Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: The 2nd of a series during our Stewardship Campaign

The overarching theme of our “Celebrate Stewardship!” campaign is, as you heard last week from Julia, and as I tried to explain in the course of my remarks last week, that you can’t out-give God! That’s true in every aspect of our lives, of course, and it should be obvious in everything we do. Today we are directly confronted with the nature of God as an extravagant giver who gives the most extravagant gift. Every year, on the first Sunday in October, Christians from around the world and from across denominations join in what’s known as “World Wide Communion Sunday.” If the celebration of Holy Communion - either today or any day on which we celebrate it - is to have any real resonance with us then we have to be able to celebrate it as the sign of God’s giving. Two simple verses we heard a few minutes ago, but the words contained in those two simple verses are among the most meaningful you will ever encounter, because those words point us to the very nature of God, and in many ways they remind us of what we’re doing when we approach the table of Christ. John 3:16 - known to some as “the little Gospel” because, some folks say, everything you’ve ever really needed to know about the gospel are contained in those 26 words. John 3:16 begins with the elegance of simplicity, and then builds finally (in the space of 26 words) to a magnificent crescendo which, if we listen to the words carefully and hear them not just with our ears but with our hearts as well, will stun us with their power - a power that reminds us, indeed, that we can never out-give God. Let’s begin with the simple, and begin the movement toward the crescendo. “... God so loved ...”

“... God so loved ...” Could there be anything more basic than those three simple words? They’re matched in their simplicity by perhaps only a couple of other Scriptures. In 1 John 4:16, the same author who wrote this Gospel would write in an equally simple three words, “God is love.” Moving back to the Gospel, we see the purity of God’s love displayed when we are told in John 11:32 that, confronted by the death of His friend Lazarus, “Jesus wept.” Love is simple; love is also very complicated. Interviewed after his engagement to Diana, Prince Charles was asked how he knew he was in love. He got a quizzical look on his face, and replied “what is love?” Some, operating with the benefit of hindsight, see in that question a red flag, a warning signal to Diana, but, whatever may have been going through Charles’ mind when he spoke the words, I think he expressed a fact - there’s a mystery to love. We know that we love someone, but can anyone really explain the process of love? I think not, and perhaps that’s appropriate. After all, God is a mystery (at least in part) and if, indeed, “God is love,” then love itself must be a mysterious force. Love is played out in our lives in many and varied ways - some of them noble; some less so. God’s love is a noble love, a passionate love. God’s love is God’s very nature, and so begins John’s description of God’s love, which now begins to build. “... God so loved ...” - but what did God love? Our love is narrow, shared with only a select few. Not so with God. John pushes us forward: “... God so loved the world ...”

“... God so loved the world ...” Some have tried to suggest that the best way to make these words meaningful in your own lives is to substitute your name for “the world,” so that the verse becomes “... God so loved [Julia]” or “... God so loved [Bob]” or “... God so loved [Phyllis]” or even, dare I say it, “... God so loved [Steven].” I disagree. Understand what I mean. God loves Julia and Bob and Phyllis - and even me! God loves all of us, warts and all, but to personalize this verse and make it about “me” is about the biggest sell-out to the “me generation” I’ve ever heard! Since when does the church want to buy into the idea that “it’s all about me?” The truth is that as hard as it is for some people to understand, it’s not “all about me.” My suggestion would be to take these words and substitute the name of the most unlovable person you’ve ever known! Then there might come blinding flashes of insight into the mind of God! Oh Lord - God really does love Tim Lindsay! (I’m having a momentary flashback here to the school bully from Grade 7 who tormented me!) Understanding the words “... God so loved the world ...” doesn’t depend on us believing that God loves us, it depends on us believing that God loves even those we can’t love, even if we try to love them with all our might! And the real magnificence of the concept is that the love of God isn’t just an emotional reaction without substance behind it. John pushes us forward again: “... God so loved the world that He gave ...”

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