Tie a ribbon round the old oak tree.

 

John.3 14/21

Over lent we have been hearing the story of God’s saving plan for the world. In Jesus’ story, and in our story. They are like a trinity; all are together or not at all. We accept forgiveness in Christ and we are overjoyed. We accept forgiveness in Christ and God is overjoyed.

God wants to forgive, not for some, not only for the small sins and not only once-but continually, and no sin is too great to be blotted off our record in Christ.

The Gospel of our Lord and Savior, we hear it every week. Why? Because we need to hear it, again, again and again.

Why? Because it is so hard to get our head around. Me, you, us-forgiven in Christ-as we are now.

It seems too good to be true. It can be dumbfounding to us-and knowing this, the devil, NOT God, latches onto our human thoughts and continually suggests there has to be more to it-and to our human nature-who could argue.

Except for one thing, it’s not what we think of ourselves, it’s not what other’s think of us, that’s immaterial-it’s what Christ has done for us: that’s it-and that’s why can it be so difficult to just simply accept.

Martin Luther wrote that if you only read one of the Gospel’s, read John, and it seems no-coincidence that the most known piece of scripture is written in the book of John.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

Pure Gospel. This one verse, those twenty six words of John 3:16 sum up the whole Gospel.

Likewise, in the Gospel today, these verses, tell us of the glory of God’s character, the nature of his life and his desire to share that life with his creatures. It is about God coming amongst us and the mixed response he receives to his offer of divine and eternal life. It is a vivid snapshot of God and our world.

When parents see their child in distress, they just wish they could take their place, it’s terrible.

Imagine how God would felt while Jesus was being persecuted.

Not enough that he was innocent. Not enough that crucifixion was the most cruelest and tortuous form of death, it was also considered shameful and degrading.

The irony abounds, because for Christ’s followers after his death and resurrection, they could not talk of their savor without talking of the manner and place in which he died.

Yet it doesn’t stop there, who put Jesus to such a terrible place. The Romans-yes, the Jewish authorities-yes, us-yes. Every person that has or will sin put Jesus on the Cross, and the irony-sin, humankind put Jesus there: and what was Jesus response-To those very present that day, what did Jesus say? “Forgive them Father they don’t what they do”.

What does Jesus say today? “Forgive them Father they are with me”.

It is all one way traffic, God who loves his son, sends his son to die for those he loves. Jesus, in love of his father and of us-lets the sin of the world, our sin cause his death.

It all seems back to front land. In human reasoning anyway.

God sending his Son Jesus into the world. Those that receive him, not from their own will, but born of God, through the gift of faith-believing in his name, become the children of God-and saved. We hear this and we know it’s true. We don’t even have to think about it, like we know that wall is made of bricks, we just know it is.

Using human logic this story is unfathomable, but from the faith worked in us, it’s simple isn’t it?

We know that’s the story, that’s the big picture. If it’s that simple, then how come life can still seem so difficult?

Looking at it from a step back, that big picture: why do we worry or struggle with anything, just enjoy the ride.

But it’s not like that, is it?

Because we are still in the battle. The battle that when not seen at arm’s length, but up close and personal is much tougher.

The ongoing battle: Conflict, good versus evil, the light versus the darkness.

Yet we can still struggle, and sometimes big time. We can suffer from moments that threaten to crush us, the darkness seems strong, the darkness of our sin, temptations, and our flesh seem on constant attack.

It’s a battle that sometimes feels unwinnable, and it would be if it was left to us-we are not strong enough. So Christ fights for us-he is our hope, and our defence. He is our light in the darkness.

When sick, troubled or lonely in the night, we wait for the sun to rise in the east-we wait for those first rays of sunshine, because we know that while we’ll still carry our woes with us, they never seem quite so bad in the light of the day.

Like in those moments when we are spiritually haunted by our failings, our weaknesses, our sin-we cling to that light of Christ-even when we can’t seem to see that light in ourselves, we cling to it; we know it’s our only ray of hope.

We have many moments of joy, moments of clarity where we feel like we are all but in heaven, blessed moments to cherish.

But sometimes, in despair because of our sin, crushed by others and our own circumstances and actions, or in despair and great sorrow due to the death of a loved one, that place can seem a long way off.

