Fourth Sunday in Lent

John 3: 16  God so loved the World

We’ve just heard a verse of scripture which has been called “The gospel in a nutshell”

“God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Now, please note, St John has written:

“God so loved the world.”

Not just the Jews, but the whole world. He loves us all, equally. The good people and the bad ones. Those whom we quite like and those whom we would really rather avoid.

We might be better pleased if he didn’t. We can’t understand why he does, but there it is. God loves the world. Not just those bits of it which, we are happy for Him to love. But all of it, equally.

And why does God love the world? The short Christian answer is: “Because he made it.”

Now, this isn’t the time to get bogged down in debates about creation and evolution; the point is, if you believe in the God who’s revealed in Jesus, then the way in which he created the world doesn’t really matter very much. And, because Jesus is the image of the invisible God, when we look at him, we can see what the love of God is like.

But what’s all this got to do with the death of Jesus?

Well, the deep things of life, the things that really matter, are always tied up with suffering and death. Just think for a moment or two about some of our greatest poetry and music. The words and songs that leave the deepest affect are the ones about love and sorrow and death.

Jesus was wholly loving, and he didn’t put up barriers against people. He was warm and free, welcoming and spontaneous.

 What he said came from his heart, with love. He wasn’t always looking over his shoulder at the Authorities and the rules and regulations, and he wasn’t afraid of being with others and at their mercy. He didn’t need the power of the Establishment. He didn’t need to pull rank when the going got tough. His authority came because of his loving service. 

And, we all recognise that anyone who lives their life like this is going to be, well, crucified. The only way to get by, in our world is to be careful about how human you are prepared to be. You have to ration your love; you have to keep a weather eye open for how much of yourself you give away, if you want to survive.

Jesus didn’t ration his love, he was fully human, and so he didn’t last.

Our world can only take so much love. Our societies, all of them are, in the end, built on violence. We may not always be aware of this, but they are. The police, and the Authorities, are always in the wings, ready to make sure that the status quo is maintained, and that chaos doesn’t result. And if needs be, they will use force.

Living together through love, instead of fear, threatens this, and it’s therefore no surprise that when Jesus offered an alternative kind of relationship on which society could be built, he became a victim.  In Jesus we see how God loves. Freely and unconditionally, and this is what the cross is all about. It was the end result of love in a world which saw and continues to see love as a threat.

This is why Jesus was crucified, and because God was in Christ, we can say that the crucifixion is a demonstration of God’s love. This is what God is like. This is how God loves us. With a love which will not let go. With a love which is prepared to die for us, for all of us. A love which casts out fear.

All of our theology flows from this.

The cross tells us that we don’t need to be afraid. God isn’t a stern parent or a strict judge.  He isn’t angry if we don’t do things in a special way. He doesn’t lay down a list of things which we have to do in order that he will think well of us. He loves us all, equally. And this is what all those Easter hymns about the death of the lamb of God, and Jesus our redeemer really mean.

It’s when we see the cross as a demonstration of the great love that God has for us, that so much of what we find written in the New Testament begins to make more sense, and we begin to understand how the life and death of Jesus, show us God’s love.

Most especially, perhaps the verse in today’s gospel reading which says:

“God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

May we respond to and be drawn into this enormous love of God. May we receive it, be freed by it and pass it on to others. And may we accept our crucifixion which will be its inevitable result; confident in the faith that dying with Christ and filled with his spirit will mean the transformation of our humanity in a resurrection, like His.  Amen.