Sermon on John 3:16, for the 4th Sunday in Lent 2021 (B), "Healthy Rhythms"
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. “Why do I have to go to church?” When we hear questions like these, maybe from children, or maybe from our own heart, we might ask more similar questions. “Why do I need to eat good food? Why do I need to sleep? Why should I exercise?” If we know how to answer those questions well, then we will better answer questions like “Why do I have to go to church?” Health. Well-being. We need it in body, mind, and soul. We need healthy rhythms for a healthy, wholesome life. Not a “law” or “demand” to “burden yourself” with nutrition, sleep, and exercise, or the spiritual rest and feeding of worship—rather, it is a gospel gift! It’s God’s generous blessing and a healthy rhythm for our own good!
But sometimes “rhythms” seem boring and repetitive. Get up early every morning for school. Wash your face, eat breakfast, brush your teeth, make your bed. At the end of the day shower and clean up before bed and brush again. Go to church every week. Hear the Word of God and sing familiar songs. “I’ve heard that already! I’ve sung that already!” We are prone to distraction and complaining. But “repetition is the mother of learning” and music is second to repetition in helping us learn something by heart. When we know something by heart or have “muscle memory” from training rhythms in sports, we are able to think, move, and do, most freely and with increasing skill. Healthy rhythms and routine are important!
You’ve probably heard John 3:16 more than many other verses. Ephesians 2 is another familiar one. We heard them again today. Do our eyes glaze over? Our ears tune out? Our soul grows sleepy? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” I hope these words are familiar to you. If they’re not, I hope they become familiar. I hope that these words are written on your heart and mind. I hope that you never grow tired or bored of hearing them, and that you welcome the healthy rhythm of hearing even the most familiar passages repeatedly, throughout your life.
If you’re a coffee drinker, how many cups of coffee have you enjoyed in your life? If you are a burger man, how many burgers have you eaten? If you are a cookie lover, or a salad lover, or a lover of pasta, or meat and rice, how many times have you enjoyed them? If you are a lover of music, how many times have you listened to your favorite songs? I bet you don’t keep track. I bet the last time you enjoyed it won’t stop you from enjoying it the next time.
God’s Word is richer, more profound, healthier, and more necessary than any earthly delights. And we don’t need to count how many times or how long ago we’ve fed on God’s Word to measure its blessing or plan our next meal. The more the better! Moderation is best in most things, but with God’s Word, there’s no such thing as over-eating, there’s no such thing as over-indulging in what is spiritually good for us. Spiritual mal nourishment is the norm, sadly. So instead of grumbling that its “meat and rice” again from God’s Word, practice our rhythm at meals: pray and give thanks and enjoy the healthy rhythm of feeding on God’s Word again and again. Relish those beloved, familiar words, and rejoice that they’re being written on your heart like a stamp that won’t be erased, and you’ll be thankful when the Holy Spirit calls speaks them to your heart in times of darkness, or trouble, or when death is near.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” The “Gospel in a nutshell”. The best-known verse in the Bible. One rich, simple truth to sum up Christianity. God drives the action. He is the doer, the subject, the cause of our salvation. For God so…So…just so—in this way. How did God love the world? This way: by giving His only Son. Jesus dying on the cross. His love was not mere words, but tough love; sacrificial love; love in action. We are so loved.
He loved the world. Not only believers. Not only His chosen people Israel. Not any select group only, but the world. All mankind. Martin Luther said this was a great comfort, because if it had said “For God so loved Martin Luther”, the question would trouble him —am I the Martin Luther it means, or is there another? But since it says, “God so loved the world”, I know that I am included. I can place my name in there, your name in there, and know that we are all included, without exception, in God’s great love for humanity. No one is so lost that God cannot find them. No one whose sin is greater than Christ’s cross. God is in loving pursuit of all of us. He wants all humanity to know Him, to turn from our sins and be saved.
