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Message from Our Pastor

Hoffman Lent purple

Excerpted from Pastor Hoffman’s March 11th sermon.  Relevant reading: John 3:14-21

How many of you know John 3:16 by heart? This is one of the few verses that almost everyone knows.  I remember learning this verse when in elementary school and attending the Bible school at our baby sitter’s church. Every day we received points, for things like attendance, having our Bible, bringing a friend or memorizing Bible verses. One of those verses was John 3:16. Of course, I learned the King James Version, so for me it will always be: “He gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish.”

Second question:  How many of you know John 3:17 by heart?  That’s what I thought.

I think it is a shame that we don’t teach and preach John 3:17 with the same enthusiasm that we hold for the previous verse.

Listen again to the words of verse 17: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Too often we Christians, while professing God loves the world with a bright neon placard, at the same time condemn the world with our voices. 

In the news, you have undoubtedly seen pictures and heard voices of such protests. Be it an abortion clinic, a veteran’s funeral, a gay wedding, an AIDS hospice, an immigrant community, a predominantly black community, a group home for people with physical or mental disabilities, or an addictions rehab facility, there they are – there we are; professing the good news of Jesus’ love while hurling the insults of God’s judgment and wrath. No wonder so many people think Christians to be hypocrites.

Now I don’t think that this image describes all Christians, but I do think that we all tend to forget the reason Jesus was sent into our midst. God, the Father, sent Jesus to us, not out of hate and anger, but out of love. Jesus, the Son, walked among us not so he could condemn us, but so he could save us.

God knows that left to our own devices, even with a multitude of laws to guide us, we are doomed to fail. There isn’t anyone alive – or dead for that matter, except for Jesus Christ, who hasn’t lied, cheated, sworn against God, dishonored a person or the Sabbath or envied another’s life or possessions.

Oh, there are some who can honestly pray: “Dear God, so far today, I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped. I haven’t lost my temper. I haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish or overindulgent.  But they all end their prayer the same way. In few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed – and from then on, I’m probably going to need a lot more help. Amen.”

Fortunately, for us, God’s love for us is greater than our inclination towards evil. And so it is that God sent his son into the world, not to condemn us, but to save us.

I think this message is just the right word for us as we enter the second half of Lent.  Three weeks down and three more to go. On Ash Wednesday we were invited into this penitent season and encouraged to return to the Lord our God through the disciplines of Lent – prayer, fasting, the giving of alms and good works.  Each of us has chosen to engage with this liturgical contract according to our own piety. Some of us are praying, some fasting, some giving alms, some doing good works. Some are doing a combination of these, some are attempting them all, and some aren’t bothering with any.

In any case, it is not the specifics of your Lenten discipline that matters so much as the heart and purpose with which the discipline is undertaken. 

Life is hard, the laws of God are rigorous, the world is full of darkness parading as light and wolves disguised as sheep.  And sometimes we just want to throw up our hands and say, oh, forget it!  It is impossible. I’ll never even get close to being what God wants me to be, so why even bother trying?Do you know what I am talking about?

Then listen closely.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. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us – not while we were saints or when we were doing good, but while we were still sinners. Then, in the midst of our sinning, Christ died for us that we might not perish but have everlasting life.

Do you hear the good news in these words?Do you understand, now, why I think John 3:17 is just as important as John 3:16? 

God’s love is so great for us – all of us - that he gave his only begotten Son so that we would not perish but have everlasting 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.

You, my brothers and sisters, are saved by God’s grace, simply because God loves you. Amen.

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