Lent 2A – Love Not Condemnation
March 19-20, 2011
We’ve gotten used to seeing it everywhere…
on signs at ball games
on drink cups by Christian companies
even written on the eye black of football players
Remember the “Rainbow Man”?
He was the guy in the 70’s and 80’s who always had the best seat at the game;
who positioned himself to be on camera for the best plays;
who wore a bright rainbow-colored wig;
who carried a sign to every game saying “John 3:16.”
And where did this “John 3:16” come from?
Nicodemus, an educated man, a religious man, a leader in his community,
comes to Jesus in the dead of night.
And he says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God…”
“We know…” – apparently Nicodemus has drawn the short straw and on behalf of 2 or 3 (or 20 or 30) others in the community has been given the task to speak with this man Jesus who has done some miraculous signs.
But to avoid being seen, he comes to him at night.
“We know that you are a teacher who has come from God…
these signs that you’ve done show that God is with you.”
Nicodemus doesn’t really ask a question – he just states an observation.
But Jesus knows that there is a question behind the observation.
Nicodemus has “heard the sound of the wind,” Jesus says –
he’s been moved by the Holy Spirit – but he hasn’t heard everything – yet.
Nicodemus wants to know how he can become part of this too–
Nicodemus wants to know how he can be assured that God is with him too.
And Jesus, says, “Well I don’t know…are you born again?
“After all, ‘You must be born again!’”
Now I know it’s likely your translation of the Bible doesn’t say, ‘born again.’
You probably have one of the more common Bible translations for mainline Protestant denominations that shies away from “born again” language.
Likely it says something like “born from above,” or “born anew.”
The translation I just read says that Jesus says, “You must be born from above.
But no one has ever stopped me on the street asking me if I’m born from above!
They’ve only asked me if I’m born again!
And like many of you I murmur something about baptism
and get away as fast as I can – it would take too long to explain
… and I’m not sure I really get it anyway.
Nicodemus doesn’t understand what “born again” or “born anew” or “born from above” could possibly mean for him either.
He wants what Jesus has, and choosing “born again” to be literal, he asks,
“So then tell me…how can I do this? Can I enter a second time into my mother’s womb and be born?”
And Jesus explains that this is a different type of new birth;
it is something God does – not something Nicodemus can do.
God chooses to rebirth us.
God chooses to create us anew through water and the Spirit.
“Yes, but how exactly does that happen?” Nicodemus persists.
I imagine Jesus laughs and says, “You are indeed very smart – a teacher, a leader of the Jews, but this is something that cannot be understood by the mind – even a very educated mind.”
Life’s most important questions remain shrouded in mystery.
The “How does it happen?” question will not be satisfactorily explained – ever.
So in the meantime, be content to know the one thing that you do need to know.
(And this is where John 3:16 comes in!)
The one thing you do need to know is:
Love. God’s love. God’s love for you. God’s love for the world.
God’s love which is so strong that God’s only Son came down to our world
not to condemn our world, but to love our world.
So why do people hold up signs at ballgames?
Why does the company write “John 3:16” on its drink cups?
Why does someone get “John 3:16” tattooed on their arm?
Why do football players write “John 3:16” on their eye black?
I don’t really know – but here’s what I hope they would say.
They do it so you will see it. They do it so the world will see it.
They do it to remind a world that suffers from earthquakes and tsunamis;
violent uprisings, war and famine; hopelessness and despair;
that the question is not “How did it happen?” or even “Why did it happen?”
but the enduring promise that God still loves the world.
God still loves you.
God’s love hasn’t gone away.
God does not condemn the world.
God does not condemn Japan.
God does condemn Libya.
God does not condemn you.
God loves the world – still.
There are those who have said otherwise.
There are those who have said that the earthquake, tsunami, and destruction of the nuclear plants indicate God’s displeasure with Japan.
Apparently we need more people holding up signs in ballparks, more tattooes and more football players with eye black – we’ve forgotten the message!
The message is not condemnation but love.
God weeps for those who have died.
God weeps for those who are still looking for loved ones.
God weeps for those who are living in anxiety on the streets of Benghazi.
God is present with the workers who risk radiation exposure to avoid nuclear disaster.
God is present with the teams who continue the search for people.
God is present with people from all over the world who have offered aid.
God rejoices with the family of the 4 month old baby who was rescued without injury.
God rejoices with the 60 year old man who was rescued 9 miles out at sea after clinging to remnants of his swept-away home for two days.
God rejoices with the families of three elderly people found alive in a car which had been tossed by the storm.
God does not condemn Japan or Libya.
God loves Japan and Libya.
God loves the world.
In fact, “God so loves the world that he gave his only Son that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”