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The World According to God: Sermon for March 10, the 4th Sunday in Lent

--The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire


Today’s gospel brings to mind two distinct memories from my childhood. One is seeing somebody sitting in every end zone on Saturday and Sunday and Monday nights, holding up a sign that said simply “John 3:16.”

I am sure it inspired many people to either nod their heads knowingly, or maybe to have enough curiosity to find out what that sign referred to. Nowadays it would be as simple as pulling out your phone and using a search engine. But certainly some people looked up that verse, and were intrigued. Those that were destined to be Episcopalians would then look over the entire section of at least John 3:1-21, knowing that a few words—in this case 27 words—pulled out of an enormous book will lack a certain contextual depth and precision. Those are OUR PEOPLE!

Especially with this famous verse, context is vital. If you just stick with those 27 words, following Jesus is simply a matter of assent, a magical formula like abracadabra, a spiritual get-out-of-jail free card. But it’s not—assent is required, and commitment to not just saying some words, but living and loving like Jesus, who embodied God’s love in human likeness to be a model for our lives.

For many, this verse is a full and complete summary of the gospel. Martin Luther summarized this verse like this: “For the world has me; I am its God.”But I think the next verse is just as important. “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.”God so loved the world, the world God made through speaking God’s wisdom into the world, that God sent God’s beloved Word to be incarnate—to take on human flesh to show us all how to be fully human and fully God’s children. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s wisdom in the world. Wisdom that can be lived in our own human lives-- if only we choose to follow.

That brings me to the second of my childhood memories, in the sweet little Methodist Church in which I was born and baptized, and that we attended until I was five. At Southern Hills Methodist Church, I remember singing this lovely hymn that so engaged my heart’s certainties, because it described the world according to God:


This is my Father's world, and to my listening ears

All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.

This is my Father's world: I rest me in the thought

Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father's world; the birds their carols raise,

The morning light, the lily white, declare their maker's praise.

This is my Father's world, He shines in all that's fair

;In the rustling grass I hear Him pass; He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father's world. O let me ne'er forget

That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father's world: why should my heart be sad?

The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad! (1)


My own experience even as a very small child resonated so strongly with this hymn. Sharing the same sense of wonder and awe out in nature, delighting in the elephantine clouds slowly processing overhead down to the busy industry of ants moving among the moss on the north side of a tree, a tiny world humming with life beneath our feet, often too small to notice. I knew that God loved this world from clouds to ants to you and me, and made it a source of awe and wonder. I resolved never to lose that wonder—especially when things were hard. The signs of God’s love are shot through creation—and in our yearning hearts.

The message we hear in John’s gospel and in our Psalm is one of wonder and awe and gratitude, yes. But it is also a reminder that the Church goes very far astray when it tries to put limits on who God loves and who God does not. Our gospel also makes it clear that merely saying you believe in Jesus as a hedge against condemnation. It means following Jesus in embodying that love into the world.

Our first reading can lead us astray, with all its talk about God loosing poisonous snakes upon his maddeningly complaining people during the wanderings and discontent in the desert--unless we know the background behind it. The Priestly writers telling of this event is meant to support their belief that God smites and condemns those whose faith falters. Notice that Jesus does not repeat this belief in his referencing to that same event—he only talks about the cure. This aligns with his claim that God seeks always to save and redeem the world we have mangled through our own short-sightedness. Never to condemn it or all the living things who share this planet with us.

Last week we heard Jesus compare his body to the Temple, and we were reminded that God blessed and sanctified us in our bodies, too. In taking on our flesh, our human life, God continues to tear down the walls WE build to separate ourselves from God, and to remind us that God lives and loves within each of us right now, and through Jesus God keeps reaching over those walls and pulling us all over the top and never giving up on us.

In today’s readings, we are reminded that the world according to God is filled with the blessings of light, of healing, and especially of love.

Light and darkness are important signs or symbols in John’s gospel, which makes sense, because they are important symbols to us. Our gospel today starts in the middle of Jesus’s conversation in the middle of the night, in the darkness, with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus comes in the night also because he lacks true understanding of who Jesus is, but at least he is straining toward the light.

When Nicodemus first approaches Jesus, in verses we don’t get to hear to help us understand the context, it is clear that Nicodemus is drawn to Jesus. Nicodemus is beginning to be drawn to the light of Christ, for at that start of chapter 3, he states: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who is coming from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” As a Pharisee and yet a seeker, Nicodemus is a man torn between two worlds, just as the church members in Ephesus were, and frankly much like many of us are.

Just before our reading, Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again, which Nicodemus rightfully does not understand. Yet thinking about being born to a new life in Christ is a fruitful metaphor. We are born with an abiding hunger for connection, and for meaning even from the time we are infants. Babies want to be embraced, and they want to be fed. God helps this along by making babies helpless and also adorable, which goes a long way toward making up for the smell. With our poor eyesight, as infants experience the world as infants mostly through out hearts, and our bellies. Babies get anxious when either of these are not full—and I am persuaded that frankly, those feelings of hunger, especially spiritual hunger, remains one of the driving forces in our lives—one that we ignore or misuse at our peril. 

Our own hunger for God within us brings us to this point, and calls us to repentance, to change. That change is scary. It means letting go of the familiar. But what will we gain? Only the certainty that we, and this whole world, are beloved by God.How are our lives changed when we embrace Jesus as Savior? In our epistle, Paul states here that it is the difference between death… and life. We are asked to embrace our brokenness, and allow the light of Christ to wash over it.

The world according to God is filled with reconciliation, discernment, self-honesty, and abundant beauty and grace. Paul’s words attest to the abundance of God’s love—abundant beyond our imagining, especially. And here we see the blessing of healing that runs through all our readings, as well. Living as one of us, and dying as one of us, Christ in particular can reach into the shattered places in our spirits, and restore us from the shadow world in which we have lived into newness of life. Sometimes those wounds we bear were inflicted on us. Yet, other times, our own choices have wounded us. But God is always there.


Eternal life starts right now. It starts with understanding ourselves as living—right now-- in the presence of God. Right where we are. God loved us in this way, that God gave us God’s only Son. And why? So that NO ONE feels hungry, or empty, or lost—so that everyone can have a whole and lasting life. That Son didn’t come into the world to condemn us, but to save us, and remind us of who we are: Beloveds of a God who loves us and longs for us so much that God continually reaches out to us, asking us to align ourselves with God’s economy of abundance, grace, and peace.

The world according to God is one of grace, not condemnation. And as God’s Beloveds, we are called to bear God’s light into the world. The world that God so loved.


(1) Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901), American clergyman, poet, and hymn writer, “This is My Father’s World.” From the United Methodist Hymnal, 144.

Image: "The Blue Marble" is a famous photograph of the Earth taken on December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft en route to the Moon at a distance of about 29,400 kilometres (18,300 mi).

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