March 5, 2023
Genesis 12:1-4a Psalm 121 Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 John 3:1-17
“For God so loved the world . . .,” most everyone can finish this verse. “. . . that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Whereas many a Christian has focused on the “everyone who believes in him,” as the key to eternal life, I want to shift our focus onto eternal life, itself.
Too often, the focus is placed on eternal life as being a reward for Christians. It will begin afterthis life is over. Yet, in the Thursday’s Forward Day by Day meditation, the author wrote:
Eternal life has already begun. In a collect for peace in our prayer book, we proclaim that “to know you is eternal life.” To know God and God’s knowing me—inside and out, accepting me completely. Eternal life, here and now and always.
Eternal life, for us, has already begun.
The author’s reference to the prayer in our prayer book reminded of a subtle, but perhaps significant, difference in the words of the absolutions in our Rite I and Rite II services. In the Rite I liturgy I say, “bring us to everlasting life,” but in the Rite II liturgy I say, “keep us in eternal life.” Bring us to vs. Keep us in eternal life.
I like “keep us in eternal life.” It speaks to the very nature of eternity – there is no beginning and there is no end. We are part of something much larger than ourselves. At the core of our existence is the love of God – the God who loves us enough to send his Son into the world for us.
I believe our eternal life began a long time before any of us were able to articulate the name of Jesus. I also believe that Jesus came into the world to “keep us in eternal life.” Yet, through the scriptures we are taught that sin leads to death – suggesting that although we may already be a part of God’s eternal life, God has given us the ability to chart our own course through life. There are many choices we make throughout life and some of the paths we take are dead-ends.
Some Christians believe if, at the end of our mortal lives we find ourselves at one of these dead-ends, then we either die or spend the rest of eternity in hell. Not me. I believe the God of our ancestors who sent the prophets, who loved us enough to send Jesus, is not going to give up on us.
After that famous verse, John writes, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Through the resurrection we know that God’s love did not die with Jesus on the cross. Jesus lives on, and I believe we do and will also. I believe that when we reach a dead-end, we can turn around and find our way back to Christ and the life-giving spirit he freely offers to each of us. God never gives up on us. This is one of the principal messages we find in the Bible. The prophets come to offer guidance, Jesus comes to show us the way that leads to life, and the Holy Spirit is ever present when we are lost to lead us back. As we prayed in the opening collect: “Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son.”
To further reinforce the notion that Jesus came to teach us the way of life, truth, and love, let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Romans. Here, Paul is building his doctrine of salvation by grace, rather than “good works.” The promise to Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in heaven came not as a result of anything Abraham did. He did not earn God’s favor by following the law. Abraham receives this promise from God, Paul says, “through the righteousness of faith.” Put another way, it is because Abraham trusts God.
Last week in our Education for Ministry Seminar, we learned that another translation of the word believe is trust. Reading the Nicene Creed using the word trust in place of belief was a wonderfully inspiring exercise. As I consider Paul’s discussion of Abraham’s righteousness, I think of this. Abraham trusts God. He trusts God enough to leave his country and his family, and to go to a land God promises to show him.
The scripture this morning from Genesis tells us what God says to Abram, whose name will later be changed to Abraham. Abraham does leave his home, as the Lord tells him to, because Abraham trusts God. Abraham is not always a role model. On more than one occasion, he tells wife Sarah to say she is his sister so that a king will not kill Abraham just to take her as one of his wives. God intervenes and both Abraham and Sarah are spared. Yet, very late in life, Sarah remains childless. Abraham continues to trust God and well beyond childbearing years Sarah gives birth to Isaac. Isaac fathers Jacob and Jacob fathers 12 sons who then form the twelve tribes of Israel.
God’s promise to Abraham is thus fulfilled when Moses leads the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to the Jordan River and Joshua leads them into the Promised Land. The twelve tribes of Israel, the decedents of Abraham make up a great nation in the land God promised to Abraham.
This story takes a very long time to unfold, at least it does to us. What took centuries, however, is only a short time when measured against eternity. Time, itself, is creation of humanity in an attempt to create order in our lives. The story of Abraham reminds us that God is faithful, even if we do not live to see God’s promises fulfilled.
In our discussion last Sunday of C.S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters, I was surprised to learn that I was not the only person there who has looked up at the night sky, realized just how small a part of the universe I am and I was comforted by this thought. It is good to know that the universe does not depend on me or you to make things right. I would mess it up – my life is an example of a person making mistake after mistake. Yet, despite all that I have done and all that I have failed to do – God loves me. To think that God loves me, that God loves each one of us can be confounding. We are; after all, a very small part of the universe God created. Yet we are loved by God and God has not written anyone of us off as a lost cause.
Recognizing ourselves as existing within eternity, and recognizing ourselves as existing within this universe, and knowing that God’s love is always with us – makes John 3:16 mean all the much more. This passage is not about the necessity of believing in Jesus, it is about accepting our place in God’s creation. We exist in eternity here and now – and we exist within the love of God, and we exist to share God’s love with others.
Let us pray.
Loving God, we give thanks to you for the love you have made known to us in Jesus. Help us, we pray, to trust you as Abraham trusted you. Help us to live our lives in faith, sharing your love with others. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.