Sermon April 26, 2015
1 JOHN 3:16-24
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him
whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us
“THIS IS HOW WE KNOW LOVE - THE BIGGER PICTURE”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
“This is how we know love; Jesus laid down his life for us … (1st John 3:16) This Scriptural truth we well understand. This truth is also clear in the famous passage from John’s Gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
In the New Testament, the Gospel of John and the 1st Letter of John are filled to over-flowing with love – with the word love. Matthew’s Gospel mentions love 9 times. Mark’s Gospel mentions love 5 times. Luke’s Gospel mentions love 12 times. John’s Gospel mentions love 31 times – more than the other three Gospels combined. Add to this the 34 times love is found in the first letter of John – and we get some idea about John’s fascination with love. Maybe the writer of John was some sort of first century hippie? All you need is love! I’m kidding, of course!
Sisters and brothers, we, Christians, sometimes have a too narrow view of God’s love as revealed in and through Jesus Christ. We rightly cite and cling to John 3:16 – but we miss a much bigger picture of all that God has done in and through Jesus Christ. So what do I mean?
Well, let’s take a look at what happens in John’s Gospel. In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs seven signs – seven miracles, counted out at times by John. These signs, these miracles, begin with water turned into wine at the wedding feast of Cana and end with the seventh sign – the raising of Lazarus from death.
And where else do we find the number seven in the Bible? In the seven days of creation. I believe the seven signs – the seven miracles of Jesus in John’s Gospel - are placed there to echo the seven days of creation. In a real sense, John is telling a new creation story with Jesus at the center!
And, brothers and sisters, there is an eight sign – an eight miracle - in John’s Gospel – and what is that eight sign? The Resurrection of Jesus is the eight sign in John’s Gospel. And where does this eight sign take place? It takes place in a garden.
John’s Gospel, makes something explicit not found in the other three Gospels. Let me read John 19:40-42: “They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”
What else in the Bible takes place in a garden? Original sin takes place in the Garden of Eden – not human creation by the way. So John makes it clear that the eight sign – the eight miracle involving Jesus – takes place in a garden – in effect – reversing the trouble that arose in the Garden of Eden.
And recall that Mary Magdalene mistakes the Risen Jesus for a gardener. Who was the original gardener? God! As Genesis 2:8 notes – just after God forms the first human from the dust of the ground: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.”
So it is not just an idle thought – a throw-away comment – when Mary Magdalene mistakes the Risen Jesus for the gardener. The Risen Jesus most clearly shows forth – shines forth - his true identity as the Son of God. And he is mistaken for a gardener.
Let’s keep going. We know from the opening of John’s Gospel that everything that has come to be created came to be created in and through the power of God’s word. As John writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 1:1-3)
A simple question: who or what is the Word of God? Jesus Christ is the Word of God! So everything in our immense cosmos came into being in and through Jesus Christ. We know from science – with a high degree of certainty – that our universe is some 13.75 billion years old. Older than even our oldest member! This fact was again driven home to me this past Wednesday evening when I accidentally watched an episode from the PBS series Nova.
My beloved Beth and I don’t watch much television. What I do watch happens haphazardly – meaning I just turn on the TV and see what’s on. If I don’t like what’s on – I switch to reading.
Well, Wednesday night I came across a new special on the Hubble Space Telescope, titled Invisible Universe Revealed. The program was truly fascinating. I’ve loved looking at the Hubble Space photographs for 25 years now – after they fixed the original flaw in the mirrors.
The photographs that have come back to us from Hubble have been stunning. These photos continue to be amazing. And here’s the thing – everything we see from the Hubble Space Telescope – every awe-inspiring photograph – comes to us in and through the power of the Word of God – in and through the power of Jesus Christ and the love of God.
Sisters and brothers, we see the love of God not only in the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. We also see the love of God in the enormous expanse of creation. Here’s a vital theological truth: God didn’t need to create anything. But out of love – everything has come to be. But it’s come to be in and through Jesus Christ.
Our brother Paul says something similar in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians: “…one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1stCorinthians 8:6) In the 4th chapter of Ephesians, Paul argues: “He who descended (meaning Jesus Christ) is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens in order to fill the whole universe.” (Ephesians 4:10 NIV) Hear this again: “in order to fill the whole universe!”
Listen also to the anonymous author of the Letter to the Hebrews. He begins with this: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV)
Sisters and brothers, I believe we who follow Jesus Christ, we who are disciples of Jesus Christ, need to heed what these scriptures proclaim. Much more is going on than is always obvious. Here is an important theological truth: all we see everywhere on earth – all we see through the Hubble Telescope – everything that has ever been, is now, or ever will be has been brought into existence in and through the creative love and power of God through Jesus Christ.
As I wrote in my first book, God’s love bathes every nook and cranny of creation. The farthest planet in the farthest galaxy is swept up in God’s love. And even though we live in a flawed, a fallen, creation – we know that this mighty creation is in the process of being fully redeemed, fully healed, through the love and power of Jesus Christ.
The love of God did not just show itself in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The love of God shows itself constantly, continually, through everything that has ever been created and everything that continues to be created.
Brothers and sisters, every star in every one of the estimated 225 billion galaxies has been created through the love and power of God in Jesus Christ. Why do we curtail – why do we limit – the love of God to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – crucial though these events are? Why limit God’s love to what is past – why limit the love of Jesus Christ to what is past? This love fills the universe now and always.
This is what our brother Paul professes in Colossians 1:15-17: “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
In Christ – all things hold together. In Christ everything to be found anywhere in our very odd cosmos holds together. This is a strange truth – but it is a truth nonetheless. How everything holds together in Christ is a profound and abiding mystery – but there we have it – mystery and all.
We are called again and again in the Bible to ponder creation. Yes, as our brother Paul reminds us in Romans, creation is subject to futility. Creation groans and is in agony even until now. (Romans 8:20-22) But Paul proclaims creation is in the process of achieving the freedom and the glory of the children of God. More is going on in and through the love and power of God in and through Jesus Christ than is always apparent.
Brothers and sisters, this type of Scriptural pondering is not easy – which is why many Christians avoid it. But there are two sources of divine revelation – two sources that reveal God’s love to and for us. The first, of course, is the Bible and all that we find therein. The second source of revelation is what has been created in and through the Word of God – in and through the love and power of Jesus Christ.
I fear if we do not discover God’s love shining forth from the pages of creation, we may well have a difficult time discovering God’s love shining forth from the pages of the Bible. Not one or the other – to be sure – but rather both/and.
Brothers and sisters, we are swept up in a great tidal wave of God’s loving power. All things – all things – including every one of us – are held together in and through the love and power pouring forth from Jesus Christ. Everything is being drawn together in the love of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. This is why I am a Christian. This is why I will die as one!
We are part and parcel of the greatest love story that has ever been told! And this love story continues to unfold! May God’s love heal us and make us one! Amen!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643