The Unconditional Love of God

The Unconditional Love of God

“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.”

John 3:16 (NRSVUE)

When I was younger, I understood the world a lot differently than I do now. I had a small window of understanding, not because I didn’t try, but because I was young and there were a lot of things that I hadn’t experienced yet. Sometimes, no matter what our age, we learn things and we just believe that they are true, but as we continue to learn and grow and experience more, sometimes we begin to understand them differently.

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I learned that the garden tool with one wheel in the front and two handles in the back that help to move sand and stones is called a “wheelbarrow.” I had always thought that it was a “wheel barrel” because it was like a barrel with a wheel on the front. And my husband always tells the story about being in the town spelling bee in elementary school. He was in the finals and was given the word “necklace.” And he spelled it “n-e-c-k-l-e-s-s,” as it sounded, because he had never seen the word written before.

Well, the same kinds of things happen with scripture. Sometimes, we read and interpret scripture and take it at face value, but we don’t look at it in context, meaning that we don’t look at the big picture and how it fits into the whole story. Friends, the Bible was written as a book of stories, not individual verses. So, sometimes, we need to look beyond a few chosen words to truly understand what the writer was talking about.

Today’s scripture reading is one of the most well-known and yet, misunderstood scriptures in the bible. “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.”

For many, this scripture says that God sent Jesus to earth and that only the people who choose to follow Jesus will be assured a place in heaven after they die, and, therefore, will live forever. But those who do not choose to follow Jesus will not be allowed through the pearly gates. And friends, to be honest, I believed that for a long time, too, until I started to think about the unconditional love that God has for the world. And if God’s love is truly unconditional, then Jesus was not sent to earth to decide who is in and who is out. No! Jesus came to be an example of love for everyone!

Now, those who follow Jesus do learn to appreciate the lives that they have been given because Jesus fills them with hope and assurance. He helps them look beyond themselves to the greater good, encouraging them to serve others and to be thankful for what they’ve received. But that doesn’t mean that everyone else is doomed to eternal damnation.

Friends, billions of people walk this earth. Billions wake up every day overburdened and overwhelmed by things that bring them down. They do what they can to get by and to survive each day. But Jesus tells us that life is too precious to simply survive. We need to thrive! And we need to learn to truly live and appreciate each and every moment! To see the glimpses of goodness and grace all around us, remembering that life is a precious gift. Friends, Jesus’ message doesn’t encourage us to wait for “someday.” Jesus wants us to live today! And tomorrow and the next day!

There is a story about a boy who is walking along the beach when he stumbles across thousands of starfish that have been washed up on the shore. As he starts to pick them up and throw them back into the ocean, a man approaches him and says, “Son, don’t bother. There are too many. You won’t make a difference.” The boy picks up another one, throws it back in the ocean, and says, “I made a difference to that one.”

And my friends, that is what Jesus teaches us about loving our neighbor, even if our neighbor is a starfish. It’s not about perfection and getting it all right. And it’s not about doing things so that we will be rewarded someday. It’s about living and breathing and loving right now!

Folks, this week we are celebrating Scout Sunday and honoring all of our scouts and scout leaders. Scouting gives kids and young adults a chance to explore, to dream, to ask questions, lead, and take responsibility. Scouts learn to serve others and to respect themselves and their neighbors. Through Scouting, young people learn to plan and carry out projects, make friends, and experience teamwork, collaboration, independence, and self-discovery, and they choose to serve others, honor themselves, have fun, and truly live!

Sometimes the world seems so overwhelming that we step back and just do what we need to do to survive. But God did not create us to simply survive; God created us to laugh, and to love, and to LIVE!

As you all know, one of my favorite times of the week is Sunday mornings at 9am. Because between 9-10 am, I get to hear all about our huddlers’ adventures from the week. We share our joys and our concerns, and there is never a sense of worry about what others will think about the mistakes we made because we know that mistakes help us to learn and grow! I also cherish the times that I get to hear about gymnastics and dance, about swimming and soccer, about school and marching band and dungeons and dragons and scouts! Because the experiences are amazing, and the excitement for life is palpable.

Folks, God doesn’t want creation to simply survive, God wants us to thrive! Now I know that today’s scripture ends with the words, “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,” but if we look ahead just a little bit, in the gospel of John, to John 17:3 we find that it says, “and THIS is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

So, eternal life is not about what happens someday; it’s about what happens today! It’s about knowing God. It’s about knowing that God loved the world. The whole world!! And that God sent Jesus to teach us not to worry about what happens after we die but to LIVE here and now! Jesus didn’t come to condemn and to separate but to give hope, to love, and to help us find wholeness, healing, satisfaction, and belonging. Friends the truth is, Jesus doesn’t judge and divide us, we judge and divide ourselves.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, enjoy each moment, the ups and the downs, the bitter and the sweet, the struggles and the hopes, knowing that each moment is a gift! Remember that Jesus teaches us to live with hope, joy, and possibility and to find peace and solace in the dark. So look to God, and keep following in the footsteps of Jesus. Stop worrying about someday, and start living today!

My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen.


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