Let me throw some numbers at you. What do you think of when I say, 3.1415? Yeah. Pi! Most of you know, I am sure, that today [yesterday was] is Pi day, right? You do if you’re a math geek. You remember. Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. You were paying attention in geometry class, weren’t you?
Today is [yesterday was] Pi day because it is [was] March 14, 2015. Or in numbers: 3-14-15 which is the first five digits of the infinitely non-repeating number known by the Greek letter Pi. 3.1415. Pi day. Everybody knows that, right?
OK. Let me throw three more numbers at you, and I want you to tell me the first thing that comes into your mind. Here’s the number. 3:16.
Ok! Some of you said “John 3:16,” and some of you started quoting the verse: “For God so loved the world . . . “ If there is one verse from the Bible that most Christians know – it is this one. John 3:16.
But what if I were to ask, “Who can tell me John 3:15?” What about John 3:14? John 3:18? How about John 3:17? John 3:17: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.” You know, it’s okay if you don’t have memorized the verses that surround 3:16. IF the only thing you know from the Bible – is John 3:16 – and understand it – and receive the message of John 3:16 by faith – it is enough. It is enough.
John 3:16 has often been called the Gospel – in other words, the Good News of God in Jesus Christ – the Gospel in a nut shell.
But the story – the whole story – the big story – of God’s interaction with human beings winds its way through the entire Bible – both Old and New Testaments. It has also been called “The Divine Drama.”
What I’m talking about is the big story – the greatest story ever told. It is a story of good vs. evil. Of dark vs. light. Spoiler alert! Evil does not win. Darkness does not win. Jesus wins! All because of God’s great love for you and for me. And nothing – absolutely nothing – expresses this love – expresses this story better than what we find in John 3:16. Say it with me in whatever version or wording that you know it by:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him might not perish but may have eternal life.”
Now, you know that the Bible is filled with stories. From creation – and the fall into sin – of families and nations and prophets and kings. Of slavery and freedom from slavery. Stories of triumph and tragedy. And all of these stories are part of the divine drama of the Bible – they all feed the one big story – and may I suggest God’s big story is the only story that really does matter. It is the story of God’s love for humanity – God constantly wooing a sinful and rebellious people back to himself. And please note that God can only woo. He cannot force anybody into believing. God can only woo or call or draw us to Himself.
The big story is the story of sacrifice – a sacrifice made for you and for me – and a sacrifice that occurs only through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ himself. It is the story that tells us that God will stop at nothing to restore us to the rightful relationship that God wants between us and Him – and between us and each other.
Now – every one of us has a story. Every one of us is living a story. And because this is church – this is a good time to ask – how and where and when does your story intersect with God’s story?
We all have a story to tell. Ups and downs – joys and sorrows – victories and losses – loves won and loves lost. Oh – the stories we can tell! Decisions made that changed our lives – and thus our story forever. If your story intersects with God’s story so that God’s story is an integral part of your story – in other words – you are living your story within God’s story – then all well and good. Because I am convinced that God’s story – and I am not afraid to call it God’s love story – God’s love story always ends in amazing grace and joy to the world.
God’s story is indeed a story of love and grace and forgiveness and joy. And quite frankly – isn’t that what you really want? Isn’t that what you really need? To be loved and forgiven? That’s God’s story. And when our story gets interwoven with God’s story – well –it’s a wonderful thing!
Because – there is a change. We are the ones who are changed. And our stories change. And we learn what it means not only to be loved by God – or as I am telling the kids going through First Communion instructions right now – we are living’ forgiven. And since we are livin’ forgiven – it sure does make a difference in how we relate to each other too, wouldn’t you agree? If we know that we are loved by God – that we are living’ forgiven – then our story is changed.
What I mean by that is if John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son – well then – what does that mean for us and our story – and the living of our life?
Let me give you another number. This one you probably won’t know. But the number is this: 4:32. Nope? Doesn’t ring a bell? Ephesians 4:32. “…and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” You see, this isn’t just a one way street. Not only do we have a need to be loved – and to feel loved – to be forgiven and know that we are forgiven – but it just seems to me that because we are loved and forgiven – we also would have a greater desire to love and forgive too.
But unfortunately – that doesn’t always happen.
Some of you may remember the cartoonist Charles Schulz, and the Peanuts gang. The comic strip still runs in the Buffalo News. Sometimes his strips carry a message.
In one strip he conveys through Charlie Brown the need we have to be loved and through Lucy our inability to love one another. Charlie Brown and Lucy are deep in conversation:
CB: All it would take to make me happy is to have someone say he likes me.
Lucy: Are you sure?
CB: Of course I'm sure!
Lucy: You mean you'd be happy if someone merely said he or she likes you? Do you mean to tell me that someone has it within his or her power to make you happy merely by doing such a simple thing?
CB: Yes! That's exactly what I mean!
Lucy: Well, I don't think that's asking too much. I really don't. [Now standing face to face, Lucy asks one more time] But you're sure now? All you want is to have someone say, "I like you, Charlie Brown," and then you'll be happy?
CB: And then I'll be happy!
Lucy: Lucy looks at Charlie Brown, turns and walks away, saying, “I can't do it!”
What Lucy cannot do, sinful as she is, God does. What Charlie Brown needs, lost and alone as he is, God supplies.
Let me tell you one last story. “Fred Craddock tells the story of his father, who spent years of his life hiding from the God who was seeking him out:
“When the pastor used to come from my mother’s church to call on him, my father would say, 'You don’t care about me. I know how churches are. You want another pledge, another name, right? Another name, another pledge, isn’t that the whole point of church? Get another name, another pledge.'
“My nervous mother would run to the kitchen, crying, for fear somebody’s feelings would be hurt. When we had an evangelistic campaign the pastor would bring the evangelist, introduce him to my father and then say, 'Sic him, get him! Sic him, get him!' My father would always say the same thing. 'You don’t care about me! Another name, another pledge. Another name, another pledge! I know about churches.'
“I guess I heard it a thousand times. One time he didn’t say it. He was at the Veteran’s Hospital. He was down to 74 pounds. They had taken out the throat, put in a metal tube, and said, 'Mr. Craddock, you should have come earlier. But this cancer is awfully far advanced. We’ll give radium, but we don’t know.'
“I went in to see him. In every window—potted plants and flowers. Everywhere there was a place to set them—potted plants and flowers. Even in that thing that swings out over your bed they put food on, there was a big flower. There was by his bed a stack of cards 10 or 15 inches deep. I looked at the cards sprinkled in the flowers. I read the cards beside his bed. And I want to tell you, every card, every blossom, every potted plant from groups, Sunday School classes, women’s groups, youth groups, men’s bible class, of my mother’s church—every one of them. My father saw me reading them. He could not speak, but he took a Kleenex box and wrote something on the side from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. . . . He wrote on the side, ‘In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story.’ I said, ‘What is your story, Daddy?’ And he wrote, ‘I was wrong.’”
My friends – my dear, dear friends. I want you to know that God is seeking you in love, not in condemnation. And the moment you realize that – well, it is not until that moment that the gospel becomes Good News for you. Jesus invites you to let him enter into your story – so that you can enter into His story – so that his story and our story can become one. And that one story, the greatest story ever told, is this:
“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
And that’s why we tell the story. And why we will continue to tell the story – the greatest story ever told. Because His story can change your story. Amen