God So Loved
I grew up in the church. I don’t remember by baptism because I was only three months old, but I do know it happened in Huron UMC in Huron, OH. I do remember walking to First UMC in Royal Oak, MI on warm Sunday mornings. I remember Confirmation Class at Memorial UMC in Charlotte in their old education building. I remember youth group at University City UMC in Charlotte when they finally built a brand new building for youth and children’s ministry. There were dry spells in my life when church attendance was few and far between but that was only during times when my parents were looking for a new church. I don’t remember when I learned the Lord’s Prayer, it is something I have always known. I can’t tell you when I memorized the Apostle’s Creed, it was just something I knew. Over the years of growing up in church there are things that Sunday School teachers teach you, Children’s Moments that you actually learn something in, ministers who taught you the flow of worship and brought inspired words of God. All of these things, for me, I simply took for granted and thought was basic knowledge everyone had.
Yet I find that for my generation, the Generation Xers and the Millennial Generation right behind us, my story is not the majority anymore. For the majority of people in those generations the story is different. There are people who have never seen a Bible let alone would know how to look up a verse in it. There are children who don’t know the story of Jonah and the big fish, Moses and the burning bush or the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We live in a post-Christian society and all those things that those who grew up in the church take for granted are unfamiliar with church. We have to realize that and not be shocked when we hear that someone doesn’t know John 3:16 by heart or knows the words to Amazing Grace. It used to be that we had to send missionaries across the globe to find people who didn’t know the story of Jesus Christ. Now we call them neighbors, co-workers, and family. The mission field now is at our front porch.
This means that we need to learn how to express our faith better. We need to learn how to communicate why we believe what we believe. It used to be that evangelism was done on poster board during football games. John 3:16 was held up and people were reminded that God sent his only son. You don’t see that sign much anymore, which is really a good thing. I’m not a fan of that type of disconnected evangelism. Instead we now have the opportunity to tell people our stories of how God interacted in our lives and how God has interacted in the world from the beginning of time.
The 16th verse of John’s third chapter is seen as the most concise verse that describes our faith in the entire Bible. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him can have eternal life. Twenty to thirty years ago that might be all a preacher had to say to start a revival because societies general understanding of Christianity was deeper. Now we need to learn how to explain that a little better to people. Let me remind you what that verse means.
God so loved…the creation he made. In five days he created the world. Now whether or not those were 5 24 hour days or millions of years, only God knows. What we learn from the creation story is that every inch of the world we call home was touched by God. He created birds that can fly, fish that can swim, fish that can fly and birds that can swim. He created elephants and giraffes, daisies and red woods, mosquitoes and alligators, cucumbers and chickpeas, roadrunners and grizzlies, chocolate and peas, mallard ducks and duckbilled platypuses, coffee and donuts, spiders and spider monkeys. It took God 5 days to create that and he looked at it all and said…it was GOOD.
But he wasn’t done. On the sixth day he created man and woman who were created in God’s image. They were given hands to touch, a nose to smell, feet to run, and ears to hear. They had taste buds and blood vessels, a heart and a head, skin and hair, a heart beat and a soul. God look at what he created and he was thrilled. God so loved… those who were made in their image. He loved them so much he would do anything for them. He gave them the run of the garden but they disobeyed and tried to be like God. God loved them too much to destroy his creation so he told them they would have to leave and know pain and death now. God knew then that he wanted to make things right again, in order for his creation could come home to be with him once again.
God so loved… his creation, us humans. But as the population increased so did their deviance. They strayed WAY away from God and God wanted to start over. But he knew of a family that were true believers and followed God’s wishes. They had their problems. The father, Noah was known to have too much wine but God so loved… that he decided to use them anyway. They listened to God, built a huge boat, collected animals on it, and were able to survive a horrific flood which covered the whole world in water. God so loved…that he decided never to do that again and made a covenant to do so.
Later on after the earth was full of people once again God decided to have a group of people be his example for the world to follow. This group of people may be able to make things right once again. A family of people who could show the world what to do. God so loved… the world that he found a faithful couple, Abraham and Sarah, and although they were way beyond childbearing years they gave birth to a new nation. God’s nation that would be the light unto the world.