Here, this side of heaven-we dwell in the light of our Savior Jesus, yet because we are still amongst the darkness, at times, just surviving in Christ can be enough.

I was reminded of this recently when I was reading of some United States troops serving in a particularly dangerous part of Afghanistan. One of the soldiers, when talking of the amount of colleagues he’s lost from walking on land mines said;

“The only way to survive mentally here is to celebrate the small things, and that small thing is surviving another day, that is a victory-because we know that the only safe piece of ground is that which is under your two feet”.

Sometimes it can come down to as simple as that, to face another day in Christ is a victory worth celebrating. He is the safe place where we stand.

In faith, be it in our moments of sheer joy or moments of great distress-we see the true light, the light of Christ in the darkness, our saving light.

In today’s Gospel we are told of the light of Christ and of the darkness of sin, those saved and those condemned. If you are like me this can make you feel a little uneasy, because not only do I not always dwell in the light, sometimes the light even seems to be a bit dull.

But that’s life. Everyday being a Christian, is not any different from our whole life as a Christian. We have ups and downs. One minute or one month we feel on top of this “being a Christian” thing, but the next minute or the next month we’re back to square one-seemingly in the darkness.

But that’s again the irony, in the darkness is where we see ourselves and it doesn’t look so good. Any light we had seems extinguished, like someone has turned off that little torch light we were trying to see with. But then in the darkness-when our little strand of light from three triple A batteries has gone-we see the splendor of a lighthouse, shining bright-showing us the way to safety.

Verse 21: “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light”,

It’s not the being in the darkness-our sin that condemns, what condemns is refusing to come into the light of Christ. Refusing his offer of forgiveness.

Verse 21 continued: “so that it may be seen clearly that what he has done has been done through God”.

Are these good deeds God is talking about, yes because any good deed we do is not from us but from God, from the Holy Spirit working in us.

But more so, much more so-“what can be seen clearly that what we have done has been done through God” is his bringing us redemption-that’s the good deed, the good work-not something we’ve done, but by simply accepting Christ, sent by the Father to save us-to accept and trust in his “no questions asked forgiveness-to accept his offer of life.”

So “that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life”. In the original Greek text, how it is written has two meanings: Eternal life of course, but not a waiting and wondering-but a “done deal eternal life”-it’s already in the bag-so go forward without the burden of any doubt.

Groucho Marx once famously, ill and in hospital and reading the bible was asked why he was doing so, and he answered “he was looking for a loop hole”.

The love of God and forgiveness in Christ alone, that’s not a loop hole-but a never ending canyon.

The love of God to us. Daily and throughout our lives, we may spurn it, doubt it, not return it and not always understand it. But no matter what-God’s love remains resolute and unwavering.

We may wonder away from His love, but His love for us does not wander from us. A pastor once told me a story and it about sums it up.

A man who felt he had fallen out with his wife, one morning, wrote her a note saying so and left her and lived a life of selfish careless abandon: partying, seeing other ladies and being basically reckless.

Years later, after using others and being used himself; he started thinking of his wife of long ago. How she cared for him and how she had loved him, just as he was. (and) he came to wish for those days again.

He wrote her a letter telling of all the things he had done and of how he now felt. But he finished his letter with: “You may be re-married or forgotten me. Whatever the case I have no right to even ask you to see me again, and if you do not-it would be as it should be, and I will leave you alone. But I will be the train tomorrow that passes by the old oak tree on the edge of the farm. If you tie a red ribbon to it I will l can get off at the next station. If not I will continue on my way.

The next day on the train, the passenger next to him asked him of his unease. So he told him his story, and when the train was about to round the corner before the oak tree, he asked the man if he could look for him-as he wasn’t game.

When the train came around the corner, he heard the other man crying, and said “don’t worry for me, after what I’ve done, I did not even have the right to ask her to have me back”.

The other man said, “No look for yourself”: and as he opened his eyes-he saw the oak tree covered in red bows.

The Love Of God.

Looking at our life, do we have doubts of ourselves-how could we not?

Looking at Christ’s life, do we have doubts of God’s love for us, how could we?

Amen.

 

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