John 3:16

John 3:13-17

You knew it, too, of course, the reference above.  Oh yes, we know it by heart, those of us who have followed this path of faith.  Indeed, we know it so well I expect that we hardly pause to take in its import much of the time.  But stand still in this with me for just a moment.  How is it possible that God’s love for us would be so great that God would give what was most precious to God’s heart for our sake?  For you and me and this broken, hurting world.

On the one hand I want to say, well this is God, after all.  God has strength beyond what I can imagine. And, well, God knew the ‘ending,’ if you will. And yet, wouldn’t that take something away from the gift?  If God didn’t love it, love Jesus, so much watching him suffer and die simply broke his heart… if this were not so, wouldn’t that lessen the value of this unfathomable gift in some way?

We had such a day yesterday.

It started last Monday with the unimaginable news that a beloved member, a key leader in our congregation, a life-changing teacher, a cherished wife and mother and grandmother had suddenly died. She was always a careful driver, and yet her mind must have been elsewhere that morning, for she drove into the path of a semi on a country road.  And the world changed then for all of us and we were plunged into grief — where we still are.

We shared in Debra’s memorial service yesterday.

And last night, I was called upon to pray at a Vigil for Drug Overdose Awareness.  I had been asked to do so by a still grieving mother.  I officiated at her son’s funeral nearly a year ago.  Since then she has given her life to doing what she can to ensure no one feels the pain of the loss she has felt every day since the day he died.  She did not want him to have lived and died in vain.  Last night she told his story.  Her mourning is not done.  It seems it may never be.

This time around, the brightness of these first September days have been clouded by the grief of others as well as my own.

And so I can’t help but remember that if you and I experience such heartbreak with the loss of those we have so loved, how very much God gave up — how very deeply God must have grieved as well — to send his only Son to us.  And to stand by and watch the unthinkable, the unspeakable, done to him.

To be sure, this is a great love.  This love God holds for you, and for you, and for you is far beyond anything we mere mortals can comprehend or begin to emulate.  That God would give God’s Son to suffer death that we might live.

There have been many heart-wrenching moments in these last days.

Often, at funerals any more the family will want someone to speak — to tell the stories which evoke such precious memories.  This was so yesterday, too.  Only as is often the case, sometimes those who wish to share are just too close to be able to share their words.  In those times I offer to read their words for them.

The memorial service was at 1 p.m. yesterday.  At 12:45, Debra’s daughter, Megan, handed me a piece of paper.

And so a few moments later when we turned to Family Remembrances I stepped forward with Megan’s words.  I only had time to glance at the page briefly before we began.  I share just a tiny part with you now:

My mother was not afraid of much, but I am sure she was scared in that moment.  My only wish would have to have been there to comfort her and wrap my arms around her and reassure her she was loved to the moon and back by myself and so many others.   

And oh, isn’t this always our greatest fear. That those we have loved so much would know such unfathomable terror.

A few minutes later when I stepped into the pulpit to preach, I felt it must be addressed. I spoke the truth then, that I couldn’t help but share her worry about what those last moments must have been for her mother.  We would want nothing more than to protect those we have loved from such as this.

Now what I spoke next I said because I believe it must be so.  And so I said so and before and since I have found I have kept repeating it into my own need to hear it, too:

God’s great love for Debra — and for any other of God’s beloved in a similar time and place —  God great love would have meant that even a moment of terror was instantly overshadowed by such joy that it was forgotten almost before it was experienced.

I believe this.  I have to believe this.

And no, I don’t believe these words of Jesus speak only of the life to come.  I think that this promised eternal life surely begins now and is experienced in wonderful times of great joy and gratitude and generosity and hope.

But there are other times, too.  Times like these when this promise brings such comfort.  When we stand on the edge of a mystery we cannot comprehend, and we know and trust that God stands on that other side with arms extended and heart wide open. 

We were surely shown what that looked like in Jesus. 

John 3:16.  We know it by heart.  Oh, may our hearts know it fully today and always.

  • For many, this verse is a treasure.  Is it for you?  Why is that?
  • How is it possible for you to hear something so familiar in ways that are new and fresh?
  • How great is God’s love for you and for this world?  With what might you compare this love?  is anything comparable?

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