God So Loved the World
By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Massachusetts, November 29, 1998
First Sunday in Advent
3:14-17 The Lord your God is with you
Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all
your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your
punishment; he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel,
is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will
say to Jerusalem, "Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang
limp. The Lord your God is with you; he is mighty to save. He will take
great delight in you; he will quiet you with his love; he will rejoice
over you with singing."
3:16-21 God so loved the world
so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in
him will not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son
into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Those who believe in him are not condemned, but those who do not believe
stand condemned already because they have not believed in the name of
God's only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but
people loved darkness instead of light because their actions were evil.
Those who do evil hate the light, and will not come into the light for
fear that their deeds will be exposed. But those who live by the truth
come into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have
done has been done through God."
Love and Wisdom #1 Love is human life
that love exists, but we do not know what love is. We know from everyday
conversation that love exists, since we say, "He loves me,"
"The citizens love their ruler," "The husband and wife
love each other," "The mother and her children love each
other," and, "They love their country, their fellow citizens,
and their neighbors." We also talk about loving things that aren't
alive, as in "He loves this or that thing." But even though we
are constantly talking about love, hardly anyone knows what love is.
cannot come up with any clear idea about love when we stop to think
about it, we either say that love is not really anything at all, or we
say that it is merely something that flows in from what we see, hear,
touch, and talk about, and that it influences us in that way. We are
entirely unaware that love is our very life. And love is not only the
generalized life of our whole body and all our thoughts; love is the
life of every single part of us.
loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him
will not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son
into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
(John 3:16, 17)
is past. Our stomachs have been filled . . . perhaps a
little too full. I hope our souls have been filled too, both with the
warmth of sharing a holiday feast with family and friends, and with the
warmth of gratitude for all of the Lord's blessings.
are entering the season of Advent, when we have especially strong
reasons to be thankful for the Lord's blessings. We are preparing
ourselves to celebrate the greatest gift and the greatest blessing that
has ever come to humankind: the Lord's birth among us as a little baby
who would become our Savior. This morning, as we begin those spiritual
preparations, I would like to share with you some of our church's
beliefs about who the Lord was and is, why he came to earth, and what
this means to us.
you may be very familiar with what I have to say, and others may be less
familiar. Either way, our beliefs about the Lord are so central to our
faith that it is good to revisit them and remind ourselves of who it is
that is at the center of our faith and our life.
reason to revisit our beliefs about the Lord is that there are many
ideas about Jesus Christ running around in our society. Some of them are
very good and genuine, but others can lead to real problems, both for
those who believe in them and for those who feel some of the negative
effects of what we consider to be faulty beliefs. I am thinking not only
of the more literal or fundamentalist views of Jesus, but also of the
more humanistic views. We need to examine these perspectives as well our
own church's views so that we ourselves can have a clear, constructive,
and living faith.
passage we heard from John this morning is one of the most commonly
quoted passages among evangelical Christians. It is also one of the most
troubling for people with a more liberal, humanistic perspective because
it says that those who do not believe in the God's only Son stand
condemned already because of that lack of belief. Many people these days
cannot accept the idea that God would condemn people just because they
do not believe in Jesus. But for an evangelical Christian, this is one
of the prime motivators for making converts to Christianity.
we resolve this dilemma? How can we have a strong faith in the Lord in
the midst of such conflicting and emotionally packed views? Let's step
back from this muddle for a moment, and consider some of our church's
most basic teachings about who God is. This morning we read one of my
favorite passages from Emanuel Swedenborg's writings: the opening
statement in Swedenborg's great cosmological work Divine Love and
Wisdom. After setting the stage by remarking on how little we
understand love--even though we talk about it all the time--Swedenborg
grabs our attention with this bold statement: "We are entirely
unaware that love is our very life. And love is not only the generalized
life of our whole body and all our thoughts; love is the life of every
single part of us."
love! Love is not merely a wispy feeling or influence. Love is our very
life--our guts, our substance, our being! Everything we do comes from
love, because love is who and what we are. Without love, we are nothing.
no accident. The reason we are love is that God is love.
