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John 3:16

In the gospel appointed for this Sunday, we hear the conclusion of the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus, an encounter that gives us the famous line "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

That line has become famous (infamous?) largely because well-intentioned knuckleheads like to hold up signs at sporting events saying "JOHN 3:16."



Actually, I don't see any "John 3:16" signs in this photo.
But it does show RGIII celebrating a touchdown. Against Dallas!

I say they're well-intentioned, because the sign is meant, of course, to make someone wonder, "hmm...I wonder what the Gospel of John says in chapter 3, verse 16?" and go look it up. If they do that, they'll find as good a one-sentence summary of the Gospel according to John -- the Good News according to John -- as any. It may be as good a one-sentence summary of Christianity as any. 

So if someone hears about John 3:16 and is therefore intrigued to read more about how much God loved (loves) the world, and as a result that person gets drawn closer to God and learns to "love God and neighbor as one's self," then so much the better.

I say they're "knuckleheads" because holding up signs -- religious or political -- at public events, where people of different beliefs and political affiliations have gathered for non-religious, non-political reasons, strikes me as assertive, if not a bit aggressive. Granted, billions of dollars are spent on splashy signs and electronic ads at those same events and that kind of assertive or aggressive "sign-holding" is considered socially acceptable because it's called "advertising." 

But that's my point: I believe assertiveness or aggressiveness -- whether it's in evangelism, politics, or advertising, is not only unproductive, but counter-productive. For every person who is intrigued to find out more, I suspect there are ten who tune out.

And the message of John 3:16 is too important to risk anyone tuning out from hearing it.
That's because -- as I'll explore further in my sermon this upcoming Sunday at The Falls Church Episcopal -- the "eternal" life that Jesus provides refers to quantity AND quality.

As far as quantity is concerned, "eternal" means "ever-lasting," something that lasts forever, does not end. 

Doesn't quit. 

Never stops happening.

Chew this over a while: "Eternal" in "eternal life" does NOT mean "later" or "after." It means "unending." Something that we can't lose. That starts here, and now.

And chew this over, too: it also refers to quality: it is a way of living, a kind of living, an orientation, a world-view, a lens through which one views the world and events.
As Francis J. Moloney summarizes the Jesus-Nicodemus encounter:

"Where holy mountains and their sanctuaries are excluded, true worship is the orientation of oneself toward the Father in such a way that God becomes the imperative of one's life. ... God is not a mountain, a place, or a sanctuary. God is spirit, an all-pervading personal presence to the believer."

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