He gave His only Son. The literal word is “only begotten”. It shows up again in v. 18. The Father does not have any other “begotten” children. Jesus is “only begotten” as we say in the Creed. An old word. “Begotten” is to fathers and sons as “conceived and born” is to mothers and sons. Begotten is the unique relationship of father to son, and God only has only one “begotten son.” On the other hand, by Jesus’ redeeming work, God the Father has countless adopted sons and daughters. We become His children by the new birth of water and the spirit, in Holy Baptism. That’s also in John chapter 3.
That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. Salvation is tied up with believing. Believing is more than just knowing something or repeating something by memory. It’s trusting Jesus. One person described faith or trust this way. You could know that a plane will fly you from Maui to L.A. But if you don’t trust the pilot and the airplane to get you there, and refuse to get on board, that’s not yet faith. It’s just knowledge. To believe in Jesus is to trust Him to pilot us, to bring us safely to our destination, to escape eternal death and arrive at eternal life. Just like the patient needs to agree to trust the surgeon and undergo the surgery to be helped by the doctor’s skill. Now if you’re nervous or a little fearful, but still board the plane, or still go under the doctor’s care—your worry doesn’t change their ability to help. If you’re a child, trusting the arms and protection of your parents, you are not prevented from safely receiving the same help or transportation.
God is the driver of the action; Jesus is the Savior of the world. It’s not about our power or ability, or even how steady our confidence is. Jesus will always urge us on to steadiness, courage, and dependence in our faith, but His arm is not shortened to help us when we struggle, or like Peter start to sink under the waves. Just trust in Him, because whoever believes will not perish, but have eternal life.
Children are actually really good at trusting. They’re better at it than adults. When they’re newborns, they don’t even have much of a choice! They’re helplessly dependent on the love, care, and protection of their parents. Do you ever wonder why Jesus held up a child-like faith as the model for us, and not adults? I don’t! I have learned that the simplicity, the trust, and the dependency of a child, even from birth, is so much more like the faith God wants us to have, than the fearful, questioning, uncertain, and often rebellious faith that we adults are prone to develop. Or should I say “un-develop”! There’s a reason Jesus wanted His disciples to learn lessons in faith from children!
From childhood we need to develop healthy rhythms. Hearing God’s Word well and often. Going to church, eating a healthy diet of God’s Word, not just once a week on Sundays, but reading our Bibles, praying each day. Healthy rhythms promote spiritual health and all-around wellbeing. When we return to old familiar passages like John 3:16, we shouldn’t skip over, or stop, and say, “Oh, I’ve already heard that, or been here, or done that.” Instead, we should step back and take a fresh look. We should dig deeper. Soak it in, and enjoy it, like your 500th or 5,000th cup of coffee, or bowl of ice cream, or healthy plate of vegetables that your body needs. We shouldn’t complain about familiarity and rhythm but welcome it as a healthy part of our life and routine, just like the millions of uncounted steps you’ve taken that keep you active, or the millions of breaths you’ve breathed in the necessary breath of life.
God’s Word and Spirit is our breath of life. It is our healthy meal and our daily bread. The healthy rhythms of worship and prayer are not a fad for a time or a trial but are meant for a permanent part of a spiritually healthy life. And if we welcome those healthy rhythms, if we hear God’s Word gladly, it will reward us with an ever-deepening faith. John 3:16 is not done teaching us on the first pass by, or the second, or the three hundred and second time. God’s Word always has more to deliver in the way of health and life.
And sometimes we just plainly need to be told things over and over again. I know that my kids always listen and obey on the first time, and yours do also…or not. But many things in life bear repeating. Even things we know well and good, need those constant reminders so we stay focused and on track. God’s Word is that way, and we can never hear enough that God sent His Son Jesus to take away all our sins. We can never hear enough that His love is so big that it encompasses the whole world, and He wants His message of salvation to reach every lost person, so they can be found, forgiven, and loved by Him. That we need rescue from sin and eternal death, and God freely gives us His love, so believing in Jesus we can live forever. We are prone to forget, prone to distraction, and prone to neglect healthy rhythms and habits for poorer choices. As much as we are prone to wander, our Good Shepherd is off in pursuit to rescue us and bring us home to Him. What a Good God we serve…He so loved us that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life! Amen.