And just as the love that drives us and makes us who we are is shaped by
our knowledge, our understanding, our faith and beliefs about life and
its meaning, so also the infinite love at God's core is shaped and
directed by God's infinite wisdom. Infinite love flowing through
infinite wisdom. That is our God! And God's love and wisdom are just as
warm, bright, and human--no, much more so than our own deepest
and most personal emotions and beliefs.
love and wisdom because God is love and wisdom. Swedenborg states this
very clearly in True Christian Religion #37. He writes:
God is love itself and
wisdom itself; these two form his essence. Our earliest ancestors
realized that love and wisdom are the two essentials that account for
all the infinite qualities that are in God and flow out from him. . . .
Love cannot exist in the abstract without taking form; rather, it
works in and through forms. And since God is the genuine, only, and
primary substance and form--the essence of which is love and
wisdom--and since everything that was made came from him, this means
that he created the universe and all its parts out of love through
wisdom. So divine love together with divine wisdom are present in
every single created thing. Further, love is not only the essence that
forms everything; it also joins them together and unites them, and in
this way keeps together the things that have been created.
love, says Swedenborg, is not only the source of everything created; it
is also the attractive force that holds all things an all people
together. It is God's love that makes it possible for us to love each
other, to care about each other, to work and to play for each other's
happiness. It is God's love in us that makes us human beings.
pure, infinite love. And as Swedenborg explains later in the book Divine
Love and Wisdom, from that pure and infinite love God could not help
but create beings who have their own identity and can choose of their
own free will to accept God's love, and to love God in return. We--you
and I here in this church, and every other person on this earth--we are
the beings whom God created to be capable of receiving God's love and
loving God in return. And whatever else we do here on earth, the choice
about whether or not to accept and return God's love is by far the most
important choice we will ever make. Other things that we do may make us
more comfortable or happier for a time, but allowing God's love into our
lives will give us a deeper joy that will remain with us both here and
take this view of God as infinitely loving and wise back to our passage
from John. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that
whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. For God
did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save
the world through him." Yes! It had to be from pure love
that God sent his only Son into the world to reach out to us and save
us. And through the perfect life that Jesus lived, he became not only
God's Son, but reunited himself with the divine that he came from,
becoming one and the same as God. Because of this, God now has a
personal presence with us in the form of our Lord and Savior Jesus
Christ. God did all of this, not from any sense of wrath or anger or
thwarted justice against the human race. No! As John says, it was
because God so loved the world--meaning God loved each and every
one of us.
you may have heard a story I like to tell about a conversation with one
of my high school friends. As the decade of the seventies pushed on,
this girl must have been one of the last of the Jesus freaks. She was
also a big Janis Joplin fan. One day, as we were sitting on a grassy
hill outside the school building, she said to me, "I really love
Janis Joplin. She's got such a great voice! It's too bad she's in
hell." "What?" I replied, not quite believing my ears.
"Yes," she said, "It's too bad she's in hell. She didn't
accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior." At that point I didn't know
quite what to say. I had heard that people believed this sort of thing,
but until this conversation, I never really believed that people
is a curious thing about our reading from John. Though it does say that
those who do not believe in God's only Son are condemned already, it
does not say who condemns them. Many people of literalistic
beliefs have jumped to the conclusion that it is God who condemns them.
But a God of pure love cannot condemn--and John himself tells us that
"God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the
world." The Bible also says that God "causes his sun to rise
on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the
unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45). No, it is not God who condemns us when
we refuse to have faith; it is not God who condemns us when we refuse to
accept God's love. It is we who condemn ourselves. And we condemn
ourselves by shutting ourselves off from the only source of genuine
love, light, and joy--because God's love is our life.
We do not
need to dogmatically insist that people must literally accept Jesus as
their Savior in order to be saved. What really saves us is our belief in
the love and wisdom of God that Jesus represents--and our willingness to
live from that love and wisdom. Do we truly believe that God is
love and God is wisdom, and that Jesus Christ expresses the love
and wisdom of God? If so, then we must realize that every time people
accept the love of God--no matter what their particular beliefs
are--they are accepting and believing in the essence of who Jesus was.
And they are saved through their acceptance and faith even if the God
they worship wears a Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim or Jewish face. It is
all the same God.
the message we can carry with us into our Advent season. God loves the entire
world, including every single one of us, so much that God reaches
out to us and comes to us in love, to show us the way back to God and
the way back to each other's hearts. For us as Christians, that love is
shown to us fully in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whose birth we
are preparing to celebrate. This Advent season, may each one of you be
touched deeply by the love and wisdom that comes to us through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.
Music: How I Love You
© 1999 Bruce DeBoer
Floating Butterfly Script