Posts Tagged ‘God’s Love’

For God so loved the world

November 10th, 2013 No comments

“For God so loved the world” (John 3:16-17)
by Pastor Katherine Goerzen
October 6, 2013, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

John 3:16 is one of the most recognized verses from the Bible. You see it on signs at ball games or along the road or on Christian artwork to be hung in homes. It’s a beloved passage for church members to memorize, and one that most have been taught from a very early age. And I think that it is beloved and well known for good reason. In John 3:16-17 the very essence of the gospel seems to be communicated: “God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may 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.”

And at the very heart of this good news, is God’s deep and steadfast love for the world. And this deep and steadfast love encompasses all people, all of creation, all of the world. God’s love is not just for a select group of people, or just for those we assume fall under God’s care and favor, but also for those we tend to assume are outside of God’s care and favor, even those who we do not ourselves love, even those we consider to be our enemies. It is the world in its entirety that God so loves.

And God so deeply loves the world that God was willing to send the One who God loves most, the only begotten Son, into the world, despite what would happen, despite the great pain that this would cause, despite the tremendous sacrifice on God’s part.

When I was a freshman in high school, my youth group participated in DOOR in Denver. We stayed at one of the local churches there and would gather every night for worship. And I remember the pastor of the church telling this story to communicate God’s deep love as we sat on the mountain side. He imagined that all of us youth had gone to bed for the night in the church building and then for some reason or another, he happened to stop by the church only to see smoke pouring out because of a fire in the building. He said that in that situation he wouldn’t even think twice about rushing in to warn us so that he might save our lives, despite the risk to his own body.

But then he imagined the same scenario, that he stopped by the church building after we were all asleep, only to see smoke pouring out because of a fire in the building, only this time, his 5-year-old son was with him. And he pondered what it would be like to instead send his son into the burning building to warn us and save our lives, all at the risk of the life of his son for our sake. And the pastor didn’t think that he would ever be able to do that; it goes against every fiber of a parents’ being to put our children at risk or to send them into a dangerous or hostile situation.

Yet God loves each of us so much, that God was able to do just that. God loves each of us so much that God was willing to send the One who God loves most into the world, despite the great risk, despite the great pain and sacrifice that this would bring about, all for the sake of our salvation. It was love, God’s deep and steadfast love for the world that caused the incarnation, despite all that would happen. The Son was given for the sake of the world’s salvation, even at the cost of his own life, because of the deep and steadfast love of God.

And because of God’s deep love for all of the world, salvation is offered to every person, that everyone might have eternal life. It is God, out of love, who takes the initiative for our salvation. It is God who makes the first move, and who gives the Son for the sake of the salvation of the world. Salvation is available for all who believe in the Son and the One who sent him. But we know, of course, that not all will believe, for some have loved the darkness rather than the light. Some will not accept God’s offer of love and salvation.

But for those who believe, God gives the power the power to become children of God, to become a part of God’s family. This is God’s doing. For those who believe, God brings about our salvation and leads us from death to eternal life. Those who believe are born anew into God’s family out of God’s deep love for us. John 3:16 and 17 are located within the narrative of Nicodemus coming to Jesus. And Jesus tells Nicodemus, that one must be born from above (or born anew) to experience eternal life. The thought that the birth is from above suggests that it is God’s doing, that we ourselves do not bring about our new birth. And if you think about it, how many of you had a say about whether you were born or not? Our birth was not our own choice, but the choice of our parents. Just like, to be born from above (or born anew) is not our own doing, but God’s doing in our own lives, it is God bringing us from death into eternal life. And we begin to experience eternal life now. It is not something we simply have to wait for, it is not just something for the age to come, but for those who believe, we have already passed from death into life.

But believing in Jesus, does not mean that our lives will stay the same as they were before. We cannot simply claim to be born again, and then continue to live in the same ways that we did before we experienced eternal life. Believing in Jesus, fundamentally changes who we are. To be born anew is to be transformed completely.

