Twenty Five Words
Today, Revd Susan reminded us of those twenty five words that sum up the wonder of God's love for us...
READINGS FOR: Lent IV – Year B
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Rugby, and Wales beats England.
Football in France - it’s the battle for the lead in the Ligue 1 between Lille and Paris Saint-Germain.
Will the New York Yankees come on strong this year in baseball?
Will the Philadelphia 76ers stay ahead of the Brooklyn Nets. And how about the Utah Jazz?
Many of us are sports fans. Some have even played – hockey, football, tennis, basketball.
Like some of you, I am a pretty big sports fan. As a professor, one of the courses I taught at Michigan State University was on sports media – to one hundred eager students who all know more than I do.
The challenge was to not let them know that’s the case. It kept me on my toes.
Even with Covid, the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournaments are going forward in the United States
It will be different this year. Last year the games were cancelled.
For those who are not familiar with the collegiate games, people across the country full out brackets. They are presented with the 68 teams in four regions and make choices as to which teams will advance to the Final Four.
It’s a nationwide activity. Even presidents publicly take part.
One year President Obama selected Michigan State, my university. THAT was the kiss of death.
One year, billionaire Warren Buffett offered a million dollars a year – for life – to anyone who could pick the winner of every game, all 34 of them.
It turns out that the odds of getting every team, every bracket exactly right – is 9.2 quintillion. That’s 9.2 billion – written a billion times. Good luck!
Religion and sports usually don’t intersect, but they started to in an interesting way back in 1977. That is the year that someone, with crazy rainbow hair, started showing up at major sporting events. He would be behind home plate. You’d see him just to the left of the hockey goalie in an ice arena.
There he was, slightly off to the right of the Olympic medal stand. At the NBA finals, the major league baseball All-Star game, the clownish figure appeared.
He was in the pit when Gordon Johncock won the Indy 500. The TV producers and directors were going crazy – they couldn’t avoid this guy and the sign he was waving.
The sign was crazy, too, at least to some. To others it made no sense. The rest of us got it.
The sign said simply: “3:16.”
A Bible verse many were taught in Sunday school and can recite by heart. King James version. Contemporary version. It doesn’t matter.
Just as those three numbers carry an enormous power to Christians – the words do so even more:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
What a simple, clear and direct statement. In the King James, twenty-five words. Subject, verb, object.
There is no immense declaration that goes on paragraph after paragraph. No contrived and winding treatise with countless clauses and provisions and subsections. Hardly. Merely twenty-five words that contain such a great deal.
There are promises in that sentence. Can you spot them? The promise that those who believe will not perish.
Not only will they not die, they may have eternal life – life everlasting. It isn’t really possible for us to wrap our human minds around that concept, but that is the promise given to us.
And who tells us that this gift is available to believers? Jesus himself.
It is our gospel reading today from John. Jesus is quoted, directly, here. He is delivering that statement right to Nicodemus, the Pharisee who has come – under the cover of night – to listen to Jesus.
Nicodemus is trying to understand why this prophet whom some were calling the messiah mattered to so many so much.
Jesus is impressing upon him the core of his ministry, condensing it into one sentence.
But there is more in the statement Jesus is making to this inquiring, high-powered official.
Not only is there the promise given believers of no death and a life beyond, there is the description of the gift that God gave to God’s people.
And what was that gift?
God’s only child. The only son God had.
And what did God do? God freely gave this child to the world – to live and to die as one of us.
The baby in lying in the manger in that Bethlehem stable did not come with a price tag attached to his wrist. There was nothing to scan to find out the cost. No QR, Quick Response, code on that swaddling wrapped around him.
No, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, came to us as a gift. He was sent as a gift to lead us back to God – offering a path and showing us the way.
Why the promises, why the gift? What could prompt our God to take this kind of action, and for his son Jesus to let it be known?
The answer lies in the first words of that sentence: God so loved the world.
Not merely: God liked, God was pleased with, or even God loved.
No, it is far more than that. God so loved the world.
With a huge, unimaginable reservoir of feeling and caring and love – with an intensity that we really don’t have adequate words to express. It is a love that comes out of an enormity as big as the universe.
God did all of these things because God loves us. The love, the gift, the promises are all bound up in that one sentence. And that sentence is contained in John 3:16.
Maybe the sports cameras ought to linger a little while the next time that number pops up in view.
Of all the scores, of all the numbers appearing in the arena or the stadium or at the ice rink that day, 3:16 will be the most important one.
For it signifies the God’s gift, and the promise, and the love.