I’ll let you in on a trade secret. Most young preachers are a lot like rookie baseball players. When we first mount the pulpit, we hope we’re going to hit a home run every time. We pray that God will inspire us to share the exactly right, dramatic, life-changing message for a soul in need. Over time we learn that life, like baseball, is more a game of inches. Rather than swinging for the seats, we usually just try to make contact. We stick to the fundamentals and we try not to make any errors.
So what to make of this week’s gospel? Jesus is obviously not just another preacher. His every message is a grand slam – and none grander than this: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Perhaps the most frequently cited reference in the Bible, John 3: 16, has been called the whole gospel in a nutshell.
It is a limitation of our language, and perhaps of our imagination, that God’s love is presented in the past tense. For the truth is that God has loved us, does love us and will love us with the same intensity that sent Jesus to the cross. It is not that we are so lovable, but that God is love. Loving is what he does. Loving is what he is. And again, our language and experience fail us. God’s love is not emotion or hormone driven. Feelings come and go. God’s love abides. His love is not transactional. It does not require reciprocity. God simply delights in loving us. It is the essence of his being.
But God is also the wellspring of truth. So there is no effort to sugar coat his message of love. If you have been shown the light and prefer the darkness, that choice is yours. While there is yet life in us, the light of Christ will burn for us. The saving love of Christ will beckon. Eternal life or eternal death… in every passing minute of our precisely allotted life-times, it is the ultimate choice we make over and over. In this gospel Jesus calls us to choose life, to choose light, to choose love. In presenting this choice, Jesus is more than a high-powered preacher. He is God’s message, as well as God’s messenger. He is the love of God made flesh.
In Mark and John, in the first three weeks of Lenten gospels, we have explored our new covenant relationship with God. We have been reintroduced to its obligations and its blessing… to repentance and renewal… to sacrifice and salvation… to discipleship and deliverance. In this week’s gospel we see that this new covenant exists entirely in the context of God’s unfailing love. It is the most constant characteristic of our infinitely constant God. Jesus is obviously not playing a game of inches. He is all-in… all the way… all the time.
As C.S. Lewis puts it: “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that he may love and perfect them.” And when we superfluous, sinful creatures betray our Creator, he sends the Redeemer to give us a human-scale window into his boundless love. There never was and never will be a quid pro quo for Creation and Salvation. God knows how hard it is for us to understand and return his love… much less try to match it. As long as we keep him a distant abstraction, we will always love things and love people more than we love God. That is why we must commit to making God a real and constant presence in our lives. We must grow in Christ… through scripture and prayer… learning and loving… inch by inch, day by day… drawing closer to our loving Father, Redeemer, Sustainer.
Except for the rare dramatic conversion, growing in God’s love is usually a game of inches… carrying the cross, sticking to fundamentals, avoiding errors. God knows our limitations. He doesn’t turn his back on us when we stumble. As long as we earnestly commit to loving him, he will pick us up and dust us off. He will be with us every inch of the way… joyfully waving us home.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
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