That nation though was soon overcome by their neighbors. They were taken down to Egypt to be slaves and to build up the pharaoh’s world. God so loved… his nation though that he did want to see them in captivity anymore. So through a baby in a reed basket, a burning bush, and the mouth of a stuttering murderer, he called his people out of exile. They followed Moses into the wilderness, through the waters of the Red Sea, and there God taught them how to be the nation he was calling them to be. He gave them the laws and manna from heaven. There Moses lifted up a bronze snake to save everyone who was bit by poisonous snakes. There God gave them hope and fulfilled his promise to bring them to their homeland, the place full of milk and honey.
When they arrived home they wanted to be like the other nations, the judges were not good enough, they wanted a king. God so loved… his people that he reluctantly gave them what they wanted. Saul was a their first King but he ended up not being what they needed. God called a little kid who had shown God that he could knock down giants with his faith. David came to power although he was not perfect himself. He could express his emotions well and we connect with God now by reading his Psalms but sin got the best of him too. David was overcome with lust and impregnated a woman, tried to cover it up and ended up sending the pregnant woman’s husband to his death. God still used this King to bring forth changes in his kingdom, God’s nation.
God’s people strayed though but God so loved…his people that he sent prophets to make sure they would keep on track, to help perfect them and their obedience. Some prophets did what they were told. They stood up to other Gods and were swept away in chariots of fire. They did drastic things to get the nation’s attention and the nation would listen, for a while, but their humanity would take over and they would slip back into disobedience. God had to think of a new way to make things right once again.
God was silent in the world for 400 years before a voice came in the wilderness. God decided that to bring the world back to where it was, where God wanted it to be, God had to do it himself. So he looked at his Son who helped create the world and he sent him to put on flesh and live among their creation to teach them the ways and to save them from themselves. In a lowly stable God so loved…the world that he came into the world through the womb of a virgin. He grew up and finally went into ministry. His cousin was telling people about him and so he went to his cousin to be baptized. God so loved…his son that he knew for him to fulfill his task he needed to go through every human emotion. The Son of God, the one they called Jesus, dealt with temptation, anger, love, loss, happiness, frustration, pain, and suffering.
He called disciples to follow him and taught them and the crowds the ways of the Kingdom. Some understood, others didn’t. After three years of teaching, preaching, and loving the world through his ministry, he came face to face with his greatest task. He took the sins of all of creation upon himself and became the perfect sacrifice. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
The disciples he called were sacred but Jesus came back from the dead and showed them everything he had told them was true. Some doubted but soon they told everyone they came in contact with about the Son of God they had followed. God so loved…the world though that he knew we could not live without help. We needed power, guidance, strength and inspiration to keep this story going and to mold our lives into ones that looked like his Son’s. The Holy Spirit came and made earth his home. The Holy Spirit inspired people to take the message of salvation all over the world, not to condemn the world but the save the world…
Through doubting Apostles and confused Disciples the word spread and the church was created. God continued to call people to help spread his message. He took a person who persecuted his people and transformed him into a great teacher, missionary, and follower. God so loved…this church that he had them wrestle with hard questions and he provided leaders, theologians, ministers, preachers, laity, and all kinds of people to wrestle with, spread, and live out the Word of God. God so loved…the world that he opened his church up to all. Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, it didn’t matter and it still doesn’t, the church is open to all as a place to connect with God and live out the lives we are called to live.
God so loved…his creation that he is still working to bring back the idea he had at the beginning of time. A time when God can be with his children forever. A time when God’s love can be known to all his creation and when sin no longer has power over our lives. God loves us so much that he works in our lives and enables us to tell that story and our stories with others. God so loves…his creation that he never leaves us alone and always surrounds us with grace.
May you be apart of this story and continue to tell it. May you profess what God has done in your life and what he can do in others. May we realize the power the love of God has and the grace that is found in it. May we be able to love God and our neighbors by sharing that love and grace with them.
And all God’s people said…Amen.