A game of inches

Reflection on John 3: 11-21, Jeremy Taylor

I’ll let you in on a trade secret. Most young preachers are a lot like rookie baseball players. When we first mount the pulpit, we hope we’re going to hit a home run every time. We pray that God will inspire us to share the exactly right, dramatic, life-changing message for a soul in need. Over time we learn that life, like baseball, is more a game of inches. Rather than swinging for the seats, we usually just try to make contact. We stick to the fundamentals and we try not to make any errors.

So what to make of this gospel? Jesus is obviously not just another preacher. His every message is a grand slam – and none grander than this: 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. Perhaps the most frequently cited reference in the Bible, John 3: 16, has been called the whole gospel in a nutshell.

It is a limitation of our language, and perhaps of our imagination, that God’s love is presented in the past tense. For the truth is that God has loved us, does love us and will love us with the same intensity that sent Jesus to the cross. It is not that we are so lovable, but that God is love. Loving is what he does. Loving is what he is. And again, our language and experience fail us. God’s love is not emotional or hormone driven. Feelings come and go. God’s love does not. His love is not transactional. It does not require reciprocity. God delights in loving us. It is the essence of his being.

But God is also the wellspring of truth. So there is no effort to sugar coat his message of love. If you have been shown the light and prefer the darkness, that choice is yours. While there is yet life in us, the light of Christ burns for us. The saving love of Christ beckons. Eternal life or eternal death – in every passing minute of our very precisely allotted life-times, it is the ultimate choice we make over and over. In this gospel Jesus calls us to choose life, to choose light, to choose love. In this Jesus is more than a high-powered preacher. He is the message, as well as the messenger.

As C.S. Lewis put it: “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that he may love and perfect them.” And then he sent the Son to give us a human-scale window into his infinite love. There never was and never will be a quid pro quo for creation and salvation. God knows how hard it is for us to understand and return his love. As long as he remains a distant abstraction, we will always love things and people more than God. He knows our limitations. He’s not angry with us as long as we earnestly commit to loving him every day. Except for the rare dramatic conversion, growing in God’s love is a game of inches – sticking to the fundamentals, avoiding errors. And if we really honestly try, every inch of the way, God is waving us home.

Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, the Rev. David Sellery serves as an Episcopal priest that seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, and congregational growth.

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