God so loved the world

March 14, 2021

Numbers 21:4-9 | Ephesians 2:1-10 | John 3:14-21 | Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

“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

On the Second Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2020, the Canterbury Choir sang these cherished words, set by the composer John Stainer, as the communion anthem. Like today, Daylight Saving Time had just begun. Beautiful music and the joy of more sunlight – wow, there was comfort and promise all around. Yet, as we all know, that was our last “normal” weekend. Within days we moved into a pandemic lockdown that has now lasted a year…seemingly an endless Lenten season where we long for the comfort and promise we once knew.

I’ll be honest. John 3:16, perhaps the best-known verse in the New Testament, has actually been a verse of discomfort and angst for me at times. As a young Christian, I viewed this scripture as God sending Jesus to die for my sins. If I then believed in Jesus as my Savior, I could go to heaven. But what about those who didn’t believe?

By college I truly had a crisis of faith about this. In a tearful conversation with a friend, I confessed that I wasn’t certain I still “believed”…I just couldn’t hold on to “it.” My friend then changed my life using very few words. “Rodney, faith is not about you holding on to “it,” but “It” holding on to you.”

The incarnate Jesus reveals God to us, God who loves the world…all of creation…everyone. Following Jesus means following a path of loving God and the world God loves; a path of compassion and mercy; a path of transforming the world; a path of building the kingdom of God. As we heard in this past Friday’s Gospel reading, Jesus gave us our commission quite directly: “Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)

So to let you know, John 3:16 does provide comfort for me now, but it also inspires action to bring hope and healing to the world. I’ll close with a memory of Marcus Borg quoting a friend’s mother summing up her faith; “we are in good hands; therefore, let us take care of one another.” *

Rodney Ayers

*Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), p. 310.