And though it is God’s initiative that brings about our salvation, and our new life, we always have the choice to respond to what God is doing. In the gospel of John, “believe” or “faith” is always a verb, it is always active, it is always moving. Believing is what you do. Believing is how you respond to God. Believing is the way you live so that your life reflects the True Light that came into the world.

In the language that the gospel of John was originally written, John 3:16 can literally be translated “all who believe “into” him.” In the Greek, you do not only believe “in” Jesus, but you believe “into” Jesus. Believing means moving towards Jesus. Believing means orienting one’s life towards the direction of Jesus, to move closer and closer to him.1 Yes, there will be times when we “miss the mark”2 or even veer off course. But even when that happens, we can once again choose to reorient our lives towards Jesus and to move towards him.

Believing is to be orienting our lives towards Jesus. Believing is to be moving towards Jesus. Believing is to be living in a way that reflects the True Light of the world. Believing is to be responding to God because of what God is doing, and because of God’s deep love.

For it is God’s deep love that makes this all possible. It is because of God’s deep love that our salvation and assurance of eternal life is possible. It is because of God’s deep love for each of us and for all of creation that God gave the One who God loved most for our own sake, despite the tremendous cost. Out of gratitude and awe for this tremendous gift, may we spend our whole lives believing and moving towards the One whom God has sent into the world for our salvation. Amen.

1. Willard M. Swartley. Believers Church Bible Commentary: John. p. 505.
2. Literal translation of one of the NT words for sin, “harmartia.”

God Cares for Us

November 10th, 2013 No comments

“God Cares for Us” (Psalm 139:-118)
by Pastor Katherine Goerzen
July 21, 2013, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

The verses that were read from this psalm strike me as 3 stanzas of one song, or a poem in three parts, with each part speaking of a different aspect of God’s deep and intimate love for us as beloved daughters and sons.

The first speaks of God’s intimate knowledge of us; our Creator knows us deeply, when we sit and when we rise, our coming out and our going in. The second speaks of God’s constant presence with us; so that even when we are lying in the depths or at the far limits of the sea, God’s Spirit is with us. The third speaks of how our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made by the hands of our Creator, that we are knit together by God’s loving hands in our mother’s womb.

Our God knows us. Our God knows us deeply. Our God knows intimately; so intimately in fact that God knows our every action and has searched out our path and has perceived our every thought from far away.

Now there is a part of me that cringes a bit at this knowledge. There are some things that I have done that I have a hard enough time admitting even to myself, let alone to God. And there are some words that I have said and thoughts that I have had that I would be embarrassed to talk about with God; hateful thoughts, thoughts that do not reflect the goodness of God’s image within others, thoughts that do not reflect the nature of the person who God created me to be. Yet God already knows of these shortcomings and failings anyway. I imagine that God is disappointed when I think these things or say these things or do these things. And I would hope that in being aware that God knows all about me, my every action, my every thought, that this knowledge would prompt me to act and think in ways that are more in keeping with who God calls me to be.

But. . . I do know that even though God knows the very worst things about me, God still loves me unconditionally, as God loves all of us, for with God there is always grace upon grace.

And it is also wonderful to realize that God knows us so well for it means that God is not simply absent from our lives; God is not simply uninterested in what we do. God did not create the world and then leave it to its own devices. God knowing every minute detail about our lives means that God is intimately involved within our lives and within creation, both the bad and the good. God knowing every intimate detail about our lives means that God cares deeply about what happens to us.

Lord, you have searched me, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down, you are familiar with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, you, O Lord, know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

There is no where where we can escape God’s presence. If we ascend to great heights, God is there. If we descend into the depths, God is still there.

