Summary: John reveals to us the plan of the God who loves his people very much; so much that he sent his very own Son to be a light in the darkness. And when the powers of this dark world seem to overwhelm us, all we have to do is choose to follow that light.
Earlier this week, I was reading about a church in another town that was trying to coin a great catchphrase for their church sign. Lots of people in the church had input, and the suggestions put forth were good, but the church members were afraid that only other Christians would fully understand or appreciate what they were trying to say. Everyone agreed that they wanted something with more breadth and greater reach; something that spoke directly and plainly to the heart of anyone who was happening by. That’s when they decided on this: “You are so welcome!” I love the word, “so”! That little two-letter word just cinches it, doesn’t it? It’s a tiny word that packs a mighty punch! “So” interjects a whole new vitality into the mix.
Think about the passage we heard just a few moments ago. One of the most famous Bible passages there is. John 3: 16 is everywhere, and it has been for a long time. What does it say? “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.” God doesn’t just love us. God “so” loves us! “So” declares that God loves us with vigor, with loudness, with arms flung wide open! Like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, God embraces us, God sees us from a distance no matter what kind of shape we’re in, God takes the initiative to run to us, to greet us, to welcome us, and to bring us in! Quite often, we find our journey with Christ difficult because of our own insecurities and doubts about our worthiness. So, as we seek to journey with Christ this Lenten season, this is what we need to know and hear; this is what the world needs to know and hear. We are so loved!
A famous movie-maker had a huge legal wrangle with his long-time mentor and guide. With his career declining rapidly, the younger man simply couldn’t handle all the criticism, and so he ended up rejecting the one person who had long been his greatest cheerleader, the person who had helped him the most along the way. When it was all over, a close friend of the film-maker summed up the real problem. The younger man was looking desperately for affirmation and love. He hadn’t gotten it from his parents growing up, so he couldn’t handle criticism even if it was constructive and given in love.
The sad truth is, there are a lot of people like that today. So many people grow up in our world without ever having had a parent or guardian say to them (either in words, looks, or in hugs), “You are my dear child; I love you so much! I am so happy with you!” And it seems like more often than not, we get the opposite of what we need. As people grow up with their peers in school and then enter the workforce, although they are starving for love and affirmation, what they get instead are put-downs, bullying, angry voices, and bitter rejection! All around us are people with such low self-esteem. Maybe even you are feeling a bit insecure today. And we humans try really hard to mask our uncertainties; perhaps with a big-paying job or a fancy house and car. If that’s not in the cards, there are other ways; a body embroidered with tattoos, or a bottle to fill the void, and some drugs to ease the pain. But such masks only last a short time. Eventually, the painful truth breaks through. And in the midst of it all, the people who need love the most don’t even know just how very loved they are. They don’t know how important and wonderful they really are. And the thing is, we are around such people every day.
I have a couple of friends who are volunteer chaplains for the Dallas Bay Fire Department. I was talking to one of them a few weeks ago, and he was telling me about the alarming number of suicides the department is being called to these days. He was just amazed by how many people in this relatively affluent north Hixson and Soddy Daisy area are taking their own lives. We just never know who may be thinking of ending their life or leaving their marriage, or is just feeling completely empty and broken. That might even describe you this very morning. And such doubts not only depress us, but they can keep us from connecting with the only source of love and power which can lift us out of such deep hardships.
Our scripture passage for this morning describes a world of light and darkness. To a great degree, I think the description of darkness fits our world well. All around us, evil is at work; temptation pulls us in every possible direction. We make rash decisions and then we regret our actions. We have to deal with feelings of stress and guilt. And that’s when we fall into darkness. It’s the darkness of trying to navigate this world on our own and it’s deep and enveloping. It’s a crisis. But there is another way, a light at the end of the tunnel, if we so choose to pursue it.