Today’s text is from John 3:1-21.
According to Merriam-Webster this is the definition for the word ‘love’: “A strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties; warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion; the object of attachment; unselfish, loyal, and benevolent concern for the good of another.”
We hear this word a lot in our vernacular. And we hear it in today’s reading: “For God so loved the world”. It’s certainly a verse we’re all familiar with, a verse that Martin Luther said was the “gospel in a nutshell”.
But what does it mean to love? We heard the dictionary’s description of what it means. And we see that definition played out in real life. Whether it’s a love between two people that results in marriage, or a love that one has for their country, or a love one has for their friends, or a love one has for their pets, home, lifestyle, traditions, rituals, or a love one has for things.
It’s easy to say, “I love that movie, or city, or food, sport, or color.” And this is where I think the English language fails us. How is it possible that we use the same word when describing the love two people share and how much someone likes a pizza? I love my spouse. I love pizza.
In doing so I think we devalue the word ‘love’ – or at the very least its meaning becomes a bit muddled. Because when we get to verses in the Bible like the one we heard today – John 3:16 – and we hear that God loves the world to the point where God sends God’s own child to die for all the world – all the world including good people, bad people, believers, non-believers, the righteous and the undeserving – I think it’s a love that’s a bit stronger that our love for random objects and things.
It’s a love that’s so strong, so powerful, it’s to the point where it’s outrageous, a love that’s too much, a love that’s, when we think about it, quite scandalous. It’s a love that’s made manifest in Jesus Christ as both God and human – a love that put Jesus on this earth as one of us – a love that didn’t decide to die on the cross once Jesus had hung out with the Israelites long enough to realize how much he liked them.
But instead a love that long before Jesus’ birth decided this was the plan: To save, not condemn. To die so that we could live. A love that is unconditional, no strings attached, no reciprocation need in order for Jesus to do what Jesus was from the beginning going to do: Die for you.
This is the scandal of God’s love for you: That long before you even set foot on this earth, long before your heart started beating, long before you could needed to ask God for forgiveness – God said, “It doesn’t matter. I’m dying for you anyway. I’m loving you anyway. That no matter what may come your life is now in my hands. Because I love you.”
This is a love that we can’t even fathom. A love that the world can’t fathom. A love that Nicodemus cannot fathom. A love that is so shocking, so unconditional, so abundant that all Nicodemus can say is, “How can this be?”
How can such a love be possible? Not too long ago we heard a young girl say these very words, “How can this be?” I think it’s a very appropriate response to the overflowing and infinite abundance of God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness and love: How can this possibly be?
We’re going to hear it in next week’s reading too: How can this be? How can such a love exist? A love that lives with you, dies for you, saves you. A love that was extended to you before we could even walk. A love that in baptism claimed you as a child of God, a love that chases after us when we try to run from God, a love that seeks and finds us when we try and hide from God, a love that does not back down no matter how many times we think we’ve let God down, a love that in Jesus Christ saves and redeems even if we think we don’t deserve those things.
An unconditional love that like Mary, that like Nicodemus, that like the woman at the well next week makes us ask: How can this be? An unconditional love that has been given freely to you, an unconditional love that we can now proclaim to the world, an unconditional love that we are eye-witnesses to.
An unconditional love that we too can share with the world. Doing that, in and of itself, is a tall order: To live out the love we first received from Jesus Christ. A love that lives for you, a love that dies for you, a love that saves you – whether we think we deserve it or not.
Because in Jesus Christ it is yours – yesterday, today, and tomorrow – both now and forever. A love that isn’t rescinded, a love that does not decrease based on our actions, a love that is infinite and abundant.
A love we are called to share with the world: Friends, family, neighbors, people both near and far. A love we are called to show to the world in both word and deed. For in Jesus Christ you are loved abundantly.