Now speaking for myself, I do not remember there ever being a time when I have tried to flee from God’s presence. But I can remember times when God’s presence has felt very absent from my life. One of my closest friends in high school was someone I had grown up with. She and I had attended the same congregation since our birth and the same school since kindergarten. We were both leaders in our youth group. She and I had written all of the skits for our Youth Sunday. She and I were both a part of our congregation’s praise team and worship band. She and I had both performed in the musical “Godspell” at the MCUSA convention in Nashville. She had gone with me to Winnipeg to visit the CMU campus when I was in the process of making the decision where to attend college. We talked about a lot of things, things that were funny, or serious, inconsequential, or momentous. And when we were both seniors in high school, she told me that she no longer believed in God. And that was very painful for me. As someone who had begun to feel a call to ministry, I was at a complete loss for how to respond to her. I couldn’t understand it, especially given all that we had done together in our youth group and in worship. And I was angry and hurt. And even though I still very much believed in God myself, from the time that she told me this until nearly my third year in college, I had ceased to feel God’s presence with me in the ways that I had been used to before. The once familiar and comforting presence seemed to have vanished from my life. And I can still remember screaming and crying in my prayers because of what had happened to my friend and because I was angry that at this time when I was hurting, I no longer recognized God’s presence with me.

I also remember feeling that God’s presence had abandoned me when Peter and I experienced a miscarriage. Even knowing the 1 in 3 chances of a miscarriage with a first pregnancy, I couldn’t understand how this could happen if God was knitting the child together in my womb. We found out that our baby had no heartbeat during the Easter season, on the week that I was scheduled to preach. And I didn’t know how to proclaim the promises of the resurrection when my own body had become a tomb. And I was angry at God. And I felt abandoned by God. And many of my prayers were simply tears. And it felt like pain and darkness were consuming me.

But even at these times in my life when it has felt as though I have descended into the depths, even there God’s hand has led me. And in looking back, I have been able to recognize that even then God was with me, even though it was not through the familiar presence that I have been used to feeling and knowing. When my close friend lost her faith, even then God’s hand was guiding me, leading me to CMU, calling me into ministry. When we lost our first child, I experienced God’s presence through the prayers, meals, embraces, and tears of friends and the family of faith.

I know that many have experienced more pain in their lives than I have, that I am not the only one who has felt as though God’s presence is very distant if not gone all together. Yet I truly believe that God is present in even the darkest moments of history, and if nothing else, simply crying with us in our pain. For there is nowhere that we can go from God’s Spirit. There is no where where we can flee from God’s presence.

If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for the darkness is as light to you.

It is by God’s own hands that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are created very good in the very image of our Divine Creator. I hope that we have all been told this from a very young age, that God has indeed created us good, that we are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made by God’s own hands. And yet I lament that I too often have believed the lies of the culture when it tells me that my body is not good enough. We are told that we’re not slender enough, not curvy enough, not muscular enough, not tall enough, not short enough, not fast enough, not strong enough, not toned enough, not tan enough, not fair enough, not smart enough, not athletic enough, not feminine enough, not manly enough, not pretty enough, not handsome enough, not good enough.

And I have spent hours agonizing over my reflection in the mirror or the numbers I see when I step on the scale. If only I could change a few things about my body, then I would be beautiful. Or so I’ve been taught to feel by the lies that this culture has told me. And even though I have read Genesis 1 and Psalm 139 so many times, I still fall prey to this belief that my body isn’t good enough.

But the profound and ancient truth is that each of us are indeed very good in the eyes of our Creator. Each of us are fearfully and wonderfully made by God’s own hand. And our bodies are so good in fact that God’s own self chose to take on our flesh and become one of us. God came to us in a body like our own, knit together in a mother’s womb, a body that could run, and dance, and play, and laugh, and suffer, and cry, and feel pain, and embrace others, and worship, just like our own bodies are capable of, for good indeed is the flesh that the Word of God has become.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately wove in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before even one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.

And that is the very promise of the One who took on our flesh, who is God-with-us, God’s very presence among us, and who knows us intimately. For God has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. And indeed, God is with us always, even to the very end of the age.

Categories: Sermons Tags: ,