Once every now and then a summer movie actually lives up to the title, “Blockbuster.” The Secret Life of Pets, in my book, is one such movie. The story is about Max, a cute little mutt whose life comes under attack when Duke, an enormous rescue dog, moves into the small Manhattan apartment.
As one jealous dog tries to sabotage the other, both Max and Duke wind up lost in the scary and seedy underbelly of New York City. And it’s up to their animal friends to retrieve them before all their owners get home from work. Gidget, a sweet puffy poodle, who is secretly in love with Max, leads this peculiar posse. She makes it very clear that she will go to any length to save her beloved pal. And thus the great adventure begins.
As the movie unfolded, I couldn’t help but think how far God goes to retrieve us from the mess we make for ourselves. Both John’s gospel and his epistle were chosen this morning, to remind us that God’s love knows no boundaries, and has no limits. In fact, God will do some amazing things for us simply out of love for everyone here.
Have you ever wondered why that is? Have you ever asked yourself, why would God do all this for me? John’s words say it all: God is love.
I’ll admit it sounds a little too simple to believe. But I think it’s good for us to go back to the basics, and to remind ourselves that God is the source of who we are. If God is love, then so are we.
John 3:16 begins, “For God so loved the world that He gave us his only Son.” This is one of those verses that can seem so familiar that we often shrug it off as nothing more than a Sunday school lesson. But these 27 words make up the single most important sentence in the entire New Testament, perhaps even the entire Bible. They are the very foundation of Christian theology. In fact, Billy Graham is reported to have said that all of his sermons come down to these pivotal words of Jesus to Nicodemus. One pivotal word in particular: Love. God’s love for us. And our love for God. (Indermark 2011)
Simple, yet profound, these familiar words challenge us constantly. They force us to always hear them with freshness, and in a way that will constantly shape our understanding and practice of love as a gift from God.
Love first arises from God. “For God so loved…” this is the constant message, from Genesis to Revelations. It began with creation when God deemed it good, and will one day return to God…redeemed again by the gift of love through Jesus Christ. Nowhere does John say we earn God’s love. It just shows up in our life. It’s not on Amazon Prime, and we can’t buy it at Meijer, which should say a lot. Love comes from God without any precondition outside of God’s own will to love. And it draws us towards God in the same way. And it’s given to us whether we deserve it or not.
This is what the church must always strive to practice and proclaim to keep us from drawing circles around those we deem worthy of receiving this great gift. Judgment, shame, ego and dogma are some of the ways we make it difficult to accept and appropriate God’s gift. Look at today’s political climate, and all the violence that is rooted within it, to see why it’s imperative we make love the root of our being; the very foundation of who we are as the church and as a people of God.
If you were at morning prayers this week, you might remember hearing the St. Thomas Music Group sing “Mysterious Amoris.” Based on the words from John Lane, the choir sang:
“The meaning of life is the mystery of Love;
just as the roots of the trees hold firm the soil,
so it is the roots of Love
that hold the ground of our being together.”
Try to think about what happens inside you when you are consciously aware that the roots of your life are held together by God’s love…. Think about the fruit it allows you to bear. Now think about all the other kinds of roots that are out there: fear, addictions, anger, a deep lack of trust to name a few. These roots are like weeds that confuse and choke our desire to love. They hinder our ability to see, feel, or even believe that God’s love is the true ground that holds our being together. Jesus tells us otherwise. (Ziegenfuss 2008)
God’s love is foundational. And it’s personal. We are the objects of God’s love, because God has chosen us to love. “For God so loved…the world.” You, me, (Cory, Angie, Carol, Josh, Anthony). If the church is going to bear good fruit, then we must practice and preach God’s loves to everyone, even to those who don’t believe what we believe, or behave like we behave. God’s love is deeply personal because we are all made in the image of Divine love. So is it any surprise that God will go to any length to retrieve us and redeem us.
Last Wednesday night, at the men’s bible study, we looked at this passage from a personal perspective. We did this very simple exercise that I’d like us to do this morning. What we are going to do is read John 3:16 out loud together, but instead of saying “For God so loved the world,” let’s add our own name. For example I will say, “For God so loved Ian that he gave his only begotten Son…” Are you ready?
God’s love is foundational and personal. It looks for us and comes to us with a great purpose. Yet, many of us fail to grasp the extraordinary breadth of this wonderful gift, because we don’t see ourselves as being worthy or deserving of it. But such thinking negates, and dare I say rejects, the redemptive power of Jesus when we believe God’s love and grace has the power to forgive other people of their sins, but not our own.
Jesus reveals our real value and worth. The words He spoke to Nicodemus are the words we must not only put in our hearts, but put our trust into daily. Say to yourself, “For God so loved me that he would do anything to bring me home to his loving heart.” God’s love knows no boundaries, and crosses all lines, goes all depths and heights to redeem us. This is why we call it the good news.
Our self worth begins with the sure and certain truth that we are loved, no matter what. In spite of whatever has gone horribly wrong in our life, whatever has wounded or hardened our hearts and caused us to stumble or rebel, God has made peace with us through The Son. The Beloved. The Christ.
God sent us this gift, wrapped in swaddling clothes, to give us true freedom, and a new life beyond the many places we are in right now. Jesus meets and redeems us in all the ways we have it together and all the ways we don’t, because Jesus perfects God’s love. And so there is no other place for the church to stand, than upon that great foundation.
Through Jesus, God embraces the world in love, breaks down all barriers with love, fashions peaceful communities for love, and calls us into personal relationships by love. Those who believe and put their trust in this gift of God’s love, become one with the Son throughout all eternity. It’s that simple.
We all need John 3:16 tattooed on our heart. We need to memorize it, reflect upon it, teach it to our children, and give ourselves over to it, so God can take full root within us. Without such love we suffer, anguish and perish. But with it, we thrive and bear the good fruit.
In closing, I will leave you with the prayer Paul gave to the churches in Ephesus. (page 950) It’s a prayer for all churches, throughout the ages, and for all people across every generation. Ephesians 3:16-19 reads:
“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:16-19)
Today is a perfect day to make love…and be strengthened by it. Amen.
Indermark, John. The Greatest of These: Biblical Moorings of Love. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011.
Ziegenfuss, Lynn. Youthworkers.net. Oct. 2008. http://www.youthworkers.net/pdf/T5200810.pdf (accessed July 22, 2016).