The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (3:13-17)
Today is the first Sunday of the football season. It was often the case that during football games you could see a few fans in the crowd who would hold up signs which read John 3:16. In fact our gospel reading today is quite short and includes that verse. What is so important about that verse that people would choose to display it during football games and in other various places? It is the 16th verse of the third chapter of St. John and in this verse, the Lord Jesus says “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” That is John 3:16. The reading continues with the next verse where the Lord says “For God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
These verses are so important because they simply, neatly and directly share the whole message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is this message of God’s love that overturned empires and subdued the hearts of the godless and pagan peoples over the last 2000 years. God created each of us out of His intense desire to share the gift of life with us. He created us with a desire that we should know Him and have actual communion with Him. He created us to not only live, but to desire to live more abundantly and to even share this overflowing life with others.
I often meet people who find our Christian faith to be threatening. You might meet people who are threatened by the Christian message as well. But I have good news for you, the message that most of these people have rejected is not our Christian faith, not the ancient faith of the early Church and the faith of our fathers in Christ. Often they have rejected a message of fear and intimidation. People were threatened into belief in Christ. Believers would go from place to place and hand out tracts and tell people that if they don’t believe in Christ, bad things would happen to them. That my dear friends, is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. With Christ, everything is love. The modern miracle worker and saint, Porphyrios once said,
“This is the way we should see Christ. He is our friend, our brother; He is whatever is good and beautiful. He is everything. Yet, He is still a friend and He shouts it out, “You’re my friends, don’t you understand that? We’re brothers. I’m not…I don’t hold hell in my hands. I am not threatening you. I love you. I want you to enjoy life together with me.”
So this is the message that the world needs to hear about the Lord that we serve and treasure. We have to actually believe this for ourselves even before we go and try to share this invitation with others. It must be our joy before we try to bring joy to others. It must be our faith before we try to share the faith with others. It is really joyous news that has the ability to change the world. It did so in the past and it can do so again. When we learn that God loves us, we are free to live life as God meant it to be for us and not the shell or shadow of life that is offered by the world around us. The world offers freedom and life apart from God and by this we can be sure that what is actually offered is slavery and death because apart from God there is no life. A life apart from God is a life married to sin and this life becomes a life of servitude and slavery to our passions and emotions and our lower instincts and desires. We are free to live this way, but we were meant for more. This is true because only the one who creates something ever really understands it’s potential.
I want all of you to know that God knows each of you by name. He loves each of you deeply and this love is not dependent on what you have done in the past. His love for each of you is limitless. No matter what sins are in your life, no matter what you did wrong in the past, bring all of this to the feet of Jesus Christ, with complete trust and faith that God knows you and sees your potential and can fully forgive, heal, restore and transform you through His love. I am confident in this because God’s work of transformation and healing was made clear to us when the Lord Jesus Christ hung upon the sacred wood of the cross for us. God didn’t hunt us down, He allowed His own Son to be hunted down and displayed for the whole world to see. He invites the world to look upon His Son, nailed to the cross and says “open your eyes and see how much I truly love you.” This is the ultimate sign of love given to us by the One who is love. Let us joyfully accept Christ’s love in our own lives and begin to invite others to see this reality. We each encounter people every single day, who are in desperate need of this truth “God loves you, you are precious to Him.”
St. Isaac of Syria writing in the 8th century says this “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for it. Not that he was unable to save us in another way, but in this way it was possible to show us his abundant love abundantly, namely, by bringing us near to him by the death of his Son. If he had anything more dear to him, he would have given it to us, in order that by it our race might be his. And out of his great love he did not even choose to urge our freedom by compulsion, though he was able to do so. But his aim was that we should come near to him by the love of our mind.” So when we actually look to and contemplate the cross, we have no doubt of the depth of God’s love and we find the strength to live the life of the cross and we receive resurrection. Glory be to God forever AMEN.