Summary: What we mean by faith is not what Jesus means by faith in Jn 3:16

Civic Service - New Romney 11-06-2006

John 3:1-17: You must be born again

Story: An atheist was sitting under a tree one day smugly thinking:

"God, I know you don’t exist but it you did you must really be stupid.

You created a huge oak tree to carry this little acorn and such a puny plant to carry a marrow.

Now, if I had been you, I’d have created the oak tree to carry the marrow and the marrow plant to carry the acorn.

As he was reflecting on this wisdom, suddenly an acorn falls and hits him on the head and he exclaimed

Thank God that wasn’t a marrow!!

This morning, I would like to base my talk on two verses from our Gospel reading

16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

I wonder what your picture of God is like.

What would you be more likely to associate with God – the phraise “the Ten Commandments” or the word “love”?

I used to have this idea that God was a bit like an old fashionened headteacher (sorry Liz!!).

You only went to see him/her when you had done something wrong!

But I would not have associated the word “love “ with God

Story: I remember Billy Graham going on French television and being told by the commentator:

"Dr. Graham, the whole of France is watching you - you have two minutes to prove to us God exists."

To which Billy Graham replied:

"I can’t do that but I can tell you what I do know:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”

What does Jesus mean by “believing in God“?

Generally in the West if you ask anyone with they believe in God – they will probably say “yes”.

In the last Governement Statistics about 75% of New Romney said that they were Christians.

So what does being a Christian mean?

Does it simply mean assenting to the proposition that God exists?

I don’t think so.

St James writes this in his epistle

19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (Jas 2:19)

But what we understand by “believing in God” is very different to what the first century Jews - to whom St John was writing – would have understood the phrase to mean

In Jewish thought, belief was more than simply intellectual assent.

If you believed in someone – it meant you had total trust in that person.

If you believed in a philosopher – you’d put his teachings into effect in your life.

Story: Let me ilustrate the difference between modern belief and first century belief.

In 1859, Charles Blondin, the famous tightrope walker, suspended a wire across the Niagara Falls.

He then proceeded to walk across it pushing a wheelbarrow in front of him.

Having reached the other side, he stepped down to the applause of the crowd.

He went up to members of the crowd and asked: "Do you believe that I can walk back on that wire without falling off?"

"Yes" they each replied.

"Do you really believe I can make" he asked.

"Yes" they replied. "We believe you can do it – we’ve just seen you do it"

"Then" said Blondin "Will you please step inside my wheelbarrow and come across with me".

"Oh no" they replied "It is far too dangerous".

It is that “wheelbarrow” belief that Jesus was speaking about in Jn 3:16.

It is a belief that spoke of “total commitment”

It was that belief and commitment that enabled the early Church to turn the world upsdie down within three centuries

Jesus wants us to get into the wheelbarrow with him.

That is what he meant when he said

But it is no blind trust – but reasoned trust.

Because by so doing – our lives will be changed

I would like to end my talk with a poem that was written in 1920 by the American poet Robert Frost

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveller, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could.

To where it bent in the undergrowth,

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear,

Though as for that, the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

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