cosmic czar way out in space, but Abba, father, dad. As Jesus taught us in the prayer that we share frequently, "Our father, which art in heaven."
The Lord gives strength to his people and blesses them with peace. (Psalm 29:11 GNT)
The Psalmist read it in the good news translation. "The Lord gives strength to his people and blesses them with peace." Of that whole reading, it went all through all of these characteristics with God how powerful and strong God is. How mighty above all and a creator of heaven and earth and all the things he could do.
And that just keeps us thinking about how magnificent God is and how, with just a word, God could speak worlds into being, or speak them out of being. And all the power and majesty that God has and yet the psalmist concludes that by saying that He gives us such strength. The Lord gives us that strength and blesses us.
That's what he wants to do with all that power. That's what he wants to do with all that glory of heaven, where God lives. He wants to share that with you and with me, and with all of our friends and family, and everybody else. So, it is partly about perishing. As each of these passages highlight, we don't want to perish, but we're already perishing. And through injustice and oppression and discrimination and racism and homophobia and misogyny and violence and sin in all of its other forms.
The perishing has already been happening. It's the salvation that we're called to. All the evil in the news and current and history. It's not about God wanting to condemn anybody, but wanting to save everybody. Less about what we're being saved from and more about what we're being saved to.
In our communion ledger there is a table dismissal, I like to use one of the old table dismissals that says, "May the body and blood of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, given for us at Calvary, preserve our bodies and souls unto everlasting Life. And that is the invitation of John 3:16 and others like it. The whole invitation of God throughout the scripture is to come into everlasting life. To have this life of love and peace and joy, and to enter into it and keep growing into it throughout this lifetime and into the life of the world to come.
Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? (John 3:9 KJV)
And that could be why Nicodemus was puzzled in the middle of this conversation. He just asked, "How can these things be?" It reminded me of Pilot, just before he allowed the crucifixion of Christ, when he said, "What is truth?" Some of these questions don't really have that direct of an answer. And we can even make it say, "Well, how can anything be?"
But I think we grow into our understanding of how these things can be as we grow into our relationship with God. And we find that they can be, because God loves us. We can have this birth into love. We can have this rebirthing of ourselves and of our culture and of our country and of our world and of our generation. Or whoever needs to get brought into the love of Christ in him, that relationship and in the spirit. Because God wants us to, and God offers it. And God reveals it.
And so, that's how. It's a gift. It's grace. It's a gift from God. And it's open for free, for everybody who will receive it and enter with just a little, tiny whatever belief that they may have. The story that Jesus told as as illustration to Nicodemus was how Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. When enough people had got into this snake pit and they thought that it was all over.
And because these poisonous snakes were biting people and for them, it was a pandemic of a soothsayer because it was happening to all of them. And so, they didn't know what to do. And so God gave him this as a sign and with the instruction that if they would just look over there, had just enough faith or confidence to look up there at the snake on the pole, then they would be healed.
And so, a lot of them did. A lot of them didn't, but a lot of them did. And if they did, then they were healed. And so, that's why he's trying to point out here. If you just have enough. You might not know all the answers to your questions of spirituality, or humanity, or anything else. But if you could just try it, I can just say. You can have just enough faith just to glance and try it, then God will reward that with growth.
And that tiny mustard seed will sprout. And become faith. That grows into, as Jesus put in on his parable, a large bush that birds could land on. It's kind of a funny story, really, when you think about it that way, but that's what he said. It would be like a large bush that birds could land on. And wouldn't that be nice if we could think of our faith that way? As a larger bush that gives life to others.
Then I heard the Lord say, “Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?” I answered, “I will go! Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8 GNT)
And so then, in conclusion, I would go way back to the reading from Isaiah. And this is in the Good News translation. "Then I heard the Lord say, 'Whom shall I send, who will be our messenger?" I answered. I will go. Send me. Some are more reluctant than others in our response to that kind of a question, but still, we do respond. And we accept this missional invitation to let the people know that God loves them. And to try to bring peace and justice to humanity.
This passage incidentally, is the first in our denomination, many other denominations, that those who respond to the call to preach are asked to study, and to pursue, and to discuss with leaders in the churches they respond to the call to preach. Thinking about Isaiah's call and the way his took place in the imagery that was there. But most importantly, the question that was asked, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for me?"
And what is your response? Will it be you? We have this hymn. "Here am I, Lord? Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart." That hymn By Dan Schutte.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 KJV).And so, it was an invitation not only to believe, but for those who do believe, to share that. To share that love and faith with each other, bring people into the relationship where they can grow and have life, everlasting life. In the name of Jesus